News Feature | November 30, 2021

The Week in 5G — Canada Might Ban Huawei & 5G Makes Mining, Construction Sites Safer

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By Abby Proch, former editor


If we’re to take Qualcomm’s word for it, 5G has reached ubiquity — so much so that the wireless tech and chip manufacturer is just not going to mention it any longer. In a branding announcement, Qualcomm casually mentioned, within its much larger declaration that its Snapdragon platform will become largely independent of the Qualcomm brand, that it will stop using “5G” to describe the capabilities of its flagship System-on-a-Chip (SoC). The reason, they say, is that the asset is now considered a “given.”

What’s not a given is a decision by Canada to jump on the “ban”-wagon and prohibit Huawei Technologies’ equipment from being used in Canadian products. Canada was on the verge of a decision a few months back, but no announcement has been made. Most recently, former Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull implored Canadian officials to consider the implications of maintaining a relationship with Huawei, according to The Globe and Mail. The argument has been, and Turnbull has reiterated, that allowing Huawei components to be used in telecommunications infrastructure exposes a country to potential misuse or interference by the Chinese government. Turnbull also nodded to a years-long hostage situation that has since resolved as another consideration. In August, Canada did ask a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned China Mobile to cease operations in Canada, a sign that it just might join the ban as Turnbull had hoped.

Spectrum auctions, innovation labs, rollouts in the far corners of the Earth — they’re all newsworthy in their own right. With 5G innovation plateauing, what’s garnering more enthusiasm is how the tech is being used in practice. What does lower latency and a high-speed connection mean to our chores, our experiences, and our jobs? Just this past week, several applications have made headlines in industries like hospitality, mining, construction, and medicine.

In an interview with Skift, one Verizon executive said she sees 5G enhancing the air travel experience, with a combination of robotics and AI providing contactless check-in services and baggage drop off. Verizon managing partner Jerri Traflet also sees improvements to hotel stays, wherein guests would be check in via mobile device and also unlock their hotel room door, adjust lighting and temperature settings, and access streaming media. Behind the scenes, hotel operations would also control heating and cooling systems with greater specificity and enable asset tracking capabilities for things like luggage racks, cleaning carts, and more.

While 5G is sure to enable more conveniences, luxuries even, it’s also making hazardous and physically demanding careers much safer and more attractive. In China, for example, the coal industry is embracing 5G to enable a telework environment not for office-bound folks but for machine operators. Jinneng Holding Group has paired with China Mobile, China Unicom, and other telecoms to deploy a 5G 10GB industrial ring network with which workers remotely control underground equipment like roadheaders and extractors at the mining face. A report by Mobile World Live claims that telework has increased daily production and still provides for highly accurate and efficient inspection and monitoring efforts. In above ground locations as far as 200m away from the face, these workers operate separate from the dusty, hot, and humid environment of the underground.

Above ground, remote work has also come to the construction space with the advent of a Volvo-backed 5G test center for forestry applications. According to Construction Equipment, the Remote Timber research project successfully enabled a machine operator to operate a Volvo L180 high-lift wheel loader from a timber terminal hundreds of kilometers away. The test demonstrates how one operator could lift timber at one site, even multiple sites, and do so for places that are typically hard to staff because of their remoteness. Considering the precision and manipulation needed for timber lifting, Volvo acknowledges the application hasn’t yet reached maturity, but says it’s a learning experience to understand the nuances of how system could meet and exceed industry needs.

Forbes, in partnership with T-Mobile, explored similar applications in a recent writeup, pointing to scenarios during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic in which more senior surgeons used teleconferencing to oversee surgeries conducted by less seasoned doctors. The article also nodded to a Swisscom 5G Startup Challenge winner that successfully operated a walking excavator from a remote operator station. (Watch the video here.)