A roll-out of the much-hyped 5G telecommunications technology will not in itself revolutionize logistics, says Paul Soong, regional director of BluJay, which provides a wide variety of management software for the logistics and transport industries. Better management of business is the key.
Soong isn’t convinced.
“How quickly you push your messages and data doesn’t necessarily improve your customer service or your processes. Did the nature of failed deliveries improve when we went from 3G to 4G? No,” he asserted to FreightWaves.
What is 5G anyway?
5G is due out in Australia next year. But what is 5G anyway? That requires a (brief) high-level explanation of how the mobile phone system works.
Your phone converts analog data (images and sound) into data, which it then squirts to the nearest telephony-receiving and transmitting tower. Each tower is in the center of a “cell” (hence “cellular network”), which is the area in which the tower can efficiently receive and transmit data. At the bottom of each telephony tower is a “base station” which does all the computation and handles all the traffic for the data transmission and receipt in that cell. As each cell overlaps with its neighbors to form a continuous network of cells, data communication between the network and your phone continues even when you are moving around.
Back in Ye Olde Days (1983 to be precise) Bell Labs introduced the “Advanced Mobile Phone System” for purchase in the Americas. These were true mobile telephones although they were the size of a brick, were heavy and had a giant antenna sticking out of them. This was the first generation of mobile phones. Generations 2 and 3 subsequently followed, each bringing massive boosts in portability, ease of use and data transmission.
By the early-to-mid part of this decade, 4G was being rolled out around the world. But it’s already being superseded by 5G. Without getting bogged down in the details, it’s all about the average speed of data transmission.
Massive increases in the speed of mobile data transmission
Mobile data transmission speeds have massively increased – 2G had an average speed of about 0.1 megabits per second (mbps). Then there was a massive boost with the introduction of 3G, which had an average speed of 8 mbps. But that simply was not fast enough to even browse the web – as anyone who tried to to seriously access the internet on a 3G mobile phone could testify. Much of that has been solved with 4G, which has an average speed of 50 mbps.
But, word is, 4G won’t cut it for the next big demand – the internet of things.
The internet of things is all about putting things on the internet. Some people just love the idea of being able to control their office coffee pot with their mobile phone while at home. More serious applications will include such things as remote temperature control, telematics, sensing and monitoring – no joke if the machine being monitored is an autonomous vehicle at a mine site in the extremely far remote outbacks of Australia, Canada or Russia.
Some sources, such as research consultancy Gartner, say that 21 billion devices will be connected to the internet within the next year and that it will be a US$3 trillion per year industry too.
5G is being touted as the way to connect all these extra devices. 5G networks will feature more cells with a higher number of supported devices – up to one million per square kilometer (0.39 square miles). Raw data will no longer be crunched by a tower’s base station – it will be sent to a central location to be processed. 5G will also make more use of previously unused frequencies and higher frequencies.
Fast, fast, fast!
All of this means that 5G will be fast – up to 10 or 20 gbps whereas 4G has an average speed of 50 mbps and a top speed of 1 gbps. Remember, one gigabit per second equals 1,000 megabits per second.
That’s a super-massive increase in data transfer rates.
Soong reckons the internet of things will greatly benefit from 5G as data will feed into artificial intelligence systems.
“There are 37,000 touch points, daily, for Australia Post. 5G brings all that data into real-time. Operations should be able to feed their data back into the business. Why? They will be able to take corrective action. It will enable organizations to utilise artificial intelligence. It’s an enabler, a foundation, a building block,” he said.
He also said that it could, potentially, be used to redeploy technology, such as WhatsApp, that’s not much used in business-to-consumer relationships.
In a trucking-specific context, Soong says that 5G will help with informed decision-making on the fly. Visibility and notifications will increase. Customers will be more easily informed about unexpected problems such as trucks breaking down en route to their destinations.
Another benefit of 5G will have will be in its social impact.
“Seconds in real-time can be hours in a consumer’s mind. A consumer will be able to purchase an item and we will get that information to a depot instantly,” he explained.
So, with 5G, no more wondering for a few minutes, while you wait for a notification, if your favourite online merchant, or local restaurant, has actually received your order.
He gave another example of social impact. “I was with a delivery driver and there was, literally, a five- to 10-second delay while processing the signing-off of the delivery. If you do that multiple times a day, it can really be an issue. Especially when there are people waiting behind the courier in the queue,” he says.
But… those benefits are here already?
FreightWaves challenged Soong on several of these points, arguing that many of these benefits are already here with existing telecommunications technology. Soong agrees wholeheartedly – that’s the exact point. As Soong indicates, 5G represents a massive speeding up of data transmission. It does not magically equate to inherently better logistics.
“Yes, I can track more accurately. But have I got the right information? Was the delivery successful? I can push new information to a device, but has the situation on the ground already changed? For instance, if I’m a driver, I can text that I will deliver in the next 10 minutes. The new tech allows us to reschedule. That can be good or bad. It could be a waste of the courier’s time,” he explained.
“My message to industry is keep it simple. Adoption of technology is not always necessary to solve problems and create results. Take time and breathe. Think about processes and issues. Think about what happens if you put all your eggs in one basket. What about downtime? Black spots? Technology is an enabler. It is not a silver bullet. It is not going to solve all your problems. Use technology, but use it to improve your business processes,” he said.
“Don’t get caught up in all the hype.”