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If you’re under construction, you likely have had this experience or know someone who has.

At the beginning of the day you spend precious minutes downloading the latest 2D plan or the latest 3D model of your project to your smartphone or tablet. However, when you start to work, you realize that a change has been made that is not on your device.

Welcome to the modern construction site.

The problem, of course, isn’t with the digital plans or the smart device in your hand. The reason to download this data for “offline” use in the field is because of the connectivity problems encountered on most active construction projects.

Trying to download large files locally, even on the fastest devices, can be a futile exercise, represented by the endlessly spinning pinwheel on your screen.

But 5G, especially as it is applied to construction, has the potential to change all of that.

What you should know

5G is the fifth generation of wireless communication standards. Almost 20 years ago, 3G enabled your old flip phone to connect to the Internet. 4G-enabled video streaming as well as a multitude of apps that rely on continuous connectivity.

5G represents the next iteration of speed – at least ten times faster than 4G LTE, with some experts predicting a 100x speed gain.

The real advantage of the technology, especially for the design, however, is the low latency. Latency is the digital stutter you see with a video app like Zoom over a slow connection.

This can also result in a virtual reality app being skipped staccato when using holographic 3D glasses to “see” plans overlying existing construction site work or – in the worst case – communication between an autonomous earthmoving device is interrupted and its control.

“5G was designed to deliver high data rates with low latency,” said Babak Beheshti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the New York Institute of Technology and a senior member of the Institute for electrical and electronic engineers. “These two properties enable fast, real-time transfer of data between two or more points.”

Construction applications

This is a big deal to design because the computing power required to run data-intensive files like a 3D BIM model doesn’t need to be in the device in your hand or the one you wear on your head. Instead, computing can be done in the cloud, with the resulting content served quickly, so you can get your work done on-site without skipping anything.

A side effect is that devices that are used in the field require less processing power, which makes them less expensive and physically easier to transport. While iPads are ubiquitous on construction sites, take one with you all day and you will quickly see the benefit of this aspect of 5G.

“The weight, size and cost of these devices will be significantly reduced when processing is moved to the cloud,” said Beheshti. “There are headsets that cost thousands of dollars to perform augmented reality on the job site today, and they are expensive because they do all the computation locally.”

Future potential

This is just one use case where the benefits of 5G come into play. What really excites proponents of the technology is the potential for a connected construction site in the future, where Internet of Things sensors communicate with wearables on workers’ bodies to keep them out of danger zones and alert others to accidents.

“We are already seeing sites using devices such as smart hard hats and sensor-based vests to monitor worker health and safety,” said Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice president of Oracle Industry Innovation Labs, maker of construction project management software. “If a worker falls or is involved in an accident, sensors can track heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs and take next action to alert a manager or even emergency personnel. Every second counts, so the speed and reliability of the 5G network is critical. “

Other use cases involve autonomous earthmoving machines that can be controlled by employees of a central command center or intelligent construction machines that communicate with other machines on site to ensure they don’t get into each other’s work areas, as shown in this video.


Currently, however, most of these scenarios are still in the future because of the architecture and deployment of the technology itself.

While phone providers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all have their 5G network capabilities, ultra-fast 5G with extremely low latency is rarely available. That’s because 5G differs depending on the facility.

The underlying technology is based on three different types of networks: low-band, which offers wider coverage but lacks speed; High band, which can be super fast and has low latency but doesn’t go that far; and Mid-Band, a compromise between speed and coverage area.

This means that most high-speed, low-latency high-band networks are currently only found in densely populated urban centers or in places like football stadiums and airports where they are specially installed – with thousands of antennas in close proximity to each other. demonstrate the ability of the technology.

However, that kind of connectivity on a remote construction site is still years away.

“Due to the limited coverage areas of medium- and high-band 5G, we weren’t able to take full advantage of 5G at this point,” said Kevan Burton, data and telecommunications manager at Rosendin Electric in San Jose, California. “We are still using 4G LTE on many of our construction sites where traditional wireline services are not available, for example in rural areas where we are building solar and wind parks.”

He added that Rosendin is adding 5G cellular modems to its remote site equipment so the company can adopt the technology when 5G services become more widely available.

When that day will come is still unclear. The GSMA, a global trading group of cellular operators, predicts that 5G will account for 20% of global connections by 2025. According to the group, penetration will be particularly strong in developed countries in Asia, North America and Europe.

However, the good news for contractors is that building the full 5G network over the next decade will require someone to build it. Boston Consulting Group and cellular industry CTIA predict this will translate into $ 127 billion for the construction industry by 2030. The introduction will also save the sector 451,000 jobs.

Notable projects

So far, the most notable construction project to use 5G technology on site has been the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area, a zone of high-tech production facilities.

There, 40 contractors use a network that transfers data at 10 GB per second.

According to the Global Construction Review, it allowed them to use AI goggles that allow engineers in the office to see what employees on site are seeing, monitor employee vital signs, monitor cranes, and even see if employees are wearing masks during the pandemic.

The New York Department of Buildings is running a video inspection program that is being tested in select locations across the city to allow inspectors to cover the ground remotely.

While the pilot doesn’t need 5G to participate, it will be used if it’s available – and New York City is one of the areas in the country with the best 5G coverage right now -.

“The program requires the contractor to have an on-site internet connection so that they can use it for the video inspection,” said Andrew Rudansky, DOB press officer. “That can be either WiFi or cellular, which would include cellular 5G.”

To read

The future of building and 5G

5G promises massive employment and GDP growth in the US

GSMA – The Mobile Economy 2020

The 5G lie: The network of the future is still slow

Beijing launches first 5G construction site with smart glasses and heart monitors