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The Colliding Forces of Location Technology & 5G

  • 1.  The Colliding Forces of Location Technology & 5G

    Posted 10-22-2019 10:03


    The future of 5G is intrinsically and inevitably tied to location technology. Here's why. 5G is not merely a vehicle for transmitting data albeit with some speed. But speed alone does not impart value. 5G represents a transformative ecosystems for connectivity. The value is in the data transmitted from billions of connected devices, sensors and people each located somewhere. Leveraging the potential of these data by myriad industries from marine shipping to smart farming to e-commerce will rely on 5G to flow information to analytical platforms that can process location-based data. As such, these industries will require the speed and connectivity that is expected from the increased volume of data collected.


    Every time you open your cell phone your location is likely tracked. It's another bit of data recorded, traced, assimilated and even analyzed for proximity relationships. Increase the speed of data capture and transmission by 10x, and now 5G's data flow challenge can be exploited. Imagine also data typically used for one use case can be accessed, applied, and leveraged to others as well. For example, traffic sensors become useful not just for traffic management but as a real-time marketing tool for understanding pricing and to calibrate retail merchandising because vehicular traffic means more consumers are nearby. If, for example, traffic light schedules utilize sensors in real-time, then ecommerce platforms might want to utilize artificial intelligence to discern when to drop mobile ads to consumers where and when proximity and traffic crosses a specific threshold or geofence traversed. This is the promise of 5G and it may deliver opportunities from emergency management and retail to adtech and risk management. The immediate access to location-based data impacts numerous market forces and will change the way location-based data is decoded.


    Accenture estimates that by 2022 there will be more than 500 million 5G subscriptions worldwide, equal to 15% of the population. And, of the 29 billion connected devices estimated by 2022, 18 billion are predicted to be IoT related. By Accenture's estimates, 5G is itself more cost effective and energy efficient than past generations of wireless technology, thus making its own contribution to energy savings.


    To fulfill the expectations mentioned above, here are three things that must happen first that both wireless telecommunication providers and local governments must consider:

    1. Somebody has to build the 5G infrastructure first. Existing 4G cell towers, while offering a built-in, basic set of locations, will not offer the density needed by 5G's millimeter wave spectrum usage for it to provide the low latency and improved bandwidth. Wireless carriers are investing to locate 5G microcell placements in a rush to add new subscribers, reduce churn, and offer new streaming services. As such, the densification of microcells necessitate working with city governments. However, as Accenture points out in their study entitled, How 5G can help municipalities become vibrant smart cities, "Today, many municipalities require approvals and fees based on the historical deployment of large towers that can be more than 250 feet tall. The shift from traditional large wireless towers to small-cell sites – affixed on locations from lamp posts to utility poles – will require a streamlining of the permitting process governing wireless infrastructure deployment and an appropriate adjustment in permit areas." It's imperative, then, to plan deployment as efficiently as possible, understand the locations that will need greater or lesser densification based on a business need.

    2. The opportunity for city government and wireless companies: Herein lies the intersection of what's needed by wireless carriers that require access to buildings, lampposts, and other fixed assets owned by governments; and that of the local government that need new revenue streams to "rent" their assets to carriers, but also need to promote themselves as having a "smart city." If these two entities can manage their symbiotic relationship well, infrastructure development can be accelerated.

    3. The Smart City Infrastructure. The big question for cities is "where" to start, an appropriate question solved by location technology. Several cities, like San Diego, have already started with "smart" lighting, which delivers lower electricity costs but utilizes the lampposts for video surveillance, smart parking applications and also the ability to deploy sensors from shot-spotters to traffic to pollution. But these are baby steps. Ultimately, the desire for better citizen engagement and a more livable urban environment are extremely important as urban centers swell with new inhabitants. Iain Shearman writes in LocalGov, "There is no denying the speed of the 5G network - allowing for almost instantaneous data-transfer and high-speed data connections - will be the primary benefit for local government organizations. 5G will pave the way for the design of smarter services, like refuse collections and public transport, and will have a monumental impact on any activity which requires enhanced connectivity, delivering public benefits and potential cost savings."


