With high-speed 5G technology coming soon to cities around the world, the stage is set for next-generation office technology from virtual reality meetings to automated building management.
Up to a hundred times faster than today’s 4G internet, 5G uses different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum not accessible to existing technology, and has the capacity to handle ten to hundred times the number of devices on a single network.
“5G technology is ideal for connecting vast numbers of Internet of Things devices from movement sensors to smart printers in order to create the fully digital workplace,” says Ziad Banyamin, Solutions Architect at JLL.
For an increasingly mobile workforce, it opens up greater possibilities for remote working, even in areas which have previously had issues with cellular connectivity.
Utilising femto-cell technology, 5G internet would be carried by much smaller base stations than today’s cellular towers, allowing signal to blanket remote as well as urban regions and reducing the incidence of signal drops. Employees would be able to collaborate in real-time on editing or creating large files, including HD video and 3D images, with near-instant file transfers, while video conferencing would no longer experience lags, improving productivity during digital meetings.
In the UK, Vodafone conducted the nation’s first holographic call over 5G internet, connecting a 3D projection of footballer Steph Houghton in Manchester to an office 200 miles away. For remote workers, being able to “see” colleagues or projects could markedly improve productivity when telecommuting.
Across the world, 70 percent of people work remotely at least once a week, with 53 percent working remotely over half the week. Meanwhile, flexible workspace could account for as much as 30 percent of corporate real estate portfolios by 2030. The higher speeds and bandwidth of 5G internet would allow more users to access the same network for a seamless, high-speed connection, and with minimal additional equipment.
“5G can be a replacement or a true disruption for fixed line broadband”, says Rakesh Chauhan, Solutions Architect Director at JLL.
“We could see WiFi enabled laptops replaced by 5G-enabled smartphones and tablets. By connecting these 5G enabled devices with high speed capability to a bigger screen you can visualise the same laptop experience for online collaboration without the need of a bulky laptop,” he adds.
The greater bandwidth would also allow artificial intelligence programs to analyse more data in real-time, allowing smart buildings to engage and interact with employees and landlords.
Ultra-smart buildings to come
Virtual reality and augmented reality have the potential to take off as 5G internet rolls out. “This has immense implications for the digital workplace which could begin using virtual reality meeting rooms, which would reduce the space needed for physical meeting rooms – and a company’s real estate footprint – while connecting global teams,” Chauhan says.
Colleagues could log into a designated online space to interact with remote team members in real-time; smaller office nooks could be transformed by virtual reality spaces designed for telecommuting members to work together on a digitally reproduced product.
Augmented reality goggles might be used to aid maintenance problems within the building environment, allowing technicians to undertake simple fixes, reducing downtime in case of equipment failure.
Smart buildings such as The Edge already analyse sensor data to optimise light and heating. With the higher speeds and bandwidth of 5G internet, workplaces could go fully wireless, from printers and hard drives to sensors, windows and doors.
This could usher in totally cloud-based building management systems (BMS), simplifying building admin especially for companies with a portfolio of buildings. System administrative teams could be streamlined into a single hub for managing workplaces across various cities or countries, while the improved capacity of 5G for analysing real-time data would allow for predictive maintenance where the BMS books in upkeep before the equipment fails.
The challenge – and future – for 5G adoption
North American carriers will be launching 5G services by the end of the year, with South Korea to follow in 2019. However, workplace adoption could take another few years as 5G internet would need to clear compliance standards for corporate security. Costs would also need to become competitive enough for a business to invest in an overhaul of 5G-enabled office equipment.
“We will see consumer adoption of 5G devices such as smartphones before workplace adoption,” says Banyamin.
Within five to ten years however, a 5G office network could be commonplace – whether that is the hyper-fast 3D printer or an AI-powered 5G security camera to replace front desk staff.
“Technology comes with a lot of hype,” concludes Chauhan. “Hopefully with 5G, that hype the industry is already marketing will become reality.”