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How 5G Will Affect Wearables?

5G networks can untether wearable gadgets, creating a whole new ‘connected society’

The growing popularity of wearable devices is forcing traditional communication networks to face tremendous challenges. Wearables are generally tethered to mobile phones to remain fully functional. Thus, the challenges stem from the completely wireless nature of such devices, which requires strong connectivity at all times.

The much-anticipated fifth generation (5G) wireless technology is good news in this regard, given its potential to make wearable devices even more functional and popular. The upcoming 5G technology is not only about ultra-fast speed. It aims to support unprecedented high capacity, fast connectivity, and low latency.

For wearables, 5G is about being unlimited and untethered. Imagine inbuilt 5G radios with an incredible 20Gbps (Gigabytes per seconds) download speed and 10Gbps upload speed. It could be about 100 times faster than the existing 4G technology.

According to “The 5G Business Potential“, a report published by networking telecommunication giant Ericsson, wearable devices and artificial intelligence will considerably meet and improve varying consumer demands for adding greater convenience.

Such news is good news, and much needed for wearable devices. With the expected speed and bandwidth of 5G, the wireless nature of such devices can become completely untethered. Here’s a more in-depth look at how 5G will affect wearables.

Why does the wearables device need 5G?

The most important and basic feature of wearable devices is that they are wireless. Whether it is an activity tracker or Bluetooth headphones, a wearable device is meant to be wireless. Currently, these devices are tethered using wireless technologies to a smartphone. However, the core value that sets wearables apart is that they’re all about freedom of movement.

5G will not only transmit data at an ultra-fast speed; it will be able to do it with zero or ultra-low latency. Latency refers to the delay from input into a system to the desired outcome. It greatly affects how enjoyable, efficient and usable electronic or mechanical devices, as well as communications, are.  Latency, in communications, is the wait time introduced by the signal travelling the geographical distance.

The 3G phones managed latency in 100 milliseconds, and 4G cut it down to 50 milliseconds. Now, 5G aims to do it in 1milisecond. According to Paul Beastall, director of Telecoms Technology Strategy at Cambridge Consultants, 5G connects everything using low power while delivering faster mobile broadband more cost effectively than the existing 4G network. This means highly reliable and ultra-low latency services for real-time control, enabling communications with no delay via wearables.

Smartwatches and Fitbits can track your global positioning system (GPS) in real-time, thereby giving you the feeling of being followed. However, 5G means even more accuracy than what current GPS systems promise. The fifth generation network technology is all about shortwave radio, which makes triangulating your exact position exact and instant.

The caveat here, is the fact that the tethered nature of wearables may come to an end. Currently, these devices generally depend on mobile phones for storage, operations, and connectivity purposes; with 5G, wearables will be able to stand alone and/or control other devices. This independence and ability to control other devices turns them into complete Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The current status of 5G wearables

The fifth-generation network technology has not even started with its infancy, making it difficult to say how 5G wearables will look and perform. However, it is likely that 5G wearable devices will be able to swap between two major 5G modes:

  • Long-life, low-power, small messaging mode; and
  • High-speed and high bandwidth mode.

The second mode may be more restricted than the first to specific geographically-defined locations, such as public events, factories, etc., where high-frequency signals in the millimeter wave frequency band can bring extra bandwidth. Wearable devices may also use a WiFi hotspot for some applications that need higher speeds than 4G, but not as fast as offered by 5G.

The 5G network will provide even more help for wearable devices. Some additional innovations include:

  • Wearable antennas: Expected to follow the 5G launch are wearable antennas for fabrics that will connect a device to a wireless network. According to a recent report, Revolutionizing Wearables for 5G, wearable devices will play a major role in the 5G era, and those antennas could be manufactured using conductive threads and adhesives.
  • Mobile wireless charging: Expect the mobile wireless charging of 5G-connected devices. This would allow wearable devices to become even smaller in size. The latest Pi wireless charger replaces the old pad with beam-forming technology to focus a magnetic field on a phone 30cm away. Also expect 5G wireless charging base stations to charge your wearables on-the-go for a truly IoT experience.
5G base stations can be established for wireless charging of wearable devices in exchange for data.
5G wireless charging
  • Support autonomous vehicles: 5G could also enable wearable devices to play a crucial role in autonomous driving. Its high-speed connectivity, ultra-reliable, low-latency communication suggests that a wearable could alert an autonomous car to a pedestrian’s presence.

Final words

Currently, the potential of wearable devices is limited, given their miniature size, completely wireless nature, and connectivity demands that require them to remain tethered to other devices such as smartphones. However, if we think beyond high data rates, and consider ultra-reliable, low-latency communications, it becomes clear that 5G will have a huge impact for wearable devices in the future.