    Let's look at some industries and how they will benefit from enhanced connectivity. But, in short, it comes down to offering better customer experiences through the ability to engage at the point of need, or in many cases, at the point of sale. The question: Can 5G deliver on the promise of transmitting the data volumes required for better location analytics?


    Retailers can no longer adopt the site selection strategy of looking at just a few criteria for optimal store placement. Network optimization of retail brick and mortar establishments must account for the mobility of consumers and penchant for the convenience of virtual vs. physical storefronts. And now, retailers are bridging that divide by offering BOPUS…Buy online, Pickup in-store. It's a brilliant strategy to support both the need to offer an ecommerce experience as well as leveraging the established, physical presence of existing stores.

    In addition, merchants need to consider the "ephemeral" storefront, those "sometimes fixed, sometimes mobile" locations such as food trucks and pizza "hotspots" where location is defined as a GPS coordinate and not a street address. Here, mobile trace and footfall data is radically changing marketing tactics.

    And then there is the case of dwell time. Spending too long at the men's suit department (men hate to shop in stores)? In one scenario, expect to be asked to have your image scanned, measurements taken and sent immediately to a tailor. Custom suits are stitched and shipped in a day. And because retailers know much about you based on where you live; where you work and what car you drive, you might get the suit from Brooks Brothers and not Men's Warehouse (...nothing against MW, of course). The next time you enter that same store, perhaps all that is needed is a facial recognition kiosk and you are immediately identified as a loyal customer.

    Other areas of interest for retailers include smart shelving and robotic restocking. Robots, not people, may be restocking shelves which will require accurate in-store mapping and planogram information. And certainly today, understanding the location of goods in the supply chain can be known and tracked in real time. More accurate inventorying and re-stocking would be facilitated by knowing more about the individual consumers in each store, and then delivering the correct merchandise to the target demographic.


    The increased usage of sensors to monitor a plethora of real-time vehicle, home and commercial property attributes provides geo-referenced data to insurance companies looking to further refine risk models as well as to effectively respond to catastrophic events. The deployment of 5G will impact the ability to capture data, develop and iterate models and efficiently serve policy-holders accordingly with faster claims evaluation and processing. Increasing installation of video, energy and fire/CO2 sensors, and smart building materials are providing real-time property attributes and security information. Drones are deployed and imagery is immediately processed to show damage. Claims processing now takes hours, not days. Telematics as well becomes standard as a means to monitor driving habits and energy consumption.


    The ability to target consumers with hyper-local technology will require advanced LI and data science. The increased usage of location services, wide availability of accurate GPS-tags from mobile devices, and proliferation of ad exchanges, enables advertisers to offer more relevant content for consumers. This is an absolute must in the era of contextual marketing. One example would be personal in-store way-finding and augmented reality. AR has had fits and starts but may find success in helping consumer navigate large big box retailers and grocers by superimposing product information in proximity to your location and perhaps revealing current discounts and promotions.

    A NEW JOB ... THE CIoT

    If private and public entities see that 5G will demonstrate the promises that are expected, and that "everything" will be connected...connected cars, connected buildings, connect roadways...etc., they will need someone with the skills that understands not only computing at the edge, but the know-how to develop cloud native data centers and identify the critical forms of location data analytical capabilities to extract information. IoT demands someone with not only the IT skills but an understanding of the value of the location-data being consumed by sensors.

    The perfect individual would know about sensor technology and geospatial data science, such that they understand data types and the potential to combine variables for a common data architecture. They might even have to understand remote sensing and image classification algorithms (today known by the more updated buzz word "machine learning") of satellite and drone data.

    In summary, 5G then, isn't just a way to speed the flow of data coming from the source to the data warehouses. It offers the infrastructure and ecosystem to provide a pathway that enables the data and analytics expressway. 

    Joe Francica
    Boulder CO