What 5G will change for frontline workers

With the worldwide deployment of 5G, frontline workers will be able to enjoy the benefits that knowledge workers and consumers are already getting from fixed networks.

Over the past two years, spurred by the pandemic, businesses have turned working from home into a common practice. Therefore, technological progress has been focusing on digitalizing the workplace, and making working from home easier, with innovations ranging from higher connectivity to better e-meeting tools.

Yet, some individuals can’t easily work remotely — the frontline workers. Nor can they rely on fixed or wireless networks. They need highly reliable mobile networks with low latency and high bandwidth. The easing of the pandemic and the massive deployment of 5G is now about to provide them with the benefits of digital technology as well. 5G will thus make the employee experience of frontline workers much more satisfying.

[The frontline workers] need highly reliable mobile networks with low latency and high bandwidth. The easing of the pandemic and the massive deployment of 5G is now about to provide them with the benefits of digital technology as well.

In this story, we’d like to show you how the work of three different types of frontline workers will soon be transformed by 5G, from the doctor working in a remote, low connectivity area to the maintenance worker operating on complex machinery and the rescue team being deployed under extreme weather conditions.

5G for doctors operating in remote areas

Some healthcare professionals, such as doctors working for the Red Cross in some rural parts of Africa, have to operate in an environment where connectivity is poor. In addition to this challenge, these professionals are usually faced with a double dilemma. First of all, they only have a limited set of medical tools available and have to do without X-ray machines and other types of heavy and cumbersome, yet crucial devices, that their counterparts working in hospitals can easily access. Secondly, they usually have to cover a huge geographical area while being faced with a shortage of skilled medical workers to assist them.

Thanks to the high speed and low latency of 5G, healthcare professionals will be able to use video to assist lower skilled people remotely, while also getting feedback and data from them thanks to connected devices. They can then rely on a team of healthcare workers who just know the basics of medical science but lack deep knowledge and technical skills. These people can perform simple tasks, take care of the patients, take their vital signs, gather some basic information and make sure they stay resting in bed, while being guided remotely by healthcare professionals. These experts will then run their diagnosis, and decide whether the patient suffers from a benign condition that will heal by itself or whether he or she needs to be brought to the closest hospital where further tests will be performed with the proper equipment. Atos Unify’s Virtual Care Collaboration Service, launched in December 2021, can support that kind of use cases.

5G will also make it easier to use small, convenient devices to perform some more specific medical analysis. During the pandemic, cough analysis and temperature detection software have made it easier to spot Covid symptoms with a mobile device. Through AI algorithms being deployed on the camera, and quick data transfers allowed by 5G, smartphones can also be used to spot symptoms of skin cancer, or whether a limb may be broken. In both cases, the diagnostic won’t be 100% accurate, but it will be precise enough to decide whether the patient needs to be brought to the hospital for further testing or whether it’s clear that they don’t suffer from anything serious.

5G for maintenance workers

Local construction workers or service technicians often require support from highly skilled back-office experts. While standard virtual communication and collaboration tools can help in such situations, it can also prove difficult to analyze complex scenarios and technical details without the proper tools. Soon, this issue will be solved, as maintenance workers will be able to wear augmented reality glasses that, thanks to 5G, will livestream what they see to an expert working remotely from the company’s headquarters. Augmented and mixed reality capabilities will thus introduce a 4th dimension to collaboration, adding visualization and decomposition through 3D models.

Albeit sitting thousands of miles away from the maintenance site, these back-end experts will be able to identify the different machine parts through the eyes of their technician. Then, not only can they provide him or her with instructions that the technician will receive through his or her earplugs, but also can they directly influence what the technician sees through augmented reality. The expert can for example overlay a 3D model on the technicians’ vision, guiding them with colors and patterns. This way, they can quickly see that they first have to open this and this screw, then remove this piece to fix the other one… Atos Unify and Atos CX practice are currently working together on delivering such augmented reality use cases, and the Atos Scientific Community is about to release a White Paper1 about this topic.

