Comment: what does 5G mean for the engineering sector?

The emergence of 5G is predicted to be one of the disruptive trends for business in the coming years. Nick Offin, Head of Sales, Marketing and Operations, Toshiba Northern Europe examines what it might mean for the engineering sector

How 5G will impact the engineering sector

Ericsson’s research into 5G’s influence within ten key sectors found that 78 per cent of respondents believe the technology will enable them to improve or develop customer offerings. It is therefore clear that 5G represents a great opportunity for businesses to digitally transform their operations and infrastructure. Perhaps most obviously, 5G is set to play a critical role for engineering organisations in enhancing their operational capabilities, enabling employee output to be more efficient and productivity to increase across multiple locations.

5G represents a great opportunity for businesses to digitally transform their operations and infrastructure

In the age of IoT, improving data management and transfer speeds is critical as the capabilities the technology offers becomes increasingly central to operations across the engineering sector. The implementation of 5G within automotive factories, for example, will be able to vastly surpass the limitations current WiFi technology can offer today. 5G factories of the future will be able to connect head mounted displays, edge computing devices, automated vehicles and industrial robots and even stay connected to devices that leave the facility. The other aspect of this is of course the growing challenge of ensuring business-sensitive data is robustly secure in the face of increasinglyintelligent and evolving cyber-threats.

The 5G-related security threat

Risk firm ThreatMetrix, recently released a report revealing that 80 million cyberattacks were attempted in Europe throughout the first quarter of 2018, a 30 per cent increase over the previous year. Whilst 5G will offer better speed than 4G and LTE technologies, there could be increased security concerns. Cyber-criminals could aim to exploit the increasingly mobile workforce and ever-growing number of internet-connected touchpoints across the network – both of which are supplemented by 5G.

Toshiba’s Maximising Mobility research found data security to be a key investment priority for the engineering sector with 70 per cent of IT decision-makers this year in terms of managing the data generated by M2M and IoT technologies, which can be considered as a major security challenge of 5G. A recent paper from the University of Surrey states as much, citing that “security is fundamental to the successful delivery of 5G networks across a wide range of industry verticals.”

The report goes on to explain the increasing use of Open Source software and varying use of topologies and configurations when implementing 5G technology also pose a threat to data security.  This is giving rise to new technologies aimed at overcoming these threats, most notably mobile edge computing solutions, which enable data communication to be locally encrypted and translated to a communication protocol before being sent to the company’s network core via the cloud.

5G on the edge

With security naturally a top priority for most organisations, the popularity of mobile edge computing solutions is set to rise in order to increase perimeter security in the mobile age. But the benefit of such technology isn’t limited to purely data security. They also help to create a more efficient and productive mobile workforce by processing data at the edge of the network.

Such solutions, twinned with the rise of 5G, can also act as the gateway to bringing IoT-enabled partner devices to the engineering industry. Wearables – most notably smart glasses – are perhaps the most prominent example of this. According to Toshiba's research, 5G was one of the top factors ranked by 40 per cent of IT leaders in the engineering sector as an aspect which is most likely to drive uptake of smart glasses for industrial and professional applications in the next few years. Bringing the ability to deliver new capabilities for engineers, such solutions could revolutionise the workplace in the era of 5G. For example, in construction, an engineer using a pair of smart glasses can recall and process relevant critical data relating to aircraft maintenance. Via assisted reality, the engineer will be able to recall schematics and details of specific parts needed to service the equipment they are working on.

Incoming 5G

The development and arrival of 5G will provide the engineering sector with enhanced productivity and connectivity. But not only does it open a broader array of opportunities than technologies before it, cybersecurity will always be a continuous issue in the IT landscape regardless. It is, therefore, the scope of 5G to act as the catalyst behind new and upcoming technologies, rather than traditional ones, which will be of upmost importance to organisations over the next few years.