“If you want to be a first class mobile citizen, 5G phones are about to arrive.”

So proclaimed a News Corporation report in February this year. That came as Telstra declared that the 5G network which it had been building since 2016 was ready and that it had more than 200 sites 5G sites up and running across Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide Canberra, Perth Gold Coast and Toowoomba. It also came several months ahead of the launch of the Samsung S10 5G mobile in Australia in May – the first 5G phone to arrive down under.

For consumers, the ability to download full-length feature movies in a matter of seconds over a network which is up to 20 times faster compared with the existing 4G network will be awesome. So too will the ability to leverage the faster network for applications such as augmented reality, virtual reality and video conferencing which use high volumes of data.

Beyond this, a leader in construction technology believes that 5G will also have significant benefits for the building and engineering sector. In a recent editorial, Burcin Kaplanoglu, Executive Director and Innovation Officer, Oracle Construction and Engineering, said ‘buzz’ was growing around the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector in respect of 5G and that the technology was creating ‘excitement and anticipation’.

At a general business level, Kaplanoglu said benefits associated with 5G revolve around speed and real-time data collection.

“Essentially, 5G is about speed, reliability and capacity,” Kaplanoglu said.

“It’s the next generation of mobile broadband promising higher bandwidth speeds, negligible latency, and scalability. The promise of 5G is that it will bring in around 10 to 100 times faster speeds, with a very low latency, which could be anywhere from one to 10 milliseconds. It’s also believed to provide up to 10 to 100 times more capacity than our current long-term evolution (LTE) networks.

“From a business sense, 5G will be an enabler. Better connectivity will obviously be good for businesses, particularly in terms of data collection, capture and analysis/evaluation. But with 5G, much of this can happen in real time, which means decisions can be made more quickly and issues addressed sooner- before they worsen.”

At a practical level, Kaplanoglu says 5G will help to revolutionise how projects are delivered through overcoming the challenge challenge of workplace connectivity.

On site, 5G will help facilitate the ability to monitor the health, location, status and specifications of assets in real-time.

This could be used for:

  • Checking that site machinery is operational and available to be used.
  • Checking for updates to building plans
  • Understanding the status of orders such as window frames or fire extinguishers and to help ensure that the project schedule is on track.

Next, high bandwidth and low levels of latency associated with 5G should help to improve data capture across project delivery processes. This could help to improve the visibility of data across projects and could thus help to inform design decisions, minimise issues and changes during construction and avoid rework.

Another area is video caption. On this score, Kaplanoglu says 5G will help organisations to deploy technology to capture, organise and analyse large volumes of video related information quickly and relatively cheaply. Potentially, this could help to avoid costs by reducing the need for some teams to be on site. Provision of visual imagery of the site in real time could deliver piece of mind to project owners along with transparency surrounding project progress at any point in time.

Further, 5G will facilitate greater rollout of sensors to enable data collection, Along with improving transparency and efficiency through better tracking of materials, these can be deployed for other uses such as confirming in real-time whether or not safety protocols are being followed.

Finally, as referred to above, 5G through its anticipated speed, reliability and capacity will help to ensure that site plans are updated in real-time each time an action is performed. This, Kaplanoglu says, will be ‘gold’ in terms of minimising risk and dealing with issues of a relatively minor nature before these escalate and morph into issues which are more serious.

 

Beyond data management and project management, there is also excitement about the prospect of using 5G for applications such as remote control of vehicles and machinery. In the Nordic area (the company did not specify the specific location), Volvo Construction Equipment has set up a 25 hectare test site where the remote-controlled wheel loader, the L180H, is located – and a simulator inside a tent about 100m away behind a concrete wall. In 2017, it successfully placed a machine 400 metres below the ground and controlled it from the surface. In an early experiment with 5G in 2015, the company had an excavator placed in Eskilstuna and operated from Barcelona.

As with most new technologies, however, 5G brings challenges. A particular concern is security. Whilst 5G enables the opportunity to have a greater number of ‘end points’ and connected devices on site, this potentially delivers parties such as espionage perpetrators or cyber criminals more points of entry to the network. Accordingly, organisations will need to observe greater rigour and ensure that security standards are up to date and are followed across all end points.

As well, the ability to collect more data from different sources will necessitate greater consideration about access controls and the type of information that each party is able to view.

To manage this, Kaplanoglu says organisations will need a robust security strategy which takes into account what devices are online, when they are online, whether in fact they need to be online and who has access to them.

When going about this, he says it can be helpful to group devices into tiers based on the level of risk to which they expose the organisation.

With ‘end points’, technology should be used to monitor these to ensure that patches are up to date and that security protocols are being adhered to.

Security strategies should also specify what happens when a security breach occurs. This involves understanding who deals with the issue, how it is dealt with and how lessons will be captured to ensure that the issue does not reoccur.

Asked about strategies which engineering and construction firms can adopt to derive optimum value from 5G technology, Kaplanoglu cautions that the full capabilities which the technology will unlock will not be known until it has been used and tested on site. As well, new technologies bring startups and innovation. What might come of that is anyone’s guess as yet.

At a high level, however, he says 5G will help to increase the collection, capture and analysis of data. With this in mind, he says several things need to be considered. First, organisations need to have standardised ways in how projects are delivered. To help not just to unlock benefits associated with 5G but also to help to deliver projects on time as well as within budget and with required levels of quality and safety, meanwhile, strong governance is needed around project data and information. Finally, strategies are needed both to identify and act upon trends and issues which emerge on current projects and also to enable lessons from prior projects to be captured and applied to current and future work.

For engineering and construction companies, 5G offers amazing potential.

Should organisations adopt strategies outlined above, many will be well positioned to capitalise on these.