In March, the world’s first 5G-powered remote brain surgery was performed by Dr. Ling Zhipei in China. From a location in the Hainan Islands, Dr. Zhipei operated on a patient with Parkinson’s disease in Beijing – approximately 3,000 kilometers away. For years the major impediment stopping telemedicine was the absence of color rendering and any decent haptic feedback, which made its practice risky at best. To successfully execute telehealth services – whether it’s performing a remote surgery or using IoT devices to monitor patients – we need substantial bandwidth, speed and extremely low latencies, all of which can only be supported by a 5G network.
5G is on the path to revolutionizing the world, digitally.
The next generation network is expected to power 20.4 billion connected devices that will make up the Internet of Things by 2020. The exponential growth of the IoT will require a mixture of infrastructure designs to address different use cases. For example, smart manufacturing devices will integrate sensors into existing equipment to transmit data to a digital control system for predictive maintenance and much more. The industrial subset of the IoT will require low-powered devices using slow but responsive coverage to maintain efficacy. On the other hand, if we refer back to the telehealth industry and the application of remote surgery, we depend on 5G to enable super-fast speeds with extremely low latency. Although, in exchange for speed we will sacrifice range. Network providers will construct 5G by positioning thousands of small cells towers on street lamps and upgrading 200-foot cell towers that deliver 4G now. Ultimately, the future of 5G will be enabling back-and-forth communication with satellite relays.
Billions of vulnerable end-points
Both 5G and the IoT ramp up the number of vulnerable end-points that connect to a network and enable more opportunities for hackers to maneuver. A big concern will be securing unsuspecting home automation and security devices – like a smart fridge, a video doorbell and voice assistant – that can be remotely accessed to carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. With 5G, hackers will have the bandwidth and the speed to complete more attacks, and at a faster pace than ever before. In fact, bad actors can even tap into the physical infrastructure of a small cell tower located in public.
However, every industry will be affected in variance depending on the application and the infrastructure used. According to HIPPA Journal, there have been 2,546 healthcare data breaches involving more than 500 records between 2009 and 2018, and those breaches have resulted in the theft/exposure of 189,945,874 healthcare records. With the rise of health-related IoT devices on 5G networks safeguarding your health data will be even more important than in the past. Hackers can compromise data stored on the Cloud, or worse companies can sell this data to the highest bidder. What if your health insurance provider got a hold of data from your fitness tracking device and forced you to pay a premium for not reaching 10,000 steps a day? Amazon announced their voice assistant can now relay and store blood sugar measurementsfrom internet-connected monitoring devices and provide prescription delivery updates by accessing customers’ private medical information. In the future, when remote surgery is performed on a regular basis what will happen if the connection is hijacked – will someone be able to watch you while you’re under anesthesia? Our guess is that these circumstances are not acceptable because they bring about a host of privacy and democracy concerns.
5G could mean an end to the Cloud (sort of)
5G can help usher in a new era that reduces the amount of data sent to the Cloud and relies on edge-computing. By moving data to the edge, we can 1. cut down on latency, and 2. keep sensitive information on the user’s local device. For instance, biometric sensors are embedded in IoT devices to identify and authenticate users and effectively replace the legacy password. Biometrics can also be used to tag sensitive information. Currently, this information is stored in a database and computed over the Cloud. The widespread practice of aggregating databases is plainly incompatible with biometrics. You can survive the loss a credit card, but if your biometric identity is stolen, the loss is for life. You can’t generate a new face, brain or fingers. Regulatory frameworks like the GDPR are getting stricter about processing and protecting biometrics, however regulatory directives should take this point into account: no databases. For now, combining 5G with live biometric signals at the edge will create a world where the body is a protective password, being recognized and shielded at the same time? A reality soon…