TREND Tactile Internet: The magic of real time

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5G is more than just a new mobile standard. By enabling haptic communications, it will have a marked impact on business and society.

The “critical phase” of the digital transformation in Germany should be over by 2025. At least this is what 64 percent of those questioned during a survey carried out by the VDE technological association expect. However, the new 5G communications standard will play a crucial role here. And it needs to be introduced as soon as possible. The outlook here is actually quite good. Optimists within the sector say that it could realistically be rolled out before 2020. And Deutsche Telekom hopes to have its 5G networks ready by then at the latest.

With a speed of 10 Gbit/s, the new mobile telephony standard will transmit data 100 times faster than the LTE network – and even 20 Gbit/s will be possible with certain applications. At the same time, the latency time will be less than 1 millisecond. This is an important consideration because future applications including remote controlled operating robots, sensor-actuator systems in factories, “intelligent” power networks, autonomous driving and modern traffic management systems require not only high bandwidths but also low response times. As a minimum requirement, response times from end to end, i.e. from an input to a reaction at another location, must be well below ten milliseconds.

In Western Europe, the typical response times in landline networks are 10 to 60 ms. In LTE mobile networks, they are between 25 and 40 ms. In contrast, a machine controlled using 5G will react so quickly to control pulses that human beings will no longer notice a delay. Experts refer to the “tactile Internet”, where all devices or machines react virtually in real time.

The capacity will also be 1,000 times higher than with LTE. And the energy consumption will be lower. An LTE radio cell can serve around 200 users. In addition to bandwidth and short response times, cyber security, reliability and permanent availability are crucial requirements. After all, who wants to be operated on by a “hacked” robot?

Infrastructures for the tactile Internet

In order for the visions to become reality, the fiber optic network must first be developed further. The network structure will then need to be changed – from a centralized to a decentralized structure. Up until now, sensor data for example have often been sent to a cloud on a server at the other side of the world to be analyzed, before the result is sent back to the sender to control a machine. In the case of applications requiring response times of no more than a few milliseconds, this is not physically possible owing to the time it takes for signals to travel along fiber optic cables. Light can travel no more than 200 kilometers in the space of a millisecond. The clouds therefore need to be closer to users. Ideally, they should be right next to the base stations in the form of so-called “mini clouds” and local “mobile edge clouds”. In the case of mobile applications, e.g. autonomous driving, they even need to move with the vehicle.

On the way to 5G

The Technical University of Dresden is already offering insights into the fifth generation of mobile telephony (5G) with the 5G Lab Germany, a concept supported by companies including Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, National Instruments, NEC, Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz and Vodafone. An interdisciplinary team made up of almost 600 scientists from 22 areas of research and more than 50 industrial partners is developing key technologies for the forthcoming 5G mobile telephony standard.

The Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI is also working on a whole range of 5G projects. For example, the “5G NetMobil” project which has just started aims to develop a communications infrastructure for tactile-connected driving in order to highlight its advantages over autonomous driving based exclusively on local sensor data in terms of traffic safety and efficiency.

Since last year, the Transferzentrum 5G Testbed has been an important point of contact for national and international research projects, preliminary studies on product development and a center for product tests for the fifth generation of mobile telephony. It aims to close the gap between research and industrial companies.

The 5G-MiEdge project is developing an innovative 5G network architecture. The project should hopefully help to standardize millimeter wave access both in the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) and at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). As part of the project, a shared 5G testbed will be presented in Berlin (5G Berlin Testbed) and during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Human sluggishness

Latency times of around a millisecond were originally discussed because we human beings expect this when interacting with machines. For example, people in flight simulators experience nausea if the delays exceed a millisecond. This is referred to as “simulator sickness”. In the future, it will probably be human beings who cause unwanted delays in machine-machine communication owing to their “sluggishness”.



Tactile internet with 5G (Image: pixabay/Gerd Altmann)

The tactile Internet is one of the corner stones of 5G. (Image: pixabay/Gerd Altmann)