At the peak of Wuhan’s Covid-19 outbreak in February, an emergency 5G network was built in 24 hours, allowing medical professionals over 700 kilometres away to perform remote ultrasounds on patients. These ultrasounds took only 15 minutes, and helped Wuhan doctors cope with the overwhelming influx of patients.

Information and communications technology (ICT) such as 5G have played an important role in the fight against the pandemic. But while the world is busy putting out fires from Covid-19, it also needs to focus on preparing for future risks and challenges, warns Huawei’s Rotating Chairman Guo Ping.

“While we hope we can get the pandemic under control soon, the ICT industry needs to plan for the more distant future,” Guo said at Huawei’s recent Better World Summit. He discussed how 5G can be used in different industries, and the need for industries to work together to unlock the potential of 5G.

A plan beyond the pandemic

There are already more than 90 million 5G users globally, said Guo. “Over 700,000 5G base stations have been deployed, and we expect to see more than 1.5 million by the end of this year.”

But the case for 5G lies not only in connectivity, Huawei believes. “As global 5G deployment begins to wrap up, we need to strengthen our focus on industry applications. This will help us unleash the full potential of 5G,” Guo said.

Huawei sees a “clear trend” of carriers expanding their business focus beyond simply providing network services, said Guo. He expects businesses to make “delivering municipal services through 5G, edge computing, cloud, and front-end equipment” some of their priorities.

Guo shared three examples of how 5G can help enhance various services and processes across different industries. First, Xiong’an city in China uses 5G networks provided by more than 7,400 base stations to support a myriad of uses. Some of them include banking, monitoring the environment, and powering autonomous vehicles. The upcoming Beijing-Xiong’an expressway will have two lanes for self-driving vehicles and support vehicle-infrastructure communication.

Next, an aviation technical service provider in Europe is using 5G applications to make aircraft maintenance more efficient. Before the implementation of 5G, in-depth inspections required two full months of on-site work, said Guo. With 5G, engineers can inspect aircrafts remotely using four different 4K livestreams. This has reduced labour costs by 78 per cent, he adds.

5G also helps the Hong Kong airport improve efficiency and passenger experience. The airport analysed different service touch points and passenger, baggage and information flows. Their 5G network is then used for baggage tracking, paperless travel, and driverless trucks.

“In the future, we will see more and more airports use 5G, strong computing power, cloud, and AI technologies to improve their experience, safety, and efficiency,” said Guo.

Huawei’s vision for the future

“For 5G to succeed commercially, the whole industry needs to work together,” said Guo. He believes that niche applications, such as those above, can be replicated only when unified industry standards and a collaborative ecosystem are in place.

In Shanxi, Huawei deployed an underground 5G network for the Yangquan Coal Industry Group. The Chinese tech giant then designed a set of standards to connect seven disparate communication systems already in use underground – which resulted in “huge efficiency gains”, said Guo.

“It’s only when standards are unified that 5G can be integrated, as a basic capability, into digital platforms,” he said.

Moving forward, Guo said Huawei will be working closely with its partners and harnessing 5G, artificial intelligence, cloud, and computing to meet their partners’ digital transformation needs.

There’s no time to waste – as countries recover from the pandemic, it’s time to start thinking about how to prepare for future challenges.

The massive potential of 5G, once unlocked, will play a powerful role in helping industries become more efficient and resilient for crises to come.