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Sep 13 2018

The innovation delay: why the most exciting 5G possibilities are yet to be discovered

This is a guest blog by Dr Shini Somara, a Fluid Dynamicist and popular science, technology and innovation reporter

In terms of sheer potential, I think 5G is the most exciting technical leap forward of the last decade. The scale and breadth of innovation 5G is going to make possible is hard to fully comprehend.

This isn’t just about being able to download things faster – 5G is going to radically improve the latency, speed, coverage, capacity and density of networks all over the world. And combined, that means a lot of new things are going to happen.

It’s a really complex topic, and that’s why we created The “Okay, But How?” Show – to dive into the fascinating world of 5G and explore not just what is going to be possible, but also how it’s going to happen.

Because once we understand how change happens, we can do a better job of extrapolating on its possibilities. Take latency.

What is latency?

Latency is the delay between an input and the expected outcome. In networking, latency is measured in milliseconds, and it refers to the time between a user’s action, and the technology’s reaction.

Some latency is acceptable – it depends on the task at hand, and the person (or system) performing it. But when latency gets too high for a given use-case, the time between input and output gets too long to be workable. We’ll call this the “latency threshold”.

For humans, latency dictates how responsive something feels. The latency threshold sits at the point where the experience feels sluggish, and inputs feel disconnected from results.

So while a competitive multiplayer videogame feels good to players at around the 20-30 millisecond mark, things start to feel off if that latency creeps any higher.

Business workloads today tend to have a higher latency threshold – anywhere between 50ms and a few hundred milliseconds generally feels acceptable to users, and today’s 3G and 4G networks can support this.

But businesses are also working within the constraints of today’s technology. And when 5G’s ultra-low latency removes those constraints, the pace of innovation is going to quickly accelerate.

How is 5G going to change latency?

The latency in 4G networks today sits at around 100ms. 5G is going to deliver ultra-low latency that sits around the 10ms mark.

That’s a huge difference – not just because it’s going to necessarily feel faster to humans (though it certainly will), but also because it’s going to support new, sophisticated business workloads with a particularly low latency threshold. Things like advanced robotics, industrial automation and automated construction monitoring.

Nokia has created a fantastic demonstration of what the difference between 90ms and 9ms looks like – it’s so good I used it in “Okay, but how?” here –

Using the 5G network, the robots in the video perform thousands of highly-precise, real-time adjustments to stabilize the ball almost instantly.

It’s not hard to extrapolate from this example the broad application that real-time robotics might have elsewhere – automating complex shop floor processes in manufacturing or enabling remote surgery in telehealth.

But just like a lot of other areas of 5G, we’re just at the beginning. The use-cases being developed for ultra-low latency today are just the start. We don’t know where 5G is going to take us. Innovation experiences latency too – between the technological leap forward, and the discovery of what it enables. 


Sprint and Nokia will show this 5G Low Latency demonstration at MWC-Americas in Los Angeles, USA so please visit us and discuss innovations in 5G.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia and @nokianetworks using #5G #LowLatency #URLLC

About Dr. Shini Somara

Engineers are passionate about finding solutions and Dr. Shini Somara is no exception. She qualified as a Mechanical Engineer and Fluid Dynamicist at a very young age, but her thirst for knowledge and curiosity for human advancement sent her traveling around the globe discovering cutting-edge science, technology and innovation. Shini translates what she finds into inspiring and engaging television for all ages, and is a spirited advocate for the fascinating work being done to push the boundaries of human scientific progress.

Tweet me at @shinisomara