The long and stony road to “5G city”

There’s nothing utopic about the gigabit society now. “The 5G City” panel debate at re:publica, which was sponsored by the Vodafone Institute, put the focus on the smart cities of the future.

Data will be the raw materials of the future. The insights provided by the panel into everything that will be possible in smart cities made it clear that this statement is already relevant today. High-speed networks are, however, essential for the transmission of the vast data volumes in the 5G world.

The Vodafone Institute-sponsored panel, “The 5G City” provided the 100-strong audience at re:publica 2016 in Berlin with a glimpse of what our cities could look like in the future. Thomas Wiegand, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, Alexander Holst, Managing Director of accenture and Zoltan Bickel of  Vodafone Germany were the panel members and it was chaired by Monic Meisel of freifunk.net.

“The 5G City” panel at re:publica 2016 (f.l.t.r.): Thomas Wiegand, Monic Meisel, Zoltan Bickel and Alexander Holst (Photo: Vodafone Institute)

High-performance internet is without doubt a prerequisite for 5G cities. As the panel chair Monic Meisel said, aiming her words at the political community: “Copper isn’t fibre optic.”

In the gigabit society, time differences and distances won’t play the central role they have in the past. Real-time traffic analyses will prevent traffic jams, and decisive fractions of seconds could well save the lives of people involved in accidents.

Global interaction with the assistance of augmented and virtual reality will make the physical presence of a US heart specialist in a European operating theatre practically unnecessary because he can look over his colleague’s shoulder in real time during the operation. And the gigabit society opens up undreamt of possibilities for a climate-friendly energy economy.

In particular, the changes associated with the dawning gigabit age will mean global real-time control in the Internet of Things (IoT). Communication between people will be supplemented by P2M and M2M communications.

The objective has to be the homogeneous quantitative acquisition of data so that the potential associated with digitalisation can be exploited in all areas of society – for use in medicine, for instance. However, according to Thomas Wiegand we still have a long way to go in this respect: “We’re lagging behind with the quantitative acquisition of medical data.”

re:publica 2016: The public in the halls at STATION in Berlin during “The 5G City” panel debate (Photo: Vodafone Institute)

The start-up Metropole Berlin was one German focus – defending the capital city’s reputation. German cities have a location and innovation advantage that we have to continue to exploit so that we can remain internationally competitive, emphasised Alexander Holst. He believes that major innovations will never be developed in rural regions. “Paderborn simply isn’t Berlin,” he commented.

How quickly the transition from 4G to 5G can be made doesn’t just depend on the technology available, it also depends on the establishment of a consistent political framework. “Effective collaboration and competition” are essential, according to Zoltan Bickel. Ultimately, it has to be made “easy for citizens” to deal with the changes associated with a totally networked society, said the panel members.

This process is naturally also associated with the reorganisation of ethical dimensions and necessitates ongoing public civil dialogue.

There’s more on these subjects at the Twitter hashtags: #5G, #GigabitSociety and #BigData. And you can find out about re:publica at #rpTEN.

The Vodafone Institute for Society and Communication is one of the partners of this year’s re:publica conference that took place in Berlin from 2-4 May 2016. The Vodafone Institute’s funding priorities this year are “gigabit society, 5G and the potential associated with real-time networking”.