5G has knocked on our door and the network technology has been touted as capable of changing the world as we know it.

Industries, where productivity and efficiency are key, will feel a major impact, and as for consumers, there will be benefits beyond faster internet connections to smartphones.

With initial deployments underway, the industry is now looking at what the technology can do, step-by-step.

At an event held last week in the UK’s second city, Birmingham, I got to experience, first hand, some of the more futuristic 5G use cases and how the technology is set to evolve.

Hosted by government-backed West Midlands 5G (WM5G), in partnership with Birmingham City University and vendor Ericsson, the event showcased how 5G can be used in numerous real-life situations, both in work and social environments.

From using augmented reality to watch football games with a premium view to a 5G-powered 360° visualisation of proposed developments within an existing cityscape, cloud-enabled robots for factories and home care assistance systems, the future had made its way to Birmingham.

The 5G network stage
With futuristic technology on show, there was a general consensus among speakers at the event; the research phase for 5G is over, and following initial deployments, it is time to focus on its place among different industries.

“We are in a phase where the new business models need to be agreed in order for industry to start adopting”, Iain Thornhill, VP of Ericsson’s UK unit, told Mobile World Live. “And I think many of the different sectors will start to adopt the technology over the course of the next 12 months,” he added.

Thornhill believes improving productivity, efficiency, potentially even giving industries the ability to be more agile in the way they respond to consumers’ demand, could all be achieved through 5G.

“That comes from having more information that can be then processed and turned into some kind of insight to help them be more competitive,” he said.

Igor LePrince, chair of the board of directors at West Midlands 5G (WM5G), concurred, but cautioned that some use cases in particular will take some time to scale.

“We are trialling some of the use cases now and once they are tested, we want to scale that across the region and across the UK. As we deploy these use cases, that would also push the operators to deploy 5G faster as well. 2020 onwards is when we see this being scaled and that’s what we need to push to make a difference,” he said.

While the demonstrations on show were impressive, Julian Beer, a professor at Birmingham City University, is not sure some of the futuristic use cases for 5G are yet ready for the mass market.

Others, however, are not far off.

“You look at the robots for advanced engineering and that shouldn’t be too far away in terms of automation in manufacturing. And then there’s augmented reality for pipes in the wall for the construction sector. None of them are ready yet for the market but a few of them are closer than the others”, Beer said.

Thornhill argued that manufacturing and engineering are two of the industries that could easily grasp the benefits of 5G and these sectors should see the benefits in the short-term.

“Manufacturing utilises all the best bits of 5G, gives the ability to abstract the control layer from the individual machine and gives the ability to utilise the low latency and high data throughput. That’s the one I think is definitely driving heavily across Europe,” he added.

UK’s 5G ecosystem
As West Midlands is to become UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed, speakers claimed the region is sculpturing its spot as a leading hub for the industry in global terms.

“It’s very good to see that UK is actually having eyes on the forefront of launching 5G and that’s extremely positive,” said LePrince. “But it’s early stages. I think we need to see what’s coming but we want to accelerate that and make the West Midlands the 5G centre for the UK 5G ecosystem.”

And to push adoption further, LePrince urged industries to set aside more time for the implementation of 5G.

“They clearly see the benefit they can get from these use cases for 5G technology, but they also have a business to run and putting not only the money but also putting time aside to see how that can change the way they do things and change their business. Maybe this is the barrier that we need to break to really scale that overall. But there is a lot of interest from the market, which shows that the need is there,” he added.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.