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5G is generating buzz across industries, and construction is no exception. The technology has the potential to unlock new levels of productivity and visibility on worksites that haven’t previously been possible. For example, 5G will make construction professionals more efficient by enabling a better way to transmit and share information—including video and sensor data—quickly.

What is 5G?

Simply put, 5G is the fifth and latest iteration of wireless networking technology, or broadband. The G stands for generation, and each generation has brought increased speed, reliability and accessibility. 5G promises to enable dramatically higher bandwidth and speeds, negligible latency and increased capacity. It is set to boost speeds 10 to 100 times faster than current long-term evolution (LTE) networks, offer extremely low latency (as little as one to 10 milliseconds) and support a far higher number of devices in a given area compared with LTE. 5G technology is also expected to offer the most reliable network availability to date and a 90% reduction in network energy consumption.

From the construction industry’s standpoint, 5G is positioned to revolutionize how contractors deliver projects by tackling a key challenge to digital transformation: worksite connectivity. 5G can help better enable the collection, capture and analysis of crucial onsite, real-time data to monitor the health, location, status and specifications of various assets.

Providing high bandwidth

Construction businesses work with very large data sets for richer visualization and multi-dimensional data sets, such as with building information models, image/reality capture, 4D, 5D and laser scanning. Add in new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (AR) and faster broadband will become increasingly important.

The high bandwidth of 5G is expected to provide 10 to 100 times faster speeds (1 gigabit in the air), compared with existing LTE networks, which should also mean equivalent increases in capacity. This could give construction professionals nearly instantaneous access to data-intensive edge and cloud applications, enabling multiple users to interact with each other in real time from anywhere in the world. Not only will this help foster interactions between worksites and the office for better measurement and tracking, these up-leveled speeds will enable video feeds with artificial intelligence (AI) that help recognize objects, workers and safety issues.

Delivering low latency

5G will give construction professionals the ability to access reliable information in near real-time with low network latency. The technology’s extremely short lag time could be the gateway to remote or autonomous construction operations, where construction businesses can understand what’s taking place on worksites quickly and easily perform the work with machines. This will be a huge step forward given the complexities of constantly evolving construction worksite environments.

Fueling 'Internet of Things' sensors

5G will also have a significant impact on the growth potential of the "Internet of Things," with the capacity for about 1 million sensors per square kilometer—a significant step up from legacy WiFi routers’ device limits. Internet of Things describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.

Eventually, jobsites will be able to sensorize virtually anything on a worksite, allowing companies to collect data from tools and materials. For example, workers could put sensors in concrete to assess cure time. Internet of Things sensors can be used for smart buildings, and with 5G, contractors can have a digital twin of that building with data from the very start of the project throughout its life. Internet of Things sensors can also be used for projects such as bridges while they’re being constructed, monitoring while they’re being moved and installed, tracking when they are complete and then later measuring data such as vibrations. Capturing information from these Internet of Things sensors will make 5G a critical component of a worksite.

Supporting edge computing

As 5G continues to enable increasing data volumes, not everything will be able to be done in the cloud and will require some of the computing to be done onsite with edge computing and mobile edge computing on 5G networks. Edge computing is a distributed computing framework that brings enterprise applications closer to data sources such as Internet of Things devices or local edge servers. This proximity to data at its source is extremely necessary in construction. For example, if a machine is digging on a worksite, it needs to be able to respond immediately to a safety issue. This will require the low latency of edge computing. Edge computing and mobile edge computing on 5G networks can deliver strong business benefits, including faster and more comprehensive data analysis and insights, improved response times and better bandwidth availability.

In summary, greater mobility and the advancements in connectivity brought about by 5G will further propel the industry’s ability to use insights provided through Internet of Things, AR, AI and machine learning. Being able to unite and analyze all this data quickly in a common data environment will be game changer in how projects get built moving forward.

To do this, there will be significant changes to device architecture and where computing occurs. Imagine a day where a pair of augmented reality glasses can connect to a 5G network and enable you to see into the various building phases in a project’s future. With these technologies providing greater connectivity, capacity and democratization of technology, 5G stands to be a key element to transform the construction industry.


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