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Analysis

Transmitting the 5G opportunity to construction

1 December 2019 | By Burcin Kaplanoglu

What does a 5G future look like for the construction industry? Improved data collection, capture and analysis for starters, says Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director and innovation officer, Oracle Construction & Engineering.

There are still decisions being made about the rollout of 5G in the UK, particularly about which equipment to build the network with, but interest in the potential benefits of the technology is growing.

5G is the next generation of mobile broadband and promises three main benefits: higher bandwidth speeds, negligible latency, and scalability. But while consumers are being offered a lot from 5G, for business sectors the real benefits are only likely to be understood as the technology is fully rolled out and matures..

There is no doubt, however, 5G will be an enabler. Better connectivity will obviously be good for businesses, particularly in terms of data collection, capture and analysis/evaluation. But with 5G, much of this can happen in real time, which means decisions can be made more quickly and issues addressed sooner, before they worsen. So, what does a 5G future look like for the construction industry?

Construction and engineering: Three keys to 5G success

The speed, latency and scalability of 5G will help construction and engineering businesses in three ways:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband: This is about providing high speed and capacity, which will allow fast access to data-intensive cloud applications and enable multiple users to interact with each other in real time from anywhere. 
  • Mission-critical operations: This is about the ability to have reliable information immediately to understand what is happening on site in real time, and this is essential for a complex and constantly evolving environment like a construction site.
  • Massive machine-type communications: While massive machine-type communications will provide scalable and geographic coverage to help with initiatives such as smart cities, where the number of nodes will be considerably higher than on a normal project.

What are some of the practical benefits of 5G for construction?

5G stands to revolutionise how we deliver projects by tackling today’s challenge of worksite connectivity. 5G can help in terms of data collection, capture and analysis. This will be crucial on a site to monitor the health, location, status and specifications of assets of all kinds. That could be for:

  • Site machinery to check it is operational and available to be used (great for the project manager, principal construction contractor or tradesperson)
  • Parts of a building to promote coordination with the plan, or if a change has been updated on the living plan in real time; (great for the owner, architect/engineer, project manager, principal construction contractor)
  • Even to understand the status of an order such as a window frame or fire extinguisher to assist to ensure the project schedule is on track. (great for the project manager, principal construction contractor or tradesperson)

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 minimise issues and changes during construction, and potentially decreases future renovations.

5G will also help organisations inexpensively deploy technology to quickly capture, organise, and analyse huge volumes of video information. This reduces the need for some teams to even be on site. This kind of real-time, rich, visual information can provide peace of mind to the owner as well as an on-demand transparent view of the project at any moment in time.

In addition, 5G will mean sensors can be more effectively deployed to improve safety by tracking individuals’ compliance as well as drive supply chain efficiency by enabling better tracking of materials.

Finally, when considering methodologies used in the construction process such as BIM, 5G –with its expected speed, reliability and capacity – will help make the site plan as accurate as it possibly can be. It provides the potential to have a plan that’s updated based on almost each and every action on site. That can be gold for minimising risk and dealing with issues before they become major problems.  

A cautionary tale…

There are always unknowns when new technology becomes available and it’s the same with 5G. The truth is we just don’t know the full capabilities of something like 5G until it’s been utilised and tested on site.

New technologies bring new innovations and there will be a host of startups already working on construction technology solutions around the potential of 5G. It’s exciting to consider what might come from that.

At a high level though, what we do believe is that 5G will help to increase collection, capture and analysis of data. However, many organisations and projects today do not have a solid standardisation of project delivery strategy in place. Huge amounts of data is being captured and just not used.

Poor governance around project data and information doesn’t just reduce the potential benefits of 5G, it can impact the safety, quality, completion time, and budget of a project. Furthermore, the extended value of project data lies in what can be learnt, understood and identified both in terms of spotting trends on current projects and dealing with them before they become significant. 

In addition, project data can enable a cycle of continuous improvement in which lessons from prior projects inform best practice examples of how to manage future projects.

Before any organisation even considers technology innovations such as 5G, they should reconsider the importance of operational governance such as standardisation of project delivery to be adopted across all projects.

Image: Oleg Kachura/Dreamstime.com