MTN gave a nail-biting demonstration at the Gerotek race track yesterday of the possibilities of 5G in the real world. In case you haven’t been paying attention, 5G is the next evolution in mobile data. We had 2G, then 3G, then 4G/LTE (though this one was a bit contentious, with the two becoming synonymous, even though LTE didn’t necessarily achieve textbook 4G speeds) and now we have 5G. In short, it’s a faster standard that will let operators move more data between our devices and their infrastructure more rapidly.
Why does this matter? Not only will it allow us to watch cat videos in 4K on our mobile phones (when 5G-supporting phones come out), but it’ll make it possible for internet-of-things devices to communicate in almost real-time, and it’ll be key for the smart cities and connected cars we can look forward to in coming years.
MTN’s demonstration focused on an automotive use case. They strapped a VR headset to a race-car driver, put him in an SUV with blacked out windows, and made him do donuts on a skid pan in Pretoria via a live feed of cameras and sensors around the car and the track. That sounds like a man with a death wish, or a man with way too much trust in tech.
‘Driving around blindly’ has never been a more accurate statement. The idea around this real-world test, was to demonstrate the minimal latency in the 5G network — the driver was able to navigate the track using the live feed from the 4K video camera to the VR headset in real-time.
The industrial and medical applications — like a doctor in Singapore doing brain surgery on a patient in South Africa without any latency (for obvious reasons) — are myriad.
MTN began trialling 5G in South Africa in January, but it hasn’t indicated when we can expect to see it commercially. One of the challenges facing the operator — and its rivals — is how to allocate its limited radio frequency spectrum to ensure its current 3G and 4G services don’t suffer, while also rolling out 5G connectivity.
Another key application for 5G is going to be the various connected devices — from cars and phones to smart appliances and sensors — collectively called the internet of things (IoT). You can bet MTN’s rivals Vodacom, Telkom Mobile and Cell C are also testing their own 5G solutions, but MTN definitely wins points for the most novel 5G demonstration we’ve seen yet.