Could A Focus On Digital Twins And The IoT Help Boost The 5G Rollout?

November 8, 2022  |  Mark Hillary
When 5G arrived there was a wave of optimism.

Many tech journalists talked about how quickly movies could now be downloaded to phones and tablets. Others talked about the redundancy of wifi connections at home if wireless is now so fast. Others talked about the more technical aspects of 5G and why it was more than just ‘faster 4G.’

These technical changes were the real ‘killer app’ for 5G. Avoiding too much of the network complexity, there were two really important changes. 5G allowed many different devices to be located close together without a network failure – anyone that has tried getting 4G data at a rock concert knows this problem. 5G also guarantees much more stable connections compared to 4G. You don’t notice it when talking on a call or browsing eBay, but for mission critical connections this is important. Imagine a surgeon controlling a remote robot scalpel on 4G – not recommended.

The ability to have 5G sensors anywhere was really one of the biggest selling points because the Internet of Things (IoT) depends on all these sensors. Everything from Augmented Reality (AR) glasses to security cameras need connectivity and 5G offers the speed and security to make it possible. The IoT drives initiatives such as digital twins – a topic that I have mentioned before on this blog and also in the book I put together with IBA Group at the end of 2021 – The Digital CEO.

Digital twins have existed for many years in highly specialized areas such as jet engine management and maintenance. Sensors in real engines allow a software version of the engine to predict problems and the best time to schedule maintenance. Just about every commercial jet engine has a digital twin ensuring passenger safety. But the ease of deploying IoT solutions is now making this an industrial strategy that can be applied across many more solutions including real-time health tracking, climate measurement for farmers and water safety for utilities.

The Wall St Journal recently reported that uptake for 5G sensors is much lower than expected. Most consumers still see a faster phone as the only advantage of the 4G to 5G upgrade. The WSJ reported: “The slow uptake for non phone gadgets had been expected to an extent. During the 5G rollout analysts and industry executives say device makers and cellular network operators tend to focus first on upgrading phones and cell towers when new generations of equipment come out, only once that has been proven out, do they turn to other growth segments like IoT.”

The WSJ also quoted Sandra Wendell Cohen, an IDC analyst, who said that many companies using sensors are happy with what they already have: “Many don't yet see that the features offered by 5G notably faster data transmission speeds are worth the price of an upgrade. The majority aren't using 5G technology because the return on investment isn't yet there.”

So it looks like 5G is off to a slow start in some markets, even in the US. However, it is clear that many industries can benefit from the use of digital twins and 5G sensors are going to be essential in most cases. Could a focus on exploring digital twin opportunities in more detail create a stronger business case for the use of 5G and the IoT?

I think the opportunity is out there. 4G sensors can only do so much – they are limited once IoT systems scale up, so it’s likely that 5G is not taking off yet because companies are still only exploring the systems that require 5G – not yet scaling up. I expect this will change in the next few years.

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