5G: ultra high speed, super low latency – and totally dependent on developers. Part 2

Interested in exploring the potential of 5G? Would $1 million help?

That’s how much Verizon is offering as the first prize for its ‘Built on 5G Challenge‘. The US operator is betting big on the next-gen network. It desperately needs the ‘products, services, and applications that will bring the true power of 5G to life’.

It’s not the only one. The entire mobile industry knows that lightning fast, zero latency mobile broadband could kickstart a ‘4th industrial revolution’. They want to be at the center of it.

This is why OnePlus, EE, and Qualcomm have already completed their 5G Apps of Tomorrow program.

There are bound to be many more competitions like this.

Make no mistake, the industry is depending on the genius of tomorrow’s developers. So, what are the possibilities?

Let’s get the most obvious ideas out of the way first.

Clearly, 5G is a gift to data-hungry multimedia experiences. If the tech can deliver up to 1 terabit per second, then hi-def instant movies are a no-brainer. We might even see more development of 360° videos and maybe even 3D will get a revival (though viewer nausea might prevent it).

Then there’s gaming. URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low-Latency Communications) makes Virtual Reality much more stable and feasible on mobile than it is now. Though, as with 3D movies, network speed is not the only barrier to adoption (see nausea, as above).

Mobile augmented reality might be a better bet. The success of Pokemon Go and Snapchat’s Rabbit Ears reflect the user hunger for AR. It seems inevitable that exponentially more bandwidth will drive developers to explore AR in exciting new ways.

It’s easy to imagine location-based AR that could overlay not just graphics but maybe even videos on to the view: point the camera at a museum, see a short preview of the exhibition etc etc.

Like AR, the chatbot is another ‘thing’ that’s already here but could get a boost from 5G. Today, chatbots are mostly text-based, and their AI is really more like an advanced ‘decision tree’. In a 5G future, with fast real-time connections, bots could look more like people. They might talk naturally too.

All of the above examples will be possible because 5G will push computing further into the cloud.

In the last few years, there’s been a ‘software as a service’ revolution, which has enabled transformative services such as Netflix. Obviously, SaaS relies on fast, fat and reliable data connections. In the 5G era, we can expect to see a new boom in cloud-hosted apps.

A knock-on effect should be longer battery life (if the processing is done remotely). That, in itself, could prompt a wave of new ideas.

5G could also put location-centric apps on steroids. If the tech is fast, precise and extends everywhere, then developers can use it to create apps that help people make the most of their surroundings. They can do this even in remote locations, where 4G could never reach.

Clearly, 5G can bring with it rich hi-res visuals. But what about other senses? Touch? Is there a chance the low latency of 5G could usher in the age of a new era for haptic feedback?

Some experts think so. They call it the Tactile Internet.

Here’s the argument: if 5G can connect millions of machines, and those machines can relay information with no discernible lag, then so many possibilities open up. We could see doctors performing remote examinations (using special haptic gloves), for example.

In the consumer app space, it’s easy to imagine developers exploring the potential of the Tactile Internet in gaming or e-commerce.

Another big idea to file alongside the Tactile Internet is ‘ambient computing‘. If 5G-connected devices are fitted with sensors, then they will form a kind of living landscape. They will nudge us the whole time. Wearables will tell us when it’s time to take a walk. Smart home devices will know when we arrive, and so on.

With the phone as the ‘dashboard’ for all these nudges and reminders, it will be up to mobile app developers to find the most compelling new use cases and intuitive interfaces.

It will take many years to reach mature 5G. There are bound to be snags. App developers will face the challenge of creating multiple app versions for users with 2G, 3G, and 4G phones, for example. And who knows what OS a constellation of connected devices will use? There’s no guarantee the convenient iOS/Android duopoly will endure into the 5G era.

There might also be new security threats. With an exponential rise in connections (most of which will be machines, not humans), there is more risk of phishing and spoofing by criminals.

Still, now is the time to start thinking about 5G. Millions of dollars are waiting for those who do.

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