Into the Clouds:

Looking into the world of 5G: A Q&A with Dr. George Shaker

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5G is a hot topic right now. As the new standard in wireless technology, 5G promises better performance and the ability to accommodate advancement in technologies in a way that previous networks could not.  

We had a chance to sit down with Dr. George Shaker, Principal Scientist & Head of Research at CloudHawk, to get his take on the state and scope of 5G. George has extensive experience in industrial technology, and is also an adjunct faculty member at University of Waterloo, where he is the Director of the Wireless Sensors and Devices Lab. George is the lead on projects related to the application of wireless sensor systems and is excited about the arrival of 5G and how it will change wireless communication, the Internet of Things, and other applications. 

Q. To begin, what would you say will be the main impact of 5G in the market? 

A. 5G technology is designed to deliver three main advantages. One of the advantages is to allow high throughputs, or higher data rates. That's a big benefit if you think about VR and other augmented reality, as well as downloading movies quickly, because high throughput enables these operations to be done without lag or interruption. It will drastically improve user experience. 

Another significant advantage of 5G is low latency, which is basically when you can connect to and get updates from devices very quickly. An almost real-time connection is important to certain applications, particularly when you're doing remote control. For example, if you're sitting in your office controlling a robot that is in another location, low latency will help to ensure you maintain a constant connection with the robot to deliver instructions and receive data without delay. 

A third advantage is scalability, which is servicing more devices per area. A notable local example of scalability is the Canada Day celebration at the University of Waterloo.  Anyone that has attended knows that it's almost impossible to get cell coverage at this large event. Everybody loses connectivity because there is limited number of towers that are covering this area. Usually there are only about 100 people around, and then suddenly on July 1st there are thousands. One year, it was up to 70,000! Attendees have lost connectivity because older cellular service was not meant to be scalable. 5G is way better in terms of scalability, so it can service way more devices. Everyone will be able to maintain connection at large events when using 5G. That's also one of the reasons that 5G is important for IoT because the whole idea of IoT is that you'll have numerous devices connected for multiple uses and applications.  

Q. Where do you think 5G will have the greatest impact? 

A. I think the idea of automation, such as in smart factories, will be a clear winner with 5G. The impact in this area will also include enhanced and remote training opportunities. For example, I'm part of a comprehensive research program where we're training different trades using virtual realities (VRs). VR is very data intensive, both upstream and downstream, which current cellular technologies struggle to accommodate. The high throughput and low latency of 5G, however, would make it possible to have several tradespeople being trained together using VR headsets. Even things like remote training on surgeries in the medical sector, will benefit significantly from 5G. 

Obviously, from my perspective, the transportation and logistics sector, specifically fleet and asset tracking, stands to benefit greatly from technology advancements. Real-time access to as comprehensive tracking, sensor data, and other telematics, is vital. With the ability of our current devices to seamless connect to 5G networks when available we can ensure access to vital information as well as other technology advancements. 

Q. Are there any other industries you also feel will benefit from 5G industries apart from transportation? 

A. Yes, there are many industries that will benefit from the advantages of 5G that we discussed, because of the higher throughput, lower latency, and massive device support. 

I think the education industry is set to benefit big time, along with the gaming industry as well. The increased power of 5G enables transformative technologies – things like virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, all of which can greatly impact both the classroom and entertainment experience. But these technologies require low latency and high bandwidth, and that will be available with 5G.  

In the industrial market, we are going to see an increase in remote applications like remote support, remote access, and remote maintenance. In healthcare, we’ll even see an increase in remote surgeries as mentioned.  

In terms of the supply chain market, I think being able to track multiple devices reliably will be a very notable benefit. If you think about the thefts happening now with cars and other fleet vehicles, enhanced security features and comprehensive real-time data is needed to protect fleets, as well as drivers. The enhanced performance of 5G will make it easier to keep vehicles and assets safe. 

Q. Could you elaborate a bit more on the remote assistance aspect you mentioned? 

A. Yes, for sure. Nowadays, if you have several people on a video call, you often can't have everyone using their cameras because of bandwidth issues. But if you were to have very high speed and low latency thanks to 5G, you could give everyone a VR kit and then it’s as if you're all in the same room. As an example, you could then do a gaming activity together that involves solving a problem with robots, which could be in a lab elsewhere doing the work for you. This is just one example… the possibilities are endless. There is a lot of scope for applying remote assistance to a lot of applications, and that could impact a lot of industries. 

Q. What direction do you think 5G is heading in the next couple of years and what is your vision for 6G? 

A. If we're talking about the Internet of Things, as supported by 5G, I think we're going to be seeing way more new and different things. Maybe it's not just the Internet of Things, perhaps it's going to be “the Internet of Nano Bio Things” where you'll get implants into the body, connected to the outside of the body. Again, through real time interaction, automation, and much more data, the possibilities for technology advancements are endless. 

To elaborate on the real-time aspect, everything is going to be connected in real-time. To use autonomous vehicles as an example, you may have a sensor in the vehicle that can sense when a person has consumed too much alcohol to the extent that he/she should not be sitting behind the wheel. Based on the real-time sensor data, the vehicle will be able to block operation or report to the police that this person is attempting to drive under the influence.  

Q. In summary, in your opinion, do you think 5G Is evolutionary or revolutionary? 

A. It's evolutionary. With 5G & 6G there is nothing revolutionary yet. It's all about what we have learned in the past and how we are evolving. More powerful technology and networks could, however, lead to revolutionary applications. In the past, we were limited in what we could achieve with technology because the network was not going to support it. But now, the network can support advanced technologies, so this allows us to broaden our scope and there'll be lots of possible applications. 

Stay tuned as we explore more insights into technology advancements and what 2022 will offer! 

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