June 6, 2019
Responding in Real Time: 5G and Latency .
In May 1844 an American inventor named Samuel Morse did something very simple: he pressed down on a button and completed an electrical circuit. This was, however, no ordinary circuit—the connection Morse created, and the ones that followed in a pattern of dots and dashes that mirrored the alphabet, became the first telegram ever sent in the United States.
Morse’s invention had an enormous impact on how the world worked. It exponentially increased the speed at which people could respond to information transmitted or received over long distances. In effect, the telegraph system reduced latency— the delay between a request for a movement of data and that movement taking place— in our communications.
Today, we are beginning another revolutionary leap forward in communications technology: the fifth generation of wireless, or 5G. 5G reduces the latency of existing 4G networks by a factor of five and enables huge advancements across industries, including:
Today’s autonomous vehicles rely on the car’s ability to sense its surroundings, but with 5G-enabled smart city sensors, the street and traffic lights, among other elements of our road infrastructure, will be able to talk back to the vehicle, enabling a data “conversation” powered by low latency. Cars’ ability to gather, process and respond to information from the world around them through sensors in the environment will also make them better able to respond to changing traffic conditions. 4G’s latency means that a car gets the message to apply brakes after 4.6 feet, but in 5G that message reaches the vehicle after just one inch of movement.
Virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality.
VR and AR applications—like those that provide a therapeutic environment to work through a stress disorder, help firefighters train for emergencies, or even enhance a sports event—are most realistic when the virtual world is seamlessly integrated into our real one. 5G’s low latency will be key to removing noticeable lags that occur when there isn’t enough computing power to process a data-heavy application.
Healthcare and Robotic Surgery.
Faster data processing will have an impact in the operating room, too. With VR and AR powered by 5G, doctors can preview a patient’s surgical procedure or scans in 3-D, making them better prepared for complex medical procedures. Remote diagnostics and robotic surgery also benefit from decreased latency in 5G, allowing the large files required to process medical data to move from a patient in one location to a doctor in another, or making an operation less invasive thanks to ultra-responsive robotic tools that are more precise and flexible than traditional surgical techniques.
When Samuel Morse relayed that first message from Washington to Baltimore in 1844, we never could have predicted the innovation that would blossom from such a simple concept: moving and responding to information faster. Thanks to 5G’s huge improvements in data processing, the next generation of wireless promises to bring us a similarly impactful reduction in latency that will redefine what is possible across industries.