02 October 2020

Talking about a revolution: 5G, connectivity and change.
BY Ciara O'Reilly

2020 has been a transformative year, in ways we could never have imagined back in January. With the life challenges that came with COVID-19, people have shown enormous resilience in adapting to new situations. In a way, it has opened the door for us to think about new possibilities when it comes to technology too.

The kind of digital transformation we only dreamed about 12 months ago has now Zoomed into reality. And with Ireland’s largest 5G network now launched, we have an opportunity to make the most of this unexpected ‘digital dividend’.

This year more than any other has made us all aware just how important connectivity is – it is the central nervous system for the country. The mass adoption of working from home during the early days of the health restrictions means there is a ready-made use case for the high capacity that the 5G network can offer. This makes it extremely well suited for working from home using a 5G FWA broadband solution, or even 5G-compatible handset as a mobile hotspot.

No more speed limits.

The increase in speed with 5G is dramatic: up to 1GBps in parts of the network. In some cases, that’s 5-10 times faster than the current 4G network, and it means 5G can be a very realistic alternative to fixed-line broadband.

Not only did the lockdown lead to a huge shift in how businesses operate, in some cases it’s causing people to rethink where they live now that they realise, they can work from almost anywhere. In the past, the lack of available bandwidth was a barrier to working remotely, particularly outside large urban centres. From day one, Three 5G is available in every county and we plan to add 500 more sites next year, adding to the 350 that are online today. Our 5G network has 35% population coverage, making it Ireland’s largest 5G network.

5G as a catalyst for change.

But connectivity is just the start; 5G can be a catalyst for fundamental changes in how businesses operate today. For example, 5G will enable new possibilities with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). We’ve tended to think of that as a consumer experience. That is true to an extent; the ‘5G stadium’ in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is a good example of a virtual experience that put the audience in the middle of the orchestra pit during a concert. But we can also apply those qualities to some very relatable examples for business.

Everyone knows how the Coronavirus crisis forced the retail industry to adapt. And with many people missing the in-store experience that comes from shopping in person, retailers could turn this situation to their advantage. Imagine offering 5G-powered virtual walk-throughs of their shops. There’s huge potential to deliver an immersive experience through a VR headset that comes close to replicating the feeling of being able to browse through a rack of clothes.

New ways of engaging with consumers.

Delivering this kind of experience to the online shopper will need retailers to develop interesting content. There are a few different ways of doing this: one might be to have a relatively inexpensive drone camera that records footage of every part of the store. But another more personal approach might be for a friendly shop assistant to walk through the store and record on their 5G handset. Or, taking this idea further, a shop could brand itself to a specific audience by getting a social media influencer to do the virtual walk-through.

For the consumer, it’s a fantastic possibility. For the business, it’s potentially a whole new operating model. At Three, we’re looking at our own estate of retail stores and thinking about what’s possible with 5G, such as interactive screens and other interesting ways to engage our customers. There are lots of creative ways to build excitement around a new product or service. 

Exploring what’s possible with 5G and IoT.

We’re also starting to see proof of concept projects in a range of different industry sectors, by combining 5G with the Internet of Things (IoT). 5G’s wide spectrum means it can handle far higher volumes of devices all communicating with each other. This opens new possibilities for IoT projects, giving businesses a platform for innovation.

For example, the mining industry is trialling autonomous vehicles that are remotely controlled from a safe distance. By fitting the vehicles and the mineshaft with sensors, mining companies get a wealth of data about the status of the mine without needing to send people deep underground at significant risk. One site that’s already in place today is the Boliden Aitik mine in Northern Sweden. Some Irish mining companies are exploring similar options because of how connected automation over 5G helps them to reduce cost and improve safety.

Other use cases that combine 5G with IoT include smart factories that use automation effectively, or smart offices with features like digital wayfinding, asset location and room scheduling. These are just some of the possibilities that are closer than ever.

The experiences of this year have helped to us realise we can deal with change when it’s not always of our own making. It’s also opened our eyes to possibilities we didn’t see before. 5G’s arrival has put those possibilities right in front of us and puts the levers of change in our hands.

Three is bringing 5G to more people, more businesses and more places across Ireland than any other network. Find out more by clicking the link below.