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Technology

LABS-346 5G Exploration

By Lino Silva
Lino Silva
A Farfetcher since 2011 - lover of tech, food, beer, and LEGO. Won't trade my Adidas Superstars for anything.
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LABS-346 5G Exploration

Context

This exploration was done by the Labs team on September 10th 2020 to find possible opportunities in using 5G networks. The team used Miro as a tool to document the session, and the results can be checked in the image below.



In this document, we’ll go through each of the vectors mentioned and the opportunities associated with it.

About 5G

5G is nothing more than the next generation of cellular communication networks, featuring up to 100x faster speeds, lower latency (time it takes for a request to reach the server). It does come at a cost though, as the higher frequencies used in 5G will reduce its reliability (switching from 4G to 5G towers might become a common occurrence).

Opportunities

This new standard comes with a set of promising new features, aiming to make our day-to-day lives easier. During this exploration, these were the main topics tackled: 
  • Speed
  • Latency
  • Mobility
  • Resilience
Below we’ll go through each of the sections in more detail.

Speed

Faster speeds will enable all sorts of connected experiences to happen on a customer’s phone or any kind of 5G-connected device. The main topics covered in this area were:

App Clips

App Clips is a new feature developed by Apple to enable users to have small experiences without having to actually download an App. This will definitely benefit from 5G connectivity, as the App Clip’s 10MB size limit will make sure the experience loads instantaneously for the end customer.

Augmented Reality

This will be another area benefiting from the fast speeds of 5G. High quality 3D models can vary from having a few megabytes to gigabytes in size, with many companies opting for not allowing their download on 4G networks. 5G will make the download of those models much faster, potentially reducing the size of the Apps companies launch to the App Store.

Remote Processing

This increase in speed means that devices can communicate with much higher frequency with a server in the cloud. In the case of machine learning, for example, data could be streamed constantly to a central server to be processed, instead of relying on the device’s local processing capabilities.

Latency

Latency is the amount of time that a request takes to reach a server that sits in a warehouse somewhere. It affects the user experience by adding loading times, as well as responsiveness of the systems overall.

The main use-case we’ve come up with would be to stream experiences from the cloud to connected devices. This would enable us to use thin (lighter, cheaper) computers on our connected devices that stream the user experience directly to the Mirror or SFD without any impact on the final customer experience. Inputs like touch, voice, sensors and cameras could be streamed directly to the cloud and the local device would only need to stream the result and show it.

Mobility

This is something we could already do with 4G, but 5G will definitely amplify the use-case’s viability. With high-speed, low-latency networks available everywhere, we can make connected devices like "magic mirrors” or interactive displays that can equally be installed anywhere. 

Customers could then be walking through a hotel/airport lobby and see an interactive display showing the latest catwalk, or allowing you to browse the latest collections in 3D. 

Resilience

As part of our Store of the Future experience, we’ve built connected mirrors with the objective of augmenting the experience inside of a fitting room - be it asking for different sizes, asking for help or getting style recommendations. With 5G, we would have the ability to create resilient, secure networks for these devices to talk to each other, without depending on the on-site internet connection.  A main 5G device would connect to the cellular network and would expose an internal Wi-Fi/cabled connection that all of the connected devices could take advantage of. This would be beneficial in multiple aspects:
  • Not depending on local internet connection
  • Immune to local network firewall/security rules
    • This is not to say we wouldn’t have security rules of our own, it’s just to mention that they would be the same for every installation in a much more scalable way (right now it’s handled on a case-by-case basis)
  • Can also be used as a backup network, in case the store’s fails

Risks

  • Adoption
    • 5G is a technology that is still being deployed worldwide. As such, the number of antennae as well as consumer devices being launched to the market has just begun to increase. Time will tell whether the rollout will accelerate in the months/years to come.
  • Cost
    • Devices bundled with 5G antennas are still expensive (probably not an issue in our customer base), but the main cost comes also from maintaining 5G contract plans. This is something that can definitely be offset to the final client as a subscription plan, but not if we choose to go to lobbies as mentioned above (Mobility section)
  • Range
    • 5G uses higher frequency bands to communicate (which gives its higher speeds), but comes at the cost of having to have a much higher antenna density to cover the same places as 4G. Some carriers have chosen to use lower frequencies, but reported that speed improvements were only 20% higher than 4G (compared to 10000% promised by 5G specifications).
  • Power consumption
    • 5G-powered mobile devices are still using the first round of antennas developed, that will potentially consume more battery than its predecessors.
  • Heat output
    • This is only important in case we choose to have a fitting room with 5G connectivity, as the heat from the antenna might influence the overall ambience of the space
  • Data caps
    • This is still an issue with 4G and will remain so as data caps exist in customer’s data plans. Most of the features we’ve mentioned (especially AR) will have the same current constraints in a customer-facing app if companies choose to keep data caps as a default in lower-tier cellular plans.

Conclusion

Although 5G comes with heaps of promises of higher speeds and lower latencies, its adoption has been slow and gradual. The first devices featuring 5G connectivity have started appearing in the second half of 2019, with Apple catching up in Q3 2020.

Telecommunication companies have been choosing to use lower frequency bands to deploy their 5G networks, meaning that improvements have been far lesser than promised - mainly due to the need of having a much higher antenna density to cover the same area using higher-frequency bands. Improvements will most likely not be anywhere near the vicinity of 100x the speed of 4G.

Having said this, 5G does open up a world of possibilities in terms of mobile experiences, as well as the ability of deploying connected experiences anywhere without the hard dependency on local internet connections. With this, FARFETCH’s Store of the Future has an opportunity to venture into the world beyond the physical stores, inspiring customers everywhere.

References

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