In the future, some of this could even be automated and wouldn’t require the presence of an expert guiding the technician remotely. One can for example imagine 5G connected sensors allowing for predictive maintenance, spotting when a machine part is reaching the end of its lifecycle, and sending an alert to the technical team that they need to bring a technician on site. Then, as the technician arrives, the sensor can send a signal to his or her goggles that will make the machine part flashing red through augmented reality, letting him or her know that it needs to be changed. Such applications, 3D overlays and mass data simulations, require high performance networks and lots of bandwidth. They will therefore only become possible with the democratization of 5G.

1 Shared Cross-Reality Collaboration - the fourth dimension of digital human interaction, by Dr. Thomas Bierhoff, Jan Hickisch, George Miller, Sven Paproth and Albert Seubers.

5G for teams of mountain rescuers

Traditionally, mountain rescue teams have been relying on helicopters for search and rescue missions. However, helicopters are very expensive, each one of them costs at least a few million dollars, which means that rescuers usually only have a limited number of aircrafts available to cover a huge area. This, of course, becomes an issue if multiple people need to be rescued at the same time.

Thanks to high speed and high bandwidth 5G networks, as well as broad network coverage, these teams will now be able to use drones as an alternative to helicopters when searching for missing individuals. They are much cheaper and can offer a higher range, which means that the rescuers can use multiple drones at the same time and search a wider area more quickly, increasing chances of finding the missing people while they are still alive.

Drones are also smaller and handier than helicopters, and can therefore search areas that otherwise wouldn’t be searchable. And because they cost less and don’t require a human pilot, meaning that no human life will be lost in case of a crash, they can also take more risks than helicopters, for example flying under more extreme weather conditions. No need to stop search and rescue efforts when there’s a snowstorm, fog or heavy rains anymore. Drones even offer the opportunity to better predict, and thus avoid risks. In this regard, Atos Unify is offering a Critical Event Management solution, provided by the strategic partner Everbridge, which helps to manage, mitigate, prevent and resolve critical events such as extreme weather phenomena, natural disasters or man-made situations.

Drones can also see things that humans can’t. Combining high resolution and heat-sensitive cameras with an overlay 3D terrain model, they can spot missing people better than human eyes. At the Atos Unify Sales Partner Conference, which happened in June 2019 in Budapest, Atos demonstrated various use cases for the public safety and healthcare emergency space, including a drone equipped with a HD/heat sensitive camera delivering live pictures from the event.

And once these people have been found, the drone can get closer and, through a specific software, measure and analyze their body functions while first responders are on the way. As a consequence, the rescuers will already be provided with this information when they arrive and can immediately know what they need to do to increase the chances of survival of the persons. Some drones can even deliver medicines, food or a survival blanket to the individuals being rescued, buying some precious time before first responders get there.

These are only three examples, but as 5G becomes mainstream, all kinds of frontline workers will see their working conditions tremendously improve. Surgeons will be able to operate remotely, some factory workers will use robotic exoskeletons to carry heavy weights, firefighters will rely on drones and robots during emergency operations, ground-staff at airports will be able to manage planes turn-over more easily, teachers in remote areas will benefit from augmented reality and other high tech presentation tools… Overall, 5G will make the job of frontline workers easier, more efficient and safer.

To explore this topic further, I invite you to read the report "Unlocking virtual dimensions', where the Atos Scientific Community has researched on augmented humans and co-bots, which is dealing with bionics, addressing things like exoskeletons, brain-computer-interfacing, neural implants and how they extend, replace or reestablish human senses. The idea is to use human augmentation in order to bridge the natural human capabilities to digital and physical technologies.

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About Jan Hickisch
VP Global Portfolio Strategy and Marketing
Jan Hickisch has designed a variety of communication solutions in different roles, such as Development, Technical Sales, Product Management, Strategic Portfolio Management and now as VP Global Portfolio Marketing at Unify. In his current position in Unify he is creating Unify’s portfolio vision and strategy, all product, services and solution related marketing material, incl. customer and social engagement.

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