5G and the future of wearables

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Chris Ashraf

With 5G, wearable technology like smartwatches and health trackers can connect users to the world around them in all-new ways.

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Wearable technology like smartwatches and health trackers have already given users a taste of how connected devices can increase productivity, promote physical fitness and boost communication.

Usually fitted to an individual’s wrist, these devices provide untethered functionality that fits active, on-the-go lifestyles—whether the task is counting steps, monitoring heart rates or checking email between sets at the gym. And while the wearables market has only recently made the leap from 3G to 4G, the next leap—one facilitated by the widespread adoption of 5G—could mean all-new features and use cases that manufacturers may have never even dreamed of.

Thanks to lightning-fast speeds and the ultra-low latency of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, wearables can eventually be more than just integrated pieces of the Internet of Things (IoT). When wearables gain the ability to gather and process rich, heavyweight data in near-real time, their potential for more precise, connectivity-intensive tasks—ones that give wearers a better understanding of their health, wellness and world around them—can increase.

When it comes to 5G’s potential impact on wearables, it’s all in the wrist.

Approaching the edge

Though personal trainers might disagree, less is more—at least when it relates to on-device processing power and storage capacity. A primary benefit of 5G connectivity for wearables will be reducing the heavy lifting they’re required to perform.

The benefit lies partly in mobile edge computing, or MEC, a technology that goes hand-in-hand with 5G. MEC allows complex functions to be performed closer to the user, and away from decentralized servers, which reduces network latency and enables near-real time execution.

The result: smarter, sleeker, higher-performing wearables with longer battery life and the potential to harness other technologies radically enhanced by 5G—from artificial intelligence to big data analytics—to expand their capabilities well beyond miles logged and calories burned.

Technology that runs

To get a sense of the potential of a fitness tracker powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, consider the New York City Marathon.

For broadcasters and television viewers, connected devices on runners could provide a comprehensive view of average speeds, mile times, vital signs and pinpoint positioning of runners within the pack. Those stats could be broadcast in real-time graphic overlay. For runners themselves, wearables could provide a better breakdown of the competition, ahead and behind, and give in-depth analysis of muscle performance, energy exertion and upcoming course conditions.

As bandwidth demands & the need for time-critical responses increases, 5G becomes extraordinarily important.

Sean Harrington, Vice President of City Solutions at Verizon

And since 5G networks are expected to eventually support up to one million connected devices per square kilometer, there should be enough bandwidth to support athletes and spectators, without logjams or device slowdowns.

“The network is critical for moving raw data from infrastructure to the cloud and then sending metadata back again,” says Sean Harrington, vice president of City Solutions at Verizon. “As bandwidth demands and the need for time-critical responses increases, 5G becomes extraordinarily important.”

A hands-on approach to healthcare

According to a recent industry study, the wearable device market is expected to nearly quadruple by 2022, to 430 million units, and this explosion is expected to be sparked more by health solutions than fitness applications. As the expansion of sensor technology drives near real-time connectivity, health trackers may be able to gather clinical-grade patient data and deliver doctor-driven diagnoses, furthering the impact of 5G on healthcare.

Imagine vital signs being collected remotely, with data like blood pressure and pulse transmitted via wearable to a waiting doctor. Illnesses could potentially be diagnosed more quickly, having knock-on benefits not only for the patient, but for the provider in the form of lowered costs. According to a McKinsey & Company report, if 15% to 20% of current outpatient consultations and home health visits were to occur electronically, annual healthcare spending could be cut by $25 billion to $40 billion.

For the elderly, ambient assisted living enabled by 5G-powered wearables could combine to produce an effective alternative to live-in care. A 5G-powered wearable that could provide information to family members or healthcare professionals regarding a drop in blood pressure or a dose of medication not yet taken could help improve patients’ quality of life and caregivers’ overall peace of mind.

5G for total control

In coming years, the ultra-low latency of 5G could expand the capabilities of wearables beyond health and wellness, providing new levels of utility for applications that demand a remote uplink.

As 5G-powered V2X communications assist in making city streets more intelligent and safer, wearables could become a vital bridge between people and their surroundings, whether that’s providing the virtual key that sends an autonomous vehicle on a predetermined route or alerting that vehicle to the presence of a cyclist in the intersection.

Wearables may also deliver more personalized experiences in smart homes. Beyond smart locks and learning thermostats, 5G is poised to free developers of speed restrictions and compatibility issues, paving the way for users to enjoy more ambient and intuitive connection. This might mean air conditioning that kicks in when your body temperature rises or a smart oven that preheats itself to assist in dinner prep as you walk through the door. It may also lead to the next innovation in AI-powered virtual assistants—the kind that caters to every member of the household and provides what they need without being asked.

5G has the potential to transform wearables from useful accessories to indispensable tools—ones that help people know more about themselves and their environments. Thanks to Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, that future is increasingly close at hand.

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