Vodafone focuses on social breakthroughs with 5G Hub

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Vodafone focuses on social breakthroughs with 5G Hub

By Wim Danhof

5G mobile internet will lead to social breakthroughs through spectacular improvements in internet speed, response time, and reliability. Various innovative user applications are being developed and tested in the 5G Hub in Eindhoven, a test environment set up in early 2020 by four parties: Brainport Development, High Tech Campus, Ericsson, and VodafoneZiggo. We spoke with Jelmer Letterie, Sander van der Zande, and René Visser, all of whom work at VodafoneZiggo, about the new possibilities offered by 5G and the activities in the 5G Hub.

5G is technically the new standard for wirelessly transmitting mobile internet from antennas to devices, including smartphones, vehicles, robots, and sensors. The main purpose of 5G is to support:

  1. More internet speed due to more mobile bandwidth.
  2. The possibility of mass communication between machines.
  3. Ultra-reliable, near real-time communication for critical applications.

3.5 GigaHertz really lets 5G fly

5G holds great promise, but within the current frequency bands, the performance of 4G and 5G differs little. Frequency bands refer to spectrum: the part of the mobile traffic that passes through the air. It will only really go wild with 5G when – possibly from September 2022 – the 3.5 GigaHertz frequency band is released. Compared to 4G, this doubles the spectrum for the important medium band, which is characterized by an optimum coverage and bandwidth. Later on, the 26 GigaHertz band will be added, which can be used up to only 200 meters but with extremely high bandwidth. The latter frequency puts an end to current problems with faltering connections in crowded locations such as football stadiums and festival grounds.

Yet companies do not have to wait until the new spectrum for 5G is available, according to Jelmer Letterie, marketer for the Internet of Things at VodafoneZiggo. “We already have a license for the 3.5 and 26 GigaHertz spectrum in the 5G Hub on the High Tech Campus. Market parties can submit their propositions for which this increased spectrum may be necessary for research and testing. If you as a company, institution, or government only start exploring the possibilities of 5G when the new frequency bands have been released, you will have missed valuable development time, and your innovation will be ready later than necessary.”

Focus on four 5G application areas

Dozens of use cases have been tested in the 5G Hub since 2020. From the use of wireless, mobile cameras with artificial intelligence for analysis of hockey games to smartweed robots in arable farming, and from unmanned parcel delivery via drones to streaming 3D video for augmented reality. Letterie: “All the use cases that we take up here with customers after concluding an agreement can be traced back to one of the following four application areas in which we see a lot of potential for 5G: healthcare, manufacturing industry, media & entertainment, and sustainability, as a theme that cuts right through the application areas.”

Applications that help society further

René Visser, program manager of the 5G Hub on behalf of VodafoneZiggo, adds: “We participate in the 5G Hub with three other founders (see intro, ed.). Numerous partners have now also joined this initiative, such as Rabobank. If a company, institution, or government has an idea that can be tested and developed in the 5G Hub, they can contact us. In co-creation, we can develop interesting concepts into new solutions with social impact because that is what we are looking for. But we can also bring organizations into contact with all kinds of technology companies on the High Tech Campus or elsewhere in our network, outside the 5G Hub. They may – each based on a unique field of expertise – prove to be an indispensable link within an intended innovation.”

René Visser, on behalf of VodafoneZiggo program manager of the 5G Hub.

The connected ambulance: life-saving ‘low latency’

Technology strategist Sander van der Zande elaborates on the most important improvements of a full-fledged 5G compared to 4G, citing some use cases highlighted in the 5G Hub: “With speeds of over 1000 Megabits per second, 5G is more than ten times faster than 4G, making it suitable for applications that require much more speed than is currently possible. Think of augmented reality and virtual reality: you need higher streams for that. But 5G is also about reliability and low latency: an extremely low delay in data throughput.”

“An example of this is the connected ambulance that we are testing in the 5G Hub. The ultrasound equipment on board an ambulance can stream the data from a victim’s diagnosis to a hospital, where a doctor can watch live and give advice. With the expertise of the hospital, the patient can be helped better. A reliable connection with the hospital is crucial here. With 4G, this is not possible because this network is used by everyone, and sometimes not enough bandwidth is available. With 5G, we can guarantee the bandwidth for that critical application, which saves lives. What plays a crucial role here is network slicing: with 5G mobile internet, the physical mobile network infrastructure can be divided into virtual slices. In this way, we can each have our own path, offer our own guaranteed capacity. You, as a user, will not be pushed away when it gets busy. In consultation with the customer, these slices can be precisely tailored to the requirements of specific applications via a Network-as-a-Service model (NaaS), for example in terms of capacity, delay, reliability, and security.”

Sending safely remotely via collaboration

The connection, speed, and low latency ensured by network slicing play a crucial role in another use case in the 5G Hub. Van der Sande points to a play seat, from which a car can be controlled remotely. “The car has a camera that transfers the images it films via 5G to the screen in front of the play seat. There should be as little delay as possible. When steering, braking, or accelerating, those commands are sent back to the car via 5G, with as little delay as possible. It is very important that you immediately see the images of the car in the play seat after they have been filmed. With 4G, there would be too much delay so that you are too late with your reactions, and you can run into something or someone. The 5G set up in the 5G Hub has an end-to-end round trip delay of approximately ten milliseconds. You could apply this low delay to vehicles that you have to control remotely, for example, the self-driving car. If it gets stuck on its own, a remote driver could guide it through a situation. But also think of a drone that has to send medicines or food packages somewhere, and where a pilot can land the drone at the right place safely and with maximum control at a great distance.”

Jelmer Letterie, marketer for IoT at VodafoneZiggo.

Short lines through the High Tech Campus

Jelmer Letterie emphasizes the importance of so-called eco-systems thinking to get such innovations off the ground: “Technology is one thing, and that is complex enough as it is. Sometimes we as VodafoneZiggo do not have a solution for a particular problem, but we can find one within our network. For example, in the latter example, you also have to encode the video images to be sent from the vehicle and decode the video images to be received over and over. You can have an excellent mobile connection, but if this part of this application always takes many milliseconds, then the low delay of 5G is of no use. That car or drone will still crash. With Soliton, we have a software company as a partner within the 5G Hub that specializes in the fast encoding and decoding of video images.” René Visser: “External factors also play a role in the question of how quickly such an application can be launched on the market. For example, flying beyond the visual line of sight is currently not permitted by law at all. The pilot has to run with the drone on the ground.”

5G and Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Such hurdles play a standard role in the question of what the real impact will be of that super-fast and reliable 5G mobile internet. Van der Zande refers to the Gartner Hype Cycle: “In the beginning, expectations are high. Then it is a bit disappointing because the practice turns out to be unruly. Before 5G has reached a certain maturity and stability to be widely deployed, you are sometimes further along. But at the same time, 5G creates a technological layer that will penetrate deeper and deeper into society. If you look back ten years from now, you will be surprised how much has been achieved thanks to 5G.”

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This article was first published on the VodafoneZiggo website.