Some of us are already using 5G technology with our latest smartphones, but the full effects of 5G's capabilities have yet to be fully explored. The roll-out of 5G has been beset by a number of delays, chief amongst these being the Covid-19 pandemic, logistic issues and conspiracy theories leading to attacks on 5G equipment. There are signs though, that 2021 could be the year we finally start to see what 5G can really do - beyond enabling consumers to download songs and stream content on their mobiles at a much faster rate than previously.
A sector that could experience a real sea change, is commercial real estate. This is because, as buildings get smarter and businesses become more and more reliant on connectivity, they need a quicker, more stable, network to support their needs.
Whilst it is not going to happen overnight, reliance on Wi-Fi may decrease with the dissemination of 5G. 5G will probably not do away with Wi-Fi requirements entirely - at least not until there is a major ramp up in scale and infrastructure - but it will offer an alternative, at least temporarily, for businesses to adopt whilst a Wi-Fi connection is being installed, meaning that companies could be less reliant on having a wayleave in place before being able to work effectively from their new space. Historically, this process cannot be started until the tenant has a lease, or at least an exchanged agreement for lease, of the premises. In theory, this could mean having internet access from day one of a lease and no longer suffering with gaps - sometimes for months – before having a connection. With technologies advancing everyday (including Wi-Fi 6 which is due to be rolled out in the next few years), patchy connectivity and the thorny little wayleave issue may become something of the past.
Landlords/building owners too may see an opportunity: they could use 5G connections as a way of separating themselves from the crowd, and, potentially, bring in another revenue stream by charging occupiers for the privilege.
Another benefit to 5G-enabled buildings is that they should be responsive enough to enable instantaneous feedback for building management devices (e.g. alarms for security or fire/smoke etc., HVAC systems or utilities). This will enable owners and occupiers to have a better handle of their spaces and to ensure they are running efficiently and cost-effectively. The ability for 5G to handle many more connections than its predecessor means that IoT devices and sensors can be rolled-out with greater confidence that they will be a sound investment for years to come. With 5G also requiring fewer wires, the infrastructure needed to implement such devices should be quicker, cheaper and with less red-tape holding it back.
Beyond occupier-focused advances, 5G should also revolutionise the construction and design aspect of real estate. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is already a key part of the construction industry sector, but with 5G on board, real-time decision-making, and decision-changing, will become possible. This is because virtual mock-ups of a building and its design will be available more widely, quicker and at lower cost, meaning that they will become more of a live tool for day to day operation.
Developers/owners should also ensure that new buildings being constructed are capable of supporting 5G tech now - and enhancements in the future – by having risers that are wide enough, and plant rooms big enough, to accommodate the equipment without needing further adaptations down the line, particularly once the building is occupied.
Moving outside, it seems like we have been talking about the advent of autonomous vehicles as a viable alternative for an age; but with a partner in 5G, these could finally start hitting the roads in the next few years. This is because 5G has incredibly quick response times and so the decision-making needs of autonomous vehicles could be up to the standards required for real safety and usability. With 6G anticipated by the end of the decade too, things are only going to get more responsive and lower risk, but we are not quite there just yet.
Most new technologies bring with them teething issues, and 5G is no different: the waves are shorter frequency than 4G meaning that they do not travel as far and so the roll-out of antennae needs to be more extensive (potentially no more than 500ft apart). The effect of this is that 5G signals are more susceptible to blocking, particularly in built up areas. However, once the infrastructure is in place, these issues should be surmountable, meaning that applications dependent on speed and stability of connection - such as autonomous vehicles - can be introduced safely, and 5G as a whole can be a real driving force for technological change.