The Monday Interview: Talking ’bout a 5G smart revolution

Pádraig Hoare

The comet-like speed of technological change has transformed our lives over the past decade, but 5G technology will again revolutionise life as we know it over the next 10 years, says Vodafone Ireland’s head of networks, Max Gasparroni.

“I am head of networks, which means I am responsible for the network infrastructure in Vodafone Ireland, including both the mobile network and the fixed network, and the enterprise network that we have following various acquisitions we have completed over the last few years — Cable & Wireless, Inter-fusion, Complete Telecom — so we have basically a fixed enterprise infrastructure as well.

“I would call myself a veteran because I have been around the block for over 20 years. When I started, for the first few years of my career, I was working on web design, web applications, and the rest. When I started working in telecoms, it was around 1999-2000. It was when 3G was the new up-and- coming technology. It hadn’t been deployed yet, at the time it was 2G and the analog, so I saw basically 3G from the inception to the rollout. Then it became 4G and now we are onto the 5G. It is like a big wheel that spins around every seven or eight years — we have new technological changes, similar to the car. Carmakers will bring out a new model every seven years,” he said.

What exactly is 5G and what impact will it have on everyday life? A major one, according to Mr Gasparroni.

“5G is the next generation of mobile technology, built upon the foundation of 4G. What will it do? It will provide four main features, essentially. That is, ultra-high speeds, firstly. The second feature is that you will be able to connect a huge amount of devices. Thirdly, it will increase the reliability of the connection. Fourthly, it will mean very low latency. These four features mean an improvement of what we currently have on 4G.

“5G will enable for the everyday user — that is someone in the normal sense, someone with a smartphone, or a device with the Internet of Things (IoT) — to unlock a plethora of new use cases. We classify the use cases broadly into four categories. The ultra-high speeds will enable use cases like broadband in media.

“So it could be 4K media streaming, video analytics, holograms — very high definition video download and upload, with continuous progress in terms of screen resolutions enhancing what can be transmitted.

“It will enable the massive adoption of the Internet of Things, where you have a number of devices connected. It could be a car, it could be a fridge inside your home, smart meters, smart lighting. What it does is build on narrow-band IoT technology as part of the 4G,” he said.

It may be hard to imagine, but a city that is “smart” will be the norm in the future, as will smart healthcare and smart driving, said Mr Gasparroni.

“The example I usually give is the smart city. Because they will have this narrowband IoT, they can communicate with a central platform. You will plan the bin collection of the city more effectively, as the information you are receiving means you can plan for it.

“Instead of sending people around to empty bins that may not be full, or not being able to empty bins that are full in a timely fashion, this will optimise the process. Because you effectively have objects talking.

“With smart lighting on the streets, you can switch on and off based on the information that you collect — who is nearby, when they are nearby, how many, etc. These efficiencies means you will save costs.

“You could have remote patient monitoring, which would be of benefit to Ireland with it being a rural country. It is very important that we have the technological infrastructure that benefits the people that do not live in the main cities to be connected,” he said.

It will take time to implement — Vodafone Ireland has targeted 2020 as its timeframe to roll out the 5G process — but once it takes hold, growth will be rapid, he said.

“Like everything in life, such as televisions, it takes five to years to deploy these kind of devices into people’s everyday lives. This also applies in the case of narrowband IoT (the precursor to narrowband 5G). You start seeing massive ramping-up, like in smartphones. One day the floodgates open up and you see the exponential increase in the adoption of such technology.”

Vodafone Ireland has already successfully tested 5G at an event in Trinity College, Dublin.

"We did the first live demo of a 5G network, where we demonstrated speeds in excess of 15 gigabits per second. These are groundbreaking speeds,” he said.

“It is a journey. We already started deploying our 4G network with the initial 5G attributes. The first was the implementation of narrowband IoT, and then we will enable our 4G evolution plan, as well as an active or smart antenna, which is one of the pillars of 5G.

“Like a lightbulb that is switched on, it illuminates the whole room. The new antenna, instead of a normal lightbulb, you will have several lights that will follow the customer.”

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