While the pandemic has set a lot of businesses back in some ways, others have embraced a 'new normal' and have managed to thrive in unprecedented times.
For many of these businesses, their success through these tough times comes down to early and rapid adoption of technology to help them meet changing consumer needs.
This reliance on technology is set to increase exponetially with the arrival and rollout of 5G across Ireland. But what exactly will this mean for businesses in Ireland and in what areas are we likely to see the most innovation?
Boost My Business spoke to Mike Hibbett from Irish Manufacturing Research for his take on the future of Irish industry in a 5G world...
Senior IIoT Technologist at IMR, Mr Hibbett said the biggest benefit of 5G will be a more seamless method of communication - from faster and more reliable streaming and sharing across our devices to enhanced training methods and operating systems in the workplace.
As with its predecessor, most of what happens within 5G mobile networks we can't physically see but that doesn’t mean we won’t notice a big change from 4G.
Aside from being able to browse the internet and stream content at an increased speed, the greatest change most of us will experience day-to-day will likely be the ability to seamlessly switch between WiFi in the home and 5G when on mobile, meaning no matter where you are, you’ll always be able to stay connected.
5G capability will also enable further growth of the 'Internet of Things' (IoT). The Internet of Things is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet and to other connected devices. The IoT is a giant network of connected things and people, all of which collect and share data about the way they are used and about the environment around them.
The goal of the IoT is to make the lives of consumers easier and more convenient through the devices they use, while the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) aims to improve safety and efficiency when it comes to production in industrial sectors by linking autonomous machines that work alongside humans, to the internet.
The stronger and more reliable connection offered with 5G helps make the IoT ambitions a reality and will have a widespread impact across industries.
"While 5G allows for faster data speeds for all, it also allows businesses to link their machines in a way that was previously either inflexible or simply not possible," Mr Hibbett explained.
For example, drones could be used by businesses to deliver parcels or groceries straight to your door in a matter of minutes after you place an order online. 5G technology also means you could potentially try on clothes or try out homewares using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology without ever stepping foot outside your own home.
The medical and pharmaceutical industries are set to benefit greatly, with 5G allowing for advanced manufacturing processes and more efficient measures to ensure the protection and security of sensitive information.
The faster and more reliable connectivity available on a 5G network could see huge innovations in terms of practical applications in science and medicine, with high-level doctors and engineers being able to carry out complicated procedures remotely.
Where once they would have had to attend in person, they will now be able to carry out their work from overseas through the use of AR and VR technology.
"With AR and VR technology, coupled with 5G, a third person can work with that skilled person remotely on a complex piece of equipment, which they couldn’t have done before because you wouldn’t have had that real-time visual, audio and 3D link," Mr Hibbet said.
As 5G becomes more widely available, we will see more industries moving towards the use of autonomous machinery, as our reliance on AI technology continues to grow.
Take, for example, a farmer who previously would have had to examine their fields by foot to see exactly what was needed to ensure optimum growth conditions on the land.
With the help of 5G and advancing machinery technology, they could soon utilise fully automated tractors that work in tandem with drones, resulting in a more cost-effective, efficient and less time-consuming workload for farmers.
"We are already beginning to see robotic tractors and ploughs, the next step is drones providing information back to those machines to let them know what areas need to be farmed. That kind of operation will only be possible with 5G providing both the link between those devices and the cloud server."
These automated machines are already being used in other parts of the world but with the help of 5G to ensure seamless connectivity, they could completely transform the industry.
Vodafone and IMR recently launched Ireland’s first 5G standalone mobile private network (MPN) at their manufacturing facility in Mullingar, which provides organisations with high-speed internet and highly reliable communications within their own facilities.
Using this standalone 5G MPN, IMR will develop and demonstrate innovative smart manufacturing use cases in automated production lines, mobile robots and cobots, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) displays.
The 5G standalone MPN can be configured for a specific industry or application. This will allow IMR to meet the diverse connectivity and safety requirements of Ireland’s manufacturing community and help them to develop and implement future-focused processe to stay competitive.
Colin Barrett , Head of IoT Business at Vodafone Ireland, said: "Vodafone’s dedicated 5G network will provide reliability, device density, scalability, quality of service and enhanced safety that currently cannot be achieved. Working with IMR, our technology partners and customers will be empowered to explore and develop new use cases that 5G technology enables – helping to future proof Irish industry".
Reliable connectivity is essential in future proofing your business. As Ireland's best mobile network and largest fibre footprint provider, Vodafone is 100% committed to keeping your business connected with your customers in these challenging times.
For all business mobile, business broadband or IoT queries, visit Vodafone Business.