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How 5G will change the future of smart cities in Australia

By Louise Hyland
23 September 2021 | 1 minute read

Smart cities are here, and they are getting smarter by the day with the support of 5G. Louise Hyland from AMTA explores.

5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology and next progression in mobile networks. The technology is designed to meet the continuing growth in data and connectivity in our society, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and tomorrow’s innovations.

As the roll out of 5G infrastructure continues across Australia, there is a growing opportunity for councils to develop smart city strategies that leverage the 5G network to expand the usage of data, sensors, and other smart devices to improve city operations and, ultimately, the lives of citizens.

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Smart cities powered by 5G will not only optimise city, business and home functions leading to better sustainability, liveability, productivity, and workability, they will also promote economic growth, which will be essential for Australia’s recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased stability and strong coverage provided by the 5G network will allow a greater sense of mobility for citizens to use their devices so they can stay connected and take advantage of the technological developments.

To drive the creation of smart cities, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has identified five ways that 5G is being used to shape the future of smart cities.

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  1. Personal and home applications

Many of our homes already have connected devices, but with 5G, the opportunities grow exponentially. With higher speeds, lower latency, and increased capacity of 5G, there is a number of positive implications for smart homes.

Indeed, these benefits are not limited to smart homes- they can also be enjoyed by people on the move and outside of their homes.

5G connected security devices, including cameras, video doorbells, motion sensors and lights will offer clearer videos and faster alerts, leading to better home security and greater neighbourhood safety overall with more homes adopting smart security systems.

Smart appliances, especially kitchen technology, will become more commonplace, with 5G turning our kitchens into automated hubs by offering a greater capacity to handle many connected devices such as smart ovens, toasters, air fryers, pots, faucets and fridges, like Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator which has a clever in-built camera that shows you what's inside so you can check what you need when you’re at the supermarket.

More reliable connectivity and quick access to the cloud through 5G will also enable new internet of things (IoT) technology, including embedded health sensors in bathrooms like Toto’s Wellness Toilet, AI domestic robots such as Samsung’s Bot Care and Bot Handy and LG’s CLOi, and compact, self-contained AR, VR and mixed reality entertainment and communication devices, like Microsoft Mesh.

  1. Waste management

The efficient management of waste collection is a key challenge our nation faces, with Australia generating over 75.8 million tonnes of solid waste a year.

However, through 5G and IoT technology, there are various solutions for handling waste collection to improve environmental issues and the liveability of cities.

The main advancement is ‘smart bins’ which can detect when they’re full and leverage 5G to alert collection services for emptying, preventing overflows which cause environmental damage, and minimising collection trips to help reduce both costs and emissions.

From Palmerston in the Northern Territory down to Launceston in Tasmania, from Sydney Zoo, to South Melbourne Markets and Hobart Airport, there are various councils and facilities currently trialling or rolling out locally made smart bins, with some noticing up to a 90 per cent drop in the frequency of collection.

  1. Energy efficiency

There is a great opportunity for 5G to improve energy efficiency across wireless networks and play a significant role in helping smart cities meet sustainability goals by enabling them to transform certain processes.

A study by Nokia and Telefónica in Finland found 5G networks are up to 90 per cent more energy efficient per traffic unit than 4G networks, and with energy saving features, like off-peak sleep modes, there is an opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of 5G wireless networks themselves.

5G technology will also offer advanced energy management capabilities for industries and smart cities which is essential to meeting rising energy and sustainability challenges.

Together with AI data analytics and cloud computing, 5G can provide a platform to improve industry processes such as production, through smart factory equipment and sensors which can increase efficiency and offer real-time monitoring of energy consumption.

5G can also power energy efficient smart city infrastructure solutions such as LED smart lighting, which automate depending on pedestrian usage and report faults, and smart sensors on utilities, allowing councils and industries to take more accurate readings to assist with energy-saving strategies.

Energy efficiency is one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and meet the growing demand for energy, and 5G will be critical in helping smart cities reach emissions goals in the future.

  1. Public safety and security

The effectiveness and quality of public safety and security systems is another aspect of smart cities that will improve with the continued rollout of 5G.

The enhanced mobile broadband capabilities of 5G networks can deliver real-time video feeds at high resolution in dense urban environments.

This will see the increased use of 5G-connected cameras that capture traffic accidents, congestion, and even speeding vehicles, which would then communicate with emergency services or intelligent traffic lights to manage the flow of traffic, increasing traffic safety.

5G-connected infrastructure could also help reduce street crime and improve community safety.

There is already smart street lighting like the smart lights installed in Bicentennial Park in Darwin, which includes sound monitoring to detect people in distress with the ability to notify emergency services if needed, and with the advent of 5G, this type of discreet safety monitoring technology is likely to expand.

 5G will also improve both the practicality and the potential scale of drone applications for public safety. Through 5G connectivity, groups such as Surf Life Saving NSW could further improve their use of drones to assist in saving lives on Australian beaches.

 According to Deloitte, in recent trials, lifesavers are manually identifying people at risk and with 5G networks, drones could independently search for and locate missing people at sea, improving the efficiencies of lifesavers, especially in regional beaches where there are limited lifesavers.

  1. Mobility applications

The speed, capacity, and reliability that 5G offers will also see the way we move around in cities significantly change, including how we move in public spaces and manage traffic, and the types of vehicles we will use in the future.

The City of Melbourne has already started a testbed for emerging smart technologies, including 5G and IoT, to explore with the community and industry how mobility can be improved across Melbourne’s public spaces, including public transport.

This includes trialling sensors in the street, in parks and on trams that collect data about pedestrian activity, humidity, temperature, and air quality, to assess the impact of events, extreme weather, roadworks and traffic congestion.

Ultimately, the data collected will help the city make smarter, more informed decisions around enhancing comfort and traffic flow and, with the growing 5G network infrastructure, this model can be easily replicated across other locations to help citizens move more efficiently around the city.

Another area of mobility that will be enhanced through 5G in cities is smart traffic management systems.

Through 5G connected monitoring cameras and wireless sensors, cities will be able to collect data around traffic in real time, allowing for planned mitigation of traffic movements and informed investment in road infrastructure, as well as better routing and trip planning for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, public transport, and freight.

VicRoads has already started investing in this type of technology to transform how it manages its arterial road network, making it easier for people and goods to get around Melbourne, and thanks to the impact of 5G, visibility of the road network will only continue to increase.

As 5G continues to become more prominent, we will also see a greater adoption of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.

In Perth, a driverless electric shuttle is currently being trialled to understand if automated transport technology addresses urban transport issues and, through 5G, these types of services will become more of a reality, moving more cities towards a low or no-car future.

Considering all of these applications, there is great potential for smart cities on the horizon.

However, rolling out the 5G networks alone will not bring change to Australian cities. It’s essential that councils, government bodies, businesses, organisations, researchers, and residents continue to collaborate to develop strategic plans to help smart cities move into the 5G network, as the sooner this process begins, the sooner cities, more Australians and society will benefit.

Louise Hyland is the CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

How 5G will change the future of smart cities in Australia
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