By Burcin Kaplanoglu
Every industry is looking to how 5G will impact their operations, and the construction industry is perhaps one that stands to gain the most from the technology. A facet of 5G that could offer the most benefits is “network slicing”—which enables communication service providers to tailor connectivity services to the precise requirements of any user, device, application, or context.
In addition, there are some obvious benefits of 5G for engineering and construction businesses stemming from the speed, latency, and scalability of the technology, including:
- Enhanced mobile broadband providing high speed and capacity
- Mission-critical operations providing low latency and high reliability
- Massive machine-type communications providing high scalability and geographic coverage
Monitoring the health, location, status, and specifications of assets of all kinds on site is crucial, and 5G can help in terms of data collection, capture, and analysis. For example, this can confirm whether site machinery is operational and available to be used, and capture the status of an order such as a window frame or fire extinguisher to assist to ensure the project schedule is on track.
High bandwidth and low latency from 5G should improve data capture across project delivery processes. Increased visibility into data informs decision-making in the design phase, helps minimize issues and changes during construction, and potentially decreases future renovations.
As technology solutions available to construction projects gain traction, we can anticipate more IoT and reality capture solutions on site helping in a number of ways. In terms of video capture (think 4k and 8k cameras, augmented and virtual reality), 5G will provide a wealth of opportunities for organizations to inexpensively deploy technology to quickly capture, organize, and analyze massive volumes of video information. 5G will mean sensors can more effectively be deployed to improve safety by tracking individuals’ safety compliance. Supply chain efficiency can be enhanced by enabling better tracking of materials both on and off site. For building information modelling (BIM), 5G can help ensure the site plan is accurate, with the potential for the plan to be updated based on almost each and every action on site.
Many of these use cases can reduce costs in addition to driving efficiencies on a project. They can help manage the need for some teams to even be on site because the information they need is available in real time and in high-resolution video form via any device, wherever they are.
It can also provide real-time, rich, visual information to the owner as well as an on-demand transparent view of the project at any particular moment in time.
But what additional value could network slicing bring to construction’s use of 5G?
PRIORITIZING WHAT MATTERS
For construction businesses to benefit from these solutions, connectivity will be key to ensure the information captured is available at the time and place of need.
As a result, bandwidth will become a potential battleground on site as the competition for which data and information is most important intensifies. Construction projects are already working against thin margins, and the cost of providing 5G connectivity universally on site could be prohibitive.
A possible solution is to adopt a tiered prioritization approach. This will help ensure that 5G capabilities are utilized on those processes requiring the greatest bandwidth, such as video or other visuals. Essentially, this would mean creating different access points and levels for specific use cases. But as with any new technology, there will likely be a learning curve: What construction projects consider to be the highest tier initially may not turn out to be the highest tier in the long run.
One such consideration is around site safety and security. While heavy video files may well provide a strong argument to use a 5G network due to the latency benefits, processes of critical importance to the safety and security of a project may have a similar if not stronger argument due to the speed of 5G.
We could well see a tiered prioritization strategy that considers safety, security, and bandwidth at different phases of a construction project, allowing for a fluid restructuring of tiers as the project progresses.
Any initiative that tries to realize a safety and security benefit, however, will be dependent on people on site having access to the information being shared. It would mean that team members need to have 5G-enabled devices available to them. Is that affordable?
REDUCING DEVICE COSTS
Currently, deploying hundreds or thousands of smart devices across a project site at the current cost is prohibitive for construction businesses, and relying on employees to have their own 5G enabled smart devices to use on site may be too ambitious in the short term. Smart devices today are like mini-computers processing most activities on the device itself, and that is where much of the cost exists.
However, with 5G technology a lot of the processing power will be able to happen in the cloud, allowing for less expensive phone hardware that simply needs to capture the data. This could break down the barriers to deploying 5G-enabled smart devices on site.
The benefits of 5G and “network slicing” capabilities open up many possibilities for engineering and construction businesses to find efficiencies, improve safety, mitigate risk, and reduce security concerns on projects; while the build quality can also be enhanced through more accurate updates to the real-time plan. Get ready construction industry, here comes 5G.
About the author:
Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu is a recognized industry technologist, thought leader, and keynote speaker. He leads industry strategy and innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering and is the cofounder of the Oracle Construction and Engineering Innovation Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2020
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