Report from the M-Enabling Summit 2018You may have heard about 5G - offering the promise of always being connected with instantaneous information on our devices. What does this mean in practice though? And how does it relate to accessibility?
The panel on “The Imminent Impact of 5G Connectivity on the M-Enabling Ecosystem” at the M-Enabling Summit 2018 in Washington counted representatives of the three major US network operators and speakers from the two US trade associations of the wireless industry. All the technological expertise necessary to explain what 5G will give us that will make life and society for people with disabilities and older citizens easier to navigate.
Kara Graves from CTIA kicked off the session with a comprehensive but easy to follow overview on how 5G will work. 5G will not be an entirely new system, but can be envisioned as a lot of different improvements on what we have today in 4G. 5G technologies will for example use a mix of low, mid, and high band frequencies, depending on the provider and use case, but they will also need a denser infrastructure than what we currently have, since the 5G signal in the mmWave spectrum does not travel as far.
Immediate benefits will be enhanced call clarity, high-definition (HD) voice, and real-time text – clearly features that will benefit not only the hard-of-hearing or deaf communities and older users, but everyone using mobile communications.
The high network speed will improve video conferences and communication in sign language, as well as facilitate telecommuting for a more diverse workforce. Personal assistants in the devices, powered by artificial intelligence, can already today read and send text messages, make emergency calls, and perform numerous other tasks through vocal prompts. They are bound the get even better.
In numbers, 5G promises:
- up to 100 times more devices being able to connect to the networks (enabling the Internet of Things)
- 100 times faster speeds
- a 5 times more responsive network
- ultra-reliability and low latency (today 4G LTE networks have a response time (latency) of 20-30 milliseconds but 5G will offer a latency of only 1 millisecond)
Possible use cases where these numbers can translate into saved lives include real time information in the public safety network through 5G enabled sensors across the city, improved emergency response with first responders getting more quickly to the scene and having the info they need to help patients before they arrive, as well as better geo-targeting for emergency alerts.
Further areas, where the wireless industry sees the potential of 5G deployed are
- healthcare: with the promotion of preventive care, better patient access and the support of remote surgery applications
- mobility: facilitating mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities (e.g. autonomous vehicles)
- education: improving education opportunities through augmented and virtual reality programs
So, will 5G be the Holy Grail for mobile accessibility? No, not right away at least. While we praise the potential of 5G for all the wonderful things it will bring, one member of the audience pointed out that a majority of people has not even reaped the full benefits of 4G yet. Yes, 5G will bring us real time information and super accurate location services and all the handy services that come with it. But first, the technology needs to be rolled out on a large scale, then applications and services must be implemented accessibly and then, most importantly, we need to work with users, old and young, with and without disabilities, to help them unlock this great potential for their individual needs. It starts small by helping them find accessible, easy to use devices (like GARI endeavors to do). It goes on from there to understand what is possible and how to use what technology can offer us.
M-Enabling Summit 2018: http://www.m-enabling.com
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