The race to 5G telecom networks is accelerating. British Prime Minister David Cameron fired the latest salvo when he announced a set of new initiatives to drive 5G research in Germany and UK as part of his government's £45 million ($75 million) investment for research into the fifth generation mobile network.

Excitement is already high in the 5G research arena, with several vendors, operators and governments piling on investment and touting their roadmaps. The European Union plans to invest €700 million ($963 million); South Korea's government has committed to spend $1.5 billion; and China has established a government-led promotion group, IMT 2020, for 5G research.

While the standards are still being defined, the successor to 4G is expected to offer download speeds 1,000 times faster, lower latency, and better battery life. If 2G was for voice, 3G for data, and 4G video, then 5G could pave the way for an Industrial Internet and enable intelligent networks of billions of sensor-fitted smart machines that can communicate with each other. The European Commission estimates that 7 trillion devices will be connected thanks to the next generation of communications system.

And 5G is not just a faster network, but it will create entirely new markets and economic opportunities driven by the Industrial Internet in verticals ranging from healthcare to automotive to infrastructure. In healthcare, for instance, 5G speeds could make remote surgery a practical option by reducing command-response time close to zero. Another opportunity is smart cities, where devices and sensors are embedded in the entire infrastructure to monitor various aspects like traffic patterns. 5G’s extra capacity and speed will surely help track a large number of driverless cars and accelerate the communication between those cars and road signals.

2020 could emerge as the crucial year for 5G, when most industry players are expecting rollouts. The South Korean government plans to begin trials in 2017 and full rollout by 2020. The country's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning is working jointly with operators such as SK Telecom and Korea Telecom and device makers including Samsung and LG. Samsung conducted its own early 5G tests last year. The company claimed that it managed to produce a 1.056 Gigabit per second signal to a distance of up to 1.2 miles.

Huawei plans to invest $600 million in 5G research and development over the next four years. Taiwan's government is eyeing 5G technology too and plans to tap into money from last year's 4G spectrum-license auction to fund 5G development, according to The China Post. It has allocated $495 million to the research initiative and plans to replicate the incubation platform approach of its semiconductor industry.

As big investments roll in, 5G could open faster lanes for the Industrial Internet and create myriad new applications.

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GE Digital

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GE Digital connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics and people, providing industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. World-class talent and software capabilities help drive digital industrial transformation for big gains in productivity, availability and longevity. We do this by leveraging Predix, our cloud-based operating system, purpose built for the unique needs of industry.