Updated: Feb 22, 2022
5G - the great construction site modernizer
In a brave new 5G world, where it takes less than three seconds to download a feature-length movie to a Smartphone, the potential impact on construction projects is starting to excite tech-savvy professionals and turn heads in company board rooms. Excitement is growing around 5G and the far-reaching impact it will have on the business world and on the construction world in particular.
Broadly speaking, 5G is about blazingly fast speeds, higher levels of reliability, and increased capacity. But within the construction industry, in particular, it opens up great potential for processing mobile data which will inevitably impact the ways in which our machines communicate and interact remotely.
To be at the forefront of this digital revolution and to collaborate on developing new technologies is being viewed as a game-changer. From a business perspective, 5G is about enabling significant process and data management improvements. For activities such as data collection, capture, and analysis – all of which are increasingly important to project delivery – connectivity is key. And with 5G, these are carried out in real-time, so decisions can be made almost instantly – and issues rectified at speed. It has the potential to be a game-changer for the industry.
How 5G is powering the construction site of tomorrow
5G is expected to provide 10 to 100 times faster speeds. It could also unlock 10 to 100 times more capacity than current long-term evolution (LTE) networks. This will give those working in construction almost 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. Given that construction sites are complex and constantly-evolving environments, this will be a huge step forward.
With a higher data-crunching capacity combined with more efficient connectivity channels, 5G is also key to unlocking the power of massive machine-type communications in the construction industry. This technology will provide highly scalable and broad geographical coverage to help with complex construction and infrastructural projects such as smart cities, where the number of nodes will be considerably higher than on a normal project.
Looking further ahead, 5G will also prove key in accelerating the industry toward autonomous and remote operations – in other words, completing projects completely by machine alone, without the need of having people on site. Even though remote-control technology exists at present, 5G’s ultra-low latency eliminates any delay in connectivity and ensures work is completed with adequate speed and precision. This could also unlock the capabilities of self-driving machines, which will be able to accurately map areas, recognize signals, and communicate with other machines more efficiently.
Successful on-site monitoring requires effective tracking of health, location, status, and specifications of all objects and people. 5G is expected to enable better data collection, capture, and analysis in many different areas. An example of this includes the status of site machinery, and whether it is available for use. Thanks to high bandwidth, combined with the very low latency that 5G offers, the technology are set to improve data capture significantly across various project delivery processes. These new technologies have the ability to provide real-time visual information to the owner in addition to an on-demand transparent view of the project at any particular moment in time.
5G transforming construction worksites
The speed, latency, and scalability of 5G will revolutionize how construction workers do their jobs in three critical ways:
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.
Enhanced mobile broadband:
5G is expected to provide 10 to 100 times faster speeds. It could also unlock 10 to 100 times more capacity than current long-term evolution (LTE) networks. This will give those working in construction almost 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.
5G will unlock the ability to access reliable information immediately with very low latency: anywhere from one to 10 milliseconds, enabling teams to understand what is taking place on worksites in real-time and perform remote or autonomous construction operations. Given that construction sites are complex and constantly-evolving environments, this will be a huge step forward.
Massive machine-type communications:
This technology will provide highly scalable and broad geographical coverage to help with initiatives such as smart cities, where the number of nodes will be considerably higher than on a normal project; asset monitoring both on and offsite; and health monitoring.
A platform for innovation
5G is making technological leaps forward at an accelerated rate by playing a key role in project delivery in terms of data collection, capture, and analysis, which will be crucial in monitoring the health, location, status, and specifications of assets of all kinds, including:
Site machinery to ensure operational ability, availability, remote or autonomous construction operations – benefitting project managers, principal construction contractors.
Site components to ensure coordination with the project, enabling real-time reaction to changes and updates from the living plan – benefitting owners, architects, project managers, and principal construction contractors.
Order status of materials or various components manufactured offsite to ensure a project is running on time – benefitting project managers, principal construction contractors.
High bandwidth and low latency from 5G will improve data capture and data access 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. In terms of video capture, 5G will also help organizations inexpensively deploy technology to quickly capture, organize and analyze massive volumes of video information.
This reduces the need for some teams to even need to be onsite. Further, this kind of real-time, rich, visual information can provide reassurance to the owner as well as an on-demand transparent view of the project at any particular moment in time.
Imagine a BIM model, that is instantly available and is enabled with rich video content to provide an even greater level of visualization on site or about the site. Also, the high bandwidth capabilities that 5G promises will mean that data-heavy formats such as video can be uploaded and stored in the common data environment (CDE) instantaneously, providing the latest visual information to project teams when and where they need it in almost real-time.
We believe 5G can make the site plan as accurate as possible by updating it based on almost each and every action on site. That can be gold for minimizing risk and dealing with minor issues before they become major problems. In addition, 5G will mean sensors can more effectively be deployed to improve safety by tracking individuals’ safety compliance, as well as drive supply chain efficiency by enabling better tracking of materials.
Before getting carried away, there are a number of caveats regarding 5G in construction that site leaders would be sensible to consider. Chief among them is the impact on standardization and security.
From a standardization perspective, 5G will help to increase the collection, capture, and analysis of data. However, many organizations and projects today don’t have a strategy around the standardization of project delivery. This can reduce the potential benefits of 5G but also impacts the safety, quality, completion time, and budget of a project.
The extended value of project data lies in what can be learned, understood, and identified both in terms of spotting trends on current projects and dealing with them before they become significant, as well as providing lessons for continuous improvement across a project portfolio.
From a security perspective, 5G enables the potential for more endpoints, which essentially results in more internet-connected devices on site. This increases the need for rigor around ensuring security standards are up to date and are being followed across all of these endpoints.
Also, with 5G promising to collect vast amounts of data from so many different sources on a site, information almost becomes a currency. Most projects use multiple teams from multiple businesses, so it is important to be conscious of who has access to which information in order to protect both IP and sensitive data. While we are only really scratching at the surface of the opportunity of 5G today, our belief is that it is going to help us improve productivity, safety, and compliance for construction and engineering.
This will enable even greater productivity and better data management, yielding the insights needed to accelerate the drive to continuous improvement.