Belfast Telegraph

5G – entering the age of invention

Joe O’Neill CEO Belfast Harbour, Gerry McQuade CEO BT Enterprise with Belfast Harbour Technician Marc McCombe with the live 5G enabled AR device
Joe O’Neill CEO Belfast Harbour, Gerry McQuade CEO BT Enterprise with Belfast Harbour Technician Marc McCombe with the live 5G enabled AR device

Fotis Karonis, Chief Technology Innovation Officer, BT Enterprise

Our journey towards digital revolution starts here

5G has arrived in Northern Ireland and with it the power to create solutions we never imagined, which will transform how we live and work for the better.

Crucial to Northern Ireland’s ongoing digital transformation, 5G is ground-breaking technology that will enable businesses and organisations to form new strategic partnerships, developing cohesive ecosystems to tackle major societal issues.

BT is at the heart of this innovative new chapter in our history, making secure and reliable 5G infrastructure accessible to our customers so they can fully explore the capabilities of their businesses and organisations. Only by working together can we fully realise the wealth of potential that 5G offers and there’s an exciting journey ahead as we forge partnerships with the public and private sectors to do this.

Leading the way in digital development, Belfast is fast becoming a one-stop shop for tech-savvy citizens. In May 2019 it was one of the first 6 cities in the UK  – and among the first in the world – to benefit from EE’s new 5G network.

Promising digital transformation on an entirely new level, 5G will increase reliability, speed and connectivity, driving the economy forward and securing digital advancement. It will further enable technology like Augmented Reality (AR), to make customers’ lives easier, as well as launching new businesses we haven’t yet imagined.

What makes 5G such a powerful game-changer for both industry and public service delivery are three key elements – superior connectivity and capability, high-speed networks with enhanced predictability, and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC).

At the forefront of 5G innovation, BT is continuing to develop the technology to deliver even more benefits to customers, further strengthening connection reliability and security alongside dedicated network services. As 5G advances, it will enable the creation of new business models, making trade more efficient, increasing productivity and fuelling economic growth.

The future of 5G will ultimately see a greater volume of connections and support a new generation of converged application platforms (CAPs). This will allow customers to seamlessly access multiple data services across fixed, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies, ensuring the best possible connection whenever they need it, wherever they are.

With 5G everything is connected, which presents one of the biggest challenges and indeed, opportunities – for example, with the Internet of Things (IoT). Technology is a vital part of industry advancement and 5G will enable business growth and innovation like never before. 

Use of mobile technology has increased by around 7% every year since 2012. By 2025, capacity in data will dictate everything and will probably be 400% higher than what we consume today in 2019, with billions of connected devices by 2030.

Industry has embraced connectivity, with for example, a big revolution in the car industry around 5G-enabled vehicle-to-vehicle communication set to transform motoring. With Wi-Fi connectivity in cars, we’ll move on to tele-metrics and tele-maintenance, detecting problems in real-time and transmitting information directly from cars to garages. This will potentially evolve into vehicles talking to vehicles, culminating with driverless cars and autonomous vehicles.

As technology becomes the centre of industry, it’s playing a vital role in its overall transformation.

Communication is also central to the manufacturing and health industries and that requires massive capacity, as these big networks could be up to 100 times bigger by 2030. High-speed networks and predictability are essential for improving industry efficiency and reliability, as conveying information quickly in real-time can be critical in-service delivery. What’s different about 5G is that when you need this speed, you know you’ll get it.

The third key advantage of 5G is ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), that is, milliseconds response times, with 99.9% reliable transmission – again, crucial for industry providers and end-users, such as the NHS.

What’s more, because 5G can generate higher amounts of data, there’s an exciting opportunity to combine it with Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can filter the information, extract it and provide meaningful data to the end user.

For example, in June 2019, BT engaged with the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) in the West Midlands, a large interconnected area with several metropolitan boroughs and the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed. 

We demonstrated how our 5G network could help ambulance paramedics treat patients at the scene of an incident using a remote-controlled ultrasound scan. Wearing a haptic (robotic) glove controlled remotely by a doctor, the paramedic performs the scan while a camera in the ambulance transmits real-time, high-definition video footage back to the hospital along a high-speed 5G network. 

The 5G network could help ambulance paramedics treat patients at the scene of an incident using a remote-controlled ultrasound scan.

This creates a huge advantage in terms of quicker response times and more accurate diagnosis and treatment, ensuring better outcomes and reducing hospital congestion with on-the-spot diagnostics. Experts aren’t always onsite when incidents occur, so it’s all about linking their know-how to the source of the problem, which is what 5G enables.

During the summer my colleague Danny Longbottom, Director of Local Government and Health at BT, wrote an article, ‘How is 5G benefiting the UK’s emergency services?’ in which he said: "Real-time views of the action mean better decision making, with control centres able to receive multiple viewpoints that can inform the handling of operations, to ensure they are conducted with maximum safety and efficiency, a critical step in limiting casualties during potentially life-and-death situations.

"For instance, ensuring ambulances are sent to the right cases – video enablement will ensure early triage which benefits the citizen by responding quickly to the neediest cases and reducing costs by sending individuals to clinics, rather than sending an ambulance. Also, better coverage will allow detailed information and scans be sent in advance to the receiving hospital whilst the patient is being treated and is in transit."

The enhanced flexibility of 5G further provides the opportunity for interoperability between all emergency services, pooling resources for improved outcomes and enabling increased data collection. Meanwhile, its increased capacity allows for analysis of information on a much greater scale, resulting in more efficient public services. 

5G ultimately unlocks the opportunity for BT, as a partner of the NHS, to provide a sustainable health service.

Having moved through the age of digital and industrial revolution we’ve now reached the invention age, where we can create solutions that up until now, we never imagined.

Northern Ireland is ideally placed to harness the power of 5G, with incredible facilities in Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast. It also has a largely SME economy, each business with its own clusters of research and innovation.

Belfast has ambitious plans to become a Smart City, with Belfast City Council keen to provide easily accessible tourist and transport information and transform it into a one-stop shop for digital citizens.

5G enabled Virtual reality (VR) headsets are being trialled at Belfast Harbour to deliver a fully immersive and fully interactive experience for users

Considering all of this, there’s an incredible opportunity for trialling 5G innovations here. 

One example of BT trialling such innovation is with Belfast Harbour, which has ambitions to create a "Smart Port" and an iconic waterfront for the City. Here, among other things, we’re looking at how 5G can both simplify and improve maintenance activity at the Port by delivering information directly to staff, when and where they need it, using 5G connected augmented reality (AR) headsets.

With 5G there’s the potential to create solutions we’ve never imagined. BT is building this infrastructure of tomorrow, today, giving local businesses and organisations the capabilities to unleash their creativity and journey beyond limits they thought previously possible.

We’ve only just begun to tap into the transformative power of 5G. However, our current projects, particularly with Belfast Harbour, are examples of just what can be achieved and will showcase the power and potential of 5G across the UK – and beyond.

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