As 5G is being adopted by and benefiting sectors such as logistics, agriculture, and manufacturing, we are starting to see its application move into construction sites. This fifth generation of mobile networks is paving the way for a new generation of construction technologies, bringing huge leaps in productivity, safety, cost reduction and quality control.
Considering that entire movies can be downloaded in just a few seconds, it’s a hugely exciting time for forward-thinking construction and utility companies – the opportunities for improving construction and civil engineering projects through wireless technologies are simply limitless.
The Power of 5G – In a Nutshell
We already know the benefits of 4G for construction communications, especially in remote locations with poor connectivity. 5G, on the other hand, can deliver 10 times the speed of 4G, which is fast enough to stream detailed BIM diagrams in real-time or even use augmented reality headsets containing information from off-site design engineers.
The increased bandwidth offered by 5G allows thousands of devices to be connected, and, by leveraging a Private 5G network, the network can be sliced to prioritise certain users, devices, or processes. This means that construction sites can have fully connected teams and devices, working collaboratively within the same network and files.
5G is unrivalled in terms of latency, hence why it is a key driver for the future of autonomous vehicles. For construction sites, this means 5G can be used to control machinery in hazardous environments and keep operations running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The speed, bandwidth and ultra-low latency offered by 5G can help shave days, even weeks, off of the project timeline, drastically reducing construction costs. The almost-real-time monitoring means that projects are completed quicker, and risks are reduced by having complete visibility and improved quality control.
Software-led Solutions for Improving Construction Efficiency
From project management and scheduling to video conferencing and Building Information Modelling (BIM), construction has seen a marked uptake in digital solutions over the last decade. This has helped project managers and design engineers increase efficiencies across the full project lifecycle.
The productivity gap in the construction industry is well documented and is largely attributed to a lack of communication between back-office staff and the on-site teams. Site connectivity problems play a big part in this, with poor or no internet access at all making the transfer of information very difficult. With project managers handling large files such as BIM models whilst on-site, limited connectivity would make it near-impossible to access up-to-date files, potentially stalling construction in the process whilst they wait on large file downloads.
Fortunately, 5G solves this problem by delivering speeds of up to 20Gbps at its peak, averaging 150-200Mbps. This means that very large volumes of data can be transferred between site and back-office staff, very quickly. This may include 3D diagrams, time-lapse photos and 360° videos.
Even 4G, albeit slower than 5G, solves many site issues, particularly if industrial-grade routers are used in conjunction with dual-networks (load-balanced) and high-gain antennas. At the time of writing, 4G is also more readily available, but, particularly in the UK, 5G is being widely and rapidly rolled out across the country.
Focusing on 5G and BIM
By using higher frequency millimetre waves, 5G has negligible latency – this is a key differentiator when compared to other connectivity solutions, opening the opportunity of real-time data sharing between sites and head office.
Taking this into the context of BIM, this means that data could be captured on the fly. This can be done automatically using cameras and drone footage, overlaid in BIM with progress then analysed for any design deviations. The back-office team can then communicate with the on-site team, speeding up decisions and solving problems much more quickly.
This could also then be applied to quality control and compliance, to help mitigate delays and the costs associated with this.
Health & Safety – 5G and Wearable Tech
5G is an enabler for technology that improves health and safety, which is of course key to construction site operations. Wearable tech used to monitor employees’ health and safety can include IoT-enabled hardhats that detect when employees are near hazards such as moving vehicles or PPE which monitors physical health indicators, including employee heart rate.
As highlighted, 5G is a critical component for driverless vehicles – from a health and safety perspective, this technology can be used for the remote operating of machinery in environments too hazardous for humans e.g., deep mines, underwater, adverse weather and working at height.
Prioritise with 5G Intelligent Traffic Routing
Traditional mobile networks come under increasing strain as more devices are connected. 5G, on the other hand, is unique in that provides the capability to route traffic by providing users, applications and devices with a slice of the network, and has the capacity for thousands of devices to be connected simultaneously. In practice, this means that the processes central to construction site operations (for example remote machinery, wearable PPE, BIM or video conferencing) can be prioritised, ensuring optimal performance of the network.
Better yet, a Private 5G Network will ensure that all this sensitive data (for example employee details, building schematics, CCTV imagery) stays localised, rather than being transferred over a public network and risking being compromised.
Are there any limitations of 5G?
In order the achieve the best performance, a direct line of sight is needed and, whilst the technology itself is nearly limitless in its application, it is heavily restricted by network infrastructure. As 5G wavelengths have a much shorter range than 4G (around just 1,000 feet), more cell towers need to be built, and antenna nodes placed on buildings, to extend its reach. The progression of this infrastructure is dependant on local government, mobile operators, and licencing agencies, with some countries further ahead with their 5G rollout than others.
As with other wireless technologies, its high-frequency signals are also blocked by materials regularly used in construction (such as Low-E glass, concrete, and steel). With advances in mobile repeater technology, we are hopeful that the latter will be solvable in the coming months.
Final thoughts – what’s next for 5G and construction?
Does 5G for construction really matter? Absolutely – the issues highlighted in this article are real, with use cases showing that 5G will improve every aspect of construction site ops. From health and safety and communication to security and cost control, this is the future of construction.
Want to know more? Speak to our expert team today.