Get Ready for a 5G Smart City

Get Ready for a 5G Smart City

5G technology is a game-changer for public services because it has the capacity to unify Smart City policy in a more holistic way

Few Smart City concepts have received as much attention as the development of 5G networks, mainly because 5G service has been marketed as a consumer product. After launching 5G commercial service in 2019, the penetration of 5G networks has gone fast in the commercial service market. Already, 5G services are available in more than 61 countries (30% of the world) and 5G smartphone subscriptions worldwide are expected to exceed one billion before the end of 2022. 5G services have also delivered sophisticated services like games. Gamers are interested in the faster connection speed that can give them an edge in online play and producers of online video content dream about the way in which 5G will enable them to upload quicker and more often.

These B2C services are what has made 5G technology a buzzword globally for anyone who is digitally literate but it is in the B2B and public sector where 5G will have the most dynamic effect on human civilization. 5G technology is a game-changer for public services because it has the capacity to unify Smart City policy in a more holistic way, reduce our levels of energy consumption and accelerate solutions for public safety, security, and personal data protection in cities. 

Integrated Governing  

The greatest benefit of 5G technology is undoubtedly that it enables the unification of Smart City policy across areas in a way that 4G technology cannot. One of the key highlights that greenfield smart cities are offering is a great deal of IoT connectivity, comprehensive city data collection, and integrated government service opportunities. It enables governments to have a more complete picture of the city environment through the collection of city data; air quality, energy use, traffic patterns, street lighting, smart parking, waste management, crowd management, emergency services, and a variety of other sensor-based services. 4G was able to do this in a limited way but 5G enhances the quality of service while decreasing the costs of operation.

One of the most dynamic tools for city governance that 5G technology provides is Network Slicing. This is technology only available for 5G. Network slicing allows cities to build several virtual networks on a single physical network, enabling the grouping of specific devices that require a specific quality of service. Autonomous vehicles could be such a grouping. If a city wants to create a pilot zone for autonomous vehicles (this is called C-V2X or Cellular Vehicle to Everything), they could use network slicing to design a 5G frequency optimal for autonomous vehicles.

This truly serves as a platform for innovation because it allows conditions to be tailored for services that require pinpoint precision. Autonomous vehicles need very controlled environments to function properly so the same 5G that allows YouTubers to upload videos quickly is not the same 5G needed for vehicles to communicate with the road and other cars. At the same time, these different network slices can all be run and managed on a single physical network, making it easier for city officials to keep a holistic view of city services and effectively govern them.

Energy Savings 

5G is more energy-efficient than 4G networks because it is Beamforming. Beamforming means that the signal is focused on targeted devices through beams instead of a fog of evenly distributed signal. The beam-forming nature of a 5G signal allows the frequency waves to transmit signals more efficiently, much in the same way that a fan focused directly on a person will cool them down on a hot day more efficiently than an overhead fan meant to cool down the whole room. 

With regard to personal devices and IoT sensors, 5G also allows users to save battery life by power-saving features like sleep modes at low load. This is not insignificant when dealing with a network of sensors in which some of the devices may not be easily accessible. 

The energy saving created by this technology is also actually vital to avoiding an escalation of CO2 emissions in the telecommunications sector from Smart City development. Nokia recently published findings that 5G is 90% more energy-efficient than legacy networks. This means that at the 11 sites where they updated their towers to 5G antennas, they used only 10% of the energy that they had used before the upgrade. This substantial energy savings is necessary because growth in connected technology is expected to be so dynamic over the next decade that there is concern that the amount of CO2 emissions will continue to grow even with implementation and energy savings of 5G technology. Further innovation will be necessary in this space.

Safer Operations 

5G provides a much faster and efficient information exchange. It is known that 5G networks have a latency of less than 1 millisecond. 4G networks deliver latency of about 10 milliseconds. Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) reduces latency even more by removing communication time with the central server. The connection uses no central server adding milliseconds to the reaction time. It's like getting a direct flight to your destination instead of having a layover.  

The 5G’s ultra-low latency nature will enable remote operations of mobile machines like robots or field equipment. 4G was not fast enough to operate IoT by off-site remote control because the slower data transfer intervals could have caused a huge accident. The 5G technology resolved most of the data transfer interval concerns. The era is coming when operators will be able to control any type of machine on sites safely from home.

Building a 5G smart city will allow remote operations of dangerous city maintenance jobs like recycling collections, electricians, and groundskeeping. In addition, as previously mentioned autonomous driving is a field where the ultra-low latency nature of 5G is critical. Limits on data immediacy make it difficult for vehicles to respond immediately to accidents or threats like a child jumping into the road. The ultra-low latency of 5G can help prevent the potential risk of many accidents in the city and help the city to be managed safely.

Security and Data Protection

As we enter the era of dynamic development in smart city infrastructure, the issue of online security looms large on the horizon because so much of our personal information is being housed in digital locations. There are worries that the high level of dependencies on 5G puts cities at a greater risk of hacking. It is in part true in the sense that wireless networks are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than wired networks. In the case of wireless communications, no physical access is required, and network boundaries are blurred. These attributes tend to allow more unauthorized access opportunities compared with wired networks. 

There are approaches that cities can take in order to obtain a secured 5G network. The first is to build a private 5G network - a dedicated closed 5G mobile network that meets location-specific coverage and can be exclusively used only by authorized devices. Secondly, cities can implement technologies and regulations encrypting field-level data.  A lot of edge devices or servers have offered data encryption functions. The transmission of encrypted data can minimize 5G network attacks.

Lastly, it is the adoption of quantum cryptographic communication technologies. Quantum’s unique mechanics block any type of cyber-attacks during transmission more effectively than in wired networks, and the deployment of secure 5G communications using quantum cryptography has been tested and being expanded across the world starting from South Korea. In reality, only greenfield cities can design and build a fully secured smart city implementing a private 5G, the data encryption governance of IoT devices, and the application of quantum science. The dominant number of cities is likely to apply only part of the solutions against cyberattacks and gradually implement them. It remains uncertain how to balance cybersecurity worries over 5G and the promise and potential of 5G for smart cities. 

The Path to Resilient Cities

All in all, 5G will not only revolutionize the way end-users interact with the internet but 5G technology will also completely disrupt the way that city administrators manage their cities. This disruption will bring about a new age of more efficient and safe cities and enable governments to better comply with sustainability goals and make cities more resilient.


Sung Jing Park

Sung Jin Park, PhD Joined LG as a smart city consultant in 2021 and is currently responsible for developing 5G business models targeting Korean smart cities. She started her career as a city planner in Incheon, South Korea and, after earning her PhD in planning, policy and design at University of California Irvine, worked at Samsung for 8 years as an IT consultant and delivered several global smart city consulting projects during that time.


Kristi Shalla

Kristi Shalla is a Senior Smart City Consultant with 15 years of development experience in the US, Asia and Europe. She is a contributor to a book on data-driven cities for Elsevier in 2021 and has consulted on infrastructure and transport, investment and trade projects worldwide. She is an experienced speaker, lecturer and contributor on the topic of urban mobility, smart city development and international expansion and a member of the Smart City Global Specialist Network with the South Korean government.


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