It will be months before federal regulators either approve or deny Rogers Communications’ proposal to purchase Calgary-based Shaw Communications. In the meantime, many opinions will be expressed, pro and con, largely focussed on the implications for Canadian consumers. What risks being lost in the public discussion is the importance of successfully bringing widespread 5G coverage to a country as large and sparsely populated as Canada.
Canada’s major network providers are facing immense capital costs beyond the physical build-out of networks. For example, there is the cost of purchasing frequency spectrums to consider. Analysts estimate Bell, Rogers and Telus will spend $2.8 billion on the federal government’s auction on June 15 for the 3500MHz spectrum. Later, providers will also need to purchase what are called “millimetre-wave spectrums” that offer fast speeds that can travel longer distances and penetrate inside buildings.
Overall, the deployment of 5G networks across the country will require investments of $26 billion, according to technology and business consultancy Accenture.
Shaw CEO Brad Shaw admits his company simply isn’t big enough on its own to make all the necessary 5G investments.
A review of the Rogers-Shaw proposal therefore requires an outlook that includes the need to address the country’s communications infrastructure requirements.
Furthermore, as exciting as ultra-high speed connections to the Internet of Things (IoT) might be for the general public, the successful widespread delivery of 5G across Canada is critical to the continued adoption of technologies being developed for industries like construction.
For example, not all projects take place in urban environments where 5G networks will first become available. In fact, even today, mobile connectivity is not always available or reliable at projects located in some non-urban areas.
5G promises other benefits. Mobile devices will become smaller, lighter and less expensive, some experts predict. That’s because the power to process computations for complex files like 3D BIM modelling or augmented reality will move from inside each device to the cloud.
Also exciting for construction is the reduced latency 5G will make possible. Latency can be described as the communication lag time, measured in micro-seconds, between users and devices, or between devices themselves. That’s critical if, for example, construction processes are to move towards remote video control of machinery. Any lag or stutter in communication could be a life-threatening safety issue for workers onsite.
On the flip side, the construction industry will face unique challenges while adopting 5G. Varun Kumar Reja and Koshy Varghese of the Department of Civil Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras point out the needs of the construction industry differ from other industrial sectors like manufacturing, health care, agriculture and energy.
“The construction sector is different as it involves complexities like unstructured processes, erratic work environment, and remote construction sites,” write Reja and Varghese. “Construction is also a highly fragmented as well as a multi-disciplinary industry. Therefore, the adoption of IoT in construction will require significant effort in ensuring appropriate changes at policy, technology and project implementation.”
In other words, it’s not a matter of construction companies simply purchasing devices with 5G capabilities and switching them on. Reja and Varghese suggest multiple project sites, each with different processes underway simultaneously, will require companies to develop a multi-layered “IoT Ecosystem” beforehand.
First is the physical layer or sensing layer of all devices that capture or sense data. Next are connectivity sub-layers of local hubs, routers, LAN controllers and servers. This is followed by the transmission layer — the interphase between networks and the cloud — then the processing or cloud layer for backend analytics and cloud computing, and finally the application or business management layer that allows collaboration between individuals and businesses.
Security of networks and devices will also be an ongoing challenge. This is because 5G devices will not be “tethered” to their networks, writes Jia Jen Low in T_HQ.
“The decentralization of networks requires administrators to re-evaluate the ways users access organizational files and execute business work.”
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.