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Technology such as home broadband and remote video applications kept people working when the world closed up. An emerging technology, 5G, is poised to facilitate that work – and kick start a recovery. Here’s how.

There’s no fast way to get out of a pandemic, but one technology – 5G – is helping businesses find a fast way back to financial success. Indeed, Covid-19 decimated the health and well-being of people and businesses across the globe. Small-and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) were hit especially hard. For example, before the pandemic there were 5.94 million small businesses – defined as companies with 49 or fewer employees – in the United Kingdom. These companies comprised 99.3 percent of all U.K. businesses, according to the National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses. Worryingly, however, by January 2021 more than one in seven U.K. businesses faced “imminent closure,” according to the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) and the Alliance for Full Employment (AFFE).

Another study found that 61 percent of small businesses faced financial concerns over the past 15 months. “Covid-19 is expected to cost SMBs upwards of £126.6bn – nearly double the £69bn projected a year ago,” according to the report. There were some companies that defied these odds, though. One group of companies in particular benefitted from a new partnership between Cambridge Wireless and Huawei Technologies that’s giving them access to 5G technology. Their experience can act as a blueprint for other SMBs looking to recover and excel in these challenging times.

The Growing Need for Speed
5G is a wireless standard that runs the latest iteration of broadband cellular networks. One of its three main benefits, along with Massive Machine type communication which is the ability of machines to communicate quickly and ultra-reliable low latency of up to 1 millisecond, is increased bandwidth. Some early 5G implementations hit up to 10 gigabits per second – 100 times faster than the current ubiquitous 4G wireless network. This speed translates into potential revenue, explains Victor Zhang, vice-president at Huawei Technologies.

“Based on third-party analysis by Accenture, by 2025 5G will help create or transform 2.7 million jobs and bring in more than €150 billion – the equivalent of £128.3 billion – in benefits for the U.K.’s gross domestic product (GDP), and that’s very exciting to see.”

Victor Zhang, vice-president at Huawei Technologies

In January his company, along with Cambridge Wireless, launched a 5G wireless testbed, bringing a private 5G network to the Cambridge Science Park. This was significant because just prior to the pandemic, the fibre broadband coverage in the U.K. was a mere 12 percent, far behind other developed countries. James Sephton, managing director of Grange Live Gaming Ltd., an entertainment company that’s bringing the augmented reality sport HADO to the world, is one of the small companies using the testbed. The introduction of 5G capabilities to his company’s existing offering has been a complete game changer – literally.

HADO is played in a virtual environment, with players moving around in a 3D arena where they can interact with each other. It’s like they are part of the video game. Until now spectators viewed the games much as they would if they were watching on a television screen: game play was flat and two-dimensional. By implementing 5G the company can “drop” spectators into the middle of the game. They get the feeling of standing on the sporting match’s sidelines.

“The players always had this immersive experience, as they were playing on a very fast, closed network,” says Sephton. “Now through 5G, we can give that same immersive experience to the viewing audience, which is something that was totally impossible with 4G.”

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Indeed, small companies such as Grange Live Gaming Ltd. didn’t have access to such high-speed bandwidth in the past. This new gaming feature thanks to 5G gives it the ability to sign on new sponsorships and potentially even pay its players, much like any other sports team would. Innovation such as this is one reason 5G is so important to struggling companies that need to evolve their business models, explains one industry expert.

“[Companies] are slowly starting to understand the trade-offs between WiFi and LTE/5G, as well as the role that cellular-based technologies can play with not just Massive and Broadband [Internet of Things] but also with Critical Internet of Things (IoT)– including Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing – resulting in improved flexibility, efficiency and production quality.”

Stefan Pongratz, vice-president and industry analyst at Dell’Oro Group, a research firm that covers the telecom market.

Bringing IoT to the Masses
Another testbed participant, Camnexus Ltd., is seeing benefits from using IoT, thanks to 5G technology. The company’s customers are business-to-business clients that are looking to manage different types of industrial resources, such as clean water, sanitation transport, and clean energy. Using a series of IoT sensors, the company gives its customers the ability to do things like watch for watermain breaks to reduce overall water consumption and fix problems before they can impact the bottom line.

“We can have data coming in from water utility companies and simultaneously take actions based on the data,” says Dr. Jessica Ocampos, a co-founder and director of Camnexus. Her company was also able to execute the first 5G-to-5G, end-to-end HD video-streaming and simultaneous simulation of a massive IoT scenario with teams that were 10,000 km apart.

Dr. Ocampos compares the change in dedicated bandwidth that’s available with 5G to going from a bicycle lane to a highway. Using 5G, small businesses can segment voice and video data from sensor data, so everything comes in at once. They can also store and analyze the data using cloud-based artificial intelligence and analysis and applications. This means the company doesn’t need to install such technologies on premises -- or add information technology staffers to its payroll. Finally, the company benefits from a 5G technology that is simply more reliable. The end result: Easier communication, better visibility and insight into customer and industry trends, and increased productivity, all of which level the playing field for this and other SMBs.

It’s this promise that will make 5G so appealing to the SMB market as companies work to dig themselves out of the hole that Covid-19 created, according to Dr. Ocampos.

“The emergence of 5G and the advantages it offers are massive.”

Dr. Jessica Ocampos, Co-founder and Director, Camnexus Ltd

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