Sunday 18 August 2019

Connecting Ireland to the future: 5G and why it matters

Maurice Mortell, managing director for Ireland and emerging markets, Equinix
Maurice Mortell, managing director for Ireland and emerging markets, Equinix

Maurice Mortell

As Ireland’s FDI landscape continues to prosper in tandem with a burgeoning start-up scene that spans the country, the need for high-speed connectivity that connects people and devices has never been greater.

5G promises to propel us into a new digital age that will make Ireland an even more attractive country in which to do business. However, as businesses vie to make Ireland’s 5G future a reality, the transformative technology remains a mystery to many. So, what is 5G and why does it matter?

For those of you who remember the dial-up days of the nineties, the upgrade to 3G connectivity – and then 4G – was transformative. But we have quickly outgrown these advances. Our design-heavy files are too big to download, our internet-reliant TV shows leave us staring at buffering screens and video conferencing can suffer from delayed responses and frozen images.

A 5G network will again transform the way in which data can be used, offering not only enhanced mobile broadband, but also enabling a huge volume and variety of communications, based on its extra-reliable and efficient network.

5G will provide users with access to much higher bandwidth levels, which will mean we can do more in less time.

Technology companies will continue to create new, more advanced applications that once again transform how we do things. That is good news for Ireland’s tech ecosystem.

Indigenous companies are already leading the way in developing 5G-enabled IoT devices that can do everything from blood pressure management, to improving efficiency with mobile workforces.

The rollout of 5G will provide these companies with the digital infrastructure they need to thrive and scale.

Ultimately, all this change and innovation will lead to increased interconnection bandwidth – the capacity to privately exchange data – as people and businesses take advantage of higher download speeds and revolutionary functionality, and so require increased levels of interconnection to bypass the sluggish speed of the public internet.

Our own research in Equinix Ireland has found that businesses are already starting to do this.

We carried out a survey among 100 IT decision-makers and some 50pc of them said avoiding the public internet is crucial to the daily function of their business.

This reflects a global trend and our Global Interconnection Index shows that the growth in interconnection traffic volumes is actually 10 times greater than that of the public internet now.

The implementation of 5G, which is being hailed as the latest step in the world’s current technology-based industrial revolution, will transform industries; helping companies across sectors to interconnect with partners to drive their businesses forward and achieve optimal performance.

A new mobile industry

While the move from 3G to 4G was a relatively small step for technology, the transition from 4G to 5G will reshape the mobile industry – with speeds up to 10 times faster on 5G networks.

As a far superior wireless data service, 5G brings a whole host of innovation, with a particular focus on network and latency speeds.

In fact, it boasts speeds fast enough to download a full-length HD film in five seconds flat. A few years ago, that was unthinkable.

Telecoms companies, who will be providing much of the 5G infrastructure, will have to connect to new business partners across various sectors to attain the full benefits of the technology.

While your traditional telco may not have much need to connect to automotive companies now, it must nevertheless develop these relationships as connected cars become more prevalent.

Similarly, increased mobile gaming will lead telecommunications firms to diversify their partnerships.

The increased speeds that come with 5G will allow people to play complex video games directly on their phones, replacing the need for traditional game consoles.

Due to the low latency rate, 5G comes very close to real-time processing.

The mobile gaming industry will have no limits.

Our surroundings are getting smart

Urbanisation is taking hold in Ireland, placing huge strain on existing infrastructure.

The advent of 5G is expected to be the catalyst needed to develop and implement the smart technologies we so often read and hear about.

5G will enable connected devices around our towns and cities to streamline processes.

An example of this is traffic lights, which will track the movements of vehicles and share the insights they gather to improve traffic flows.

This will not only reduce commute times, but it will also cut our CO2 emissions.

These connected traffic lights will also be able to communicate with street lights to ensure they are only in use when necessary, saving both power and money, whilst also maintaining safety for drivers.

It’s not solely urban areas that can benefit from the dawn of 5G in Ireland.

Our agricultural industry could be transformed, too. Bringing reliable, high-bandwidth speeds to rural communities allows farmers to monitor and analyse their livestock, crops and machinery.

In an industry which is hugely dependent on manual labour, saving time and energy for individuals could evolve food production – an important task as food production fails to meet demands for a rapidly growing world population.

Of course, key to this will be bringing rural Ireland’s digital infrastructure and connectivity up-to-speed with the rest of the country’s.

Healthcare innovation

The healthcare sector will also greatly benefit from the advent of 5G. Imagine you’re in need of specialised surgery and can’t afford to travel the length of the country for treatment. 5G promises to reinvent the healthcare industry, bringing meaningful solutions to medical issues.

These benefits are already being trialled across the world.

Just recently we heard of progress being made by a doctor in China who became the first to perform remote control surgery over a super-fast 5G network.

This surgeon was 30 miles from an operating theatre but was able to manipulate two robotic arms in as close to real-time as possible, and complete the operation successfully.

Ireland is a global MedTech hub, with 13 of the world’s top 15 medical technology companies having a base here.

With connected health being a top R&D priority for many of these companies, harnessing 5G for use in preventative medicine could drastically improve life outcomes for Ireland’s ageing population; keeping patients out of hospitals by giving them the option to monitor their health at home.

How can we make the 5G dream a reality in Ireland?

The benefits of 5G are vast. However, with these benefits comes a massive increase in data traffic.

Equinix research shows that Irish businesses predict that their data volumes will explode by 72pc in the next three years.

In the dawn of 5G, we must ensure we have the digital infrastructure in place to not just cope with all that it brings, but thrive. For businesses that means embracing cloud technology and interconnection.

For Ireland, that could mean data centre hubs popping up in every town, or encouraging more subsea cables to land here.

The data centre industry in Ireland is preparing for the launch of 5G and all the data, inventions and applications that come along with it.

The new network is at the point of revolutionising the networking industry, and promising rapid anytime, anywhere and any device connectivity.

This is where Equinix comes in – by enabling businesses to circumvent the public internet via an interconnection-first approach, all data will be protected and productive, in what will soon become a 5G world.

Maurice Mortell is managing director for Ireland and emerging markets, Equinix

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