5G could be the gateway for UK construction’s transformation

Photo: Maksym Velishchuk/
5G has the power to transform many industries, including construction. It will enable better ways to transmit and share information, such as video and sensor data. It has the capability to make construction professionals more efficient, increasing productivity and visibility on worksites, says Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice-president, innovation, at Oracle.

5G technology will deliver results that have never been possible before: in fact it is projected to help the construction industry boost UK economic growth by more than £4bn. So what can 5G do?

It is the latest iteration of wireless networking technology, or broadband. The G stands for generation, and each generation has brought increased speed, reliability, and accessibility. Five iterations on, it now promises speeds 10 to 100 times faster than current long-term evolution (LTE) networks, extremely low latency (as little as one to 10 milliseconds), and support for a far higher number of devices in a given area compared with LTE.

5G technology is also expected to offer the most reliable network availability to date and a 90% reduction in network energy consumption.

From the construction industry’s standpoint, 5G is positioned to revolutionise how projects are delivered by tackling a key challenge to digital transformation: worksite connectivity. 5G can help better enable the collection, capture and analysis of crucial on-site, real-time data to monitor the health, location, status, and specifications of various assets.

High bandwidth, faster speeds

Building information models, image/reality capture, 4D, 5D, and laser scanning all require very large data sets. These are multi-dimensional in nature, and provide far richer visualisation – they also require fast broadband. With new technologies like virtual and augmented reality (AR) rolling out, faster broadband will become even more important.

“5G will be central to revolutionising the construction industry. Advancements in connectivity will allow the industry to better use the insights provided through IoT, AR, AI and machine learning.”

Burcin Kaplanoglu, Oracle

The high bandwidth of 5G is expected to provide 10 to 100 times faster speeds (1 gigabit in the air), compared with existing LTE networks, which should also mean equivalent increases in capacity. This could give construction professionals nearly instantaneous access to data-intensive edge and cloud applications, enabling multiple users to interact with each other in real-time from anywhere in the world.

Not only will this help foster interactions between worksites and the office for better measurement and tracking, but also these heightened speeds will enable video feeds with AI that help recognise objects, workers, and safety issues.

Gateway to autonomous construction

5G offers construction professionals the ability to access reliable information in near real-time with low network latency. The technology’s extremely short lag time could be the key to remote or autonomous construction operations, where construction businesses can understand what’s taking place on worksites quickly and easily perform the work with machines. This will be a huge step forward given the complexities of constantly evolving construction worksite environments.

IoT sensors to step things up

5G will also fuel growth potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), with the capacity for about 1 million sensors per square kilometre – a significant step up from legacy wifi routers’ device limits.

Eventually, contractors will be able to ‘sensorise’ practically anything on a worksite, allowing companies to collect data from tools and materials. For example, workers could put sensors in concrete to assess cure time. IoT sensors can be used for smart buildings, and with 5G, contractors can have a digital twin of that building with data from the very start of the project throughout its life.

IoT sensors can also be used for projects such as bridges while they’re being constructed, monitoring while they’re being moved and installed, tracking when they are complete, and then later measuring data such as vibrations. Capturing information from these IoT sensors will make 5G a critical component of a worksite.

Enabling edge computing

Data volumes will continue to increase with 5G. However, this won’t all take place in the cloud. Rather, some of the computing will need to be done onsite with edge computing and mobile edge computing on 5G networks.

Edge computing is a distributed computing framework that brings enterprise applications closer to data sources such as IoT devices or local edge servers. This proximity to data at its source is extremely necessary in construction. For example, if a machine is digging on a worksite, it needs to be able to respond immediately to a safety issue. This will require the low latency of edge computing.

Edge computing and mobile edge computing on 5G networks can deliver strong business benefits, including faster and more comprehensive data analysis and insights, improved response times and better bandwidth availability.

A pivotal role

5G will be central to revolutionising the construction industry. Advancements in connectivity will allow the industry to better use the insights provided through IoT, AR, AI and machine learning. Being able to unite and analyse all this data quickly in a common data environment will be a game changer in how projects are approached.

This requires significant changes to device architecture and where computing occurs. Imagine being able to put on a pair of goggles and see into various building phases in a project. As AR and 5G networks evolve at pace, this might not be such a far-off reality.

Ultimately, 5G will be instrumental in providing greater connectivity, capacity and democratisation of technology, and will play a key role in the construction industry’s transformation.

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