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Executive Insight Corner

What COVID-19 Shuts Down, 5G Opens Up

By Raj Talluri - 2020-07-08

Caption: A picture I captured of the New York City skyline—pre COVID and pre 5G. A city so vast yet so dense, it makes me think about the array of opportunity in a post COVID and post 5G world.

When the most important news stories of the day are COVID-19 and social unrest, discussion of the latest technology trends can feel superfluous. But as I work from home each day, I see the relevance and potential power of 5G all around me.

My family has experienced many of the same fears and challenges as yours — fears about health and safety, as well as challenges in managing school, work and relationships. Our everyday needs have changed fast. And at the center of it all is one critical concept: connection. From doctors to drivers to friends, from working to schooling to gaming, connectedness is what’s making our world go around — or grind to a halt.

As our cities are slowly reopening, I see 5G as a way to “terraform” a virtual world to feel like the real one so many of us have missed. Today, telemedicine often means describing our ailment over a glitchy, pixelated call that may have been better as audio. If there’s anything technology has made obvious, it’s that we’re on the precipice of amazing connectedness — and that we aren’t there yet.

At home mulling some of the ways Micron’s 5G work can support a COVID-driven future, I’m more convinced than ever that we are positioned to take the lead in turning that future into reality. Micron is one of very few manufacturers in the world that provides both memory and storage — two of the foundational 5G technologies. (Processing and connectivity are the other two.)

5G elevates people’s experiences

Many consumers know 5G means “faster.” But with the world slowed down, we’re seeing what faster can mean. Let’s start with bandwidth — that is, being able to send more data faster. Six months ago, a high-resolution video call with 30 people would have felt like a luxury. Today, it’s one of our biggest wishes just to get through the workday. But a video call on 4G, or with multiple people on it, is not a “real-life” experience. It’s like a radio signal you can’t quite tune in. Remember texting with a flip phone? The experience probably didn’t match your expectations. Then, smartphones delivered a keyboard, and we discovered the experience we’d been seeking all along. 5G will enable multiple simultaneous video streams that we can engage with anywhere, with high enough quality that it feels like we're in the same place with the other callers — the experience you’ve been expecting all along. Whether we’re at work, at school, or with friends and family, 5G will make that calendar full of conversation more enjoyable.

That increased bandwidth will be a boon for the $2 trillion-plus global entertainment industry as well. As crowded, live events give way to home entertainment, 5G can make that sofa cushion feel more like a stadium seat. The difference? Control. At a live football game, you control where you look. At home, the camera team decides. Sure, for a big play, they might show a 360-degree view, captured by a half-dozen cameras and assembled in a studio. But with 5G, you’ll choose where to aim your view, in real time, to personalize your game experience — and you’ll do it with an app on your phone.

That is the true promise of interactive TV, and it’s certainly not limited to entertainment. Remote education and e-learning will benefit much the same way. We can create the reality of a physical room, a VR experience where students interact with each other and their teachers like in the real world. That’s the big story for education, and 5G gets us there. But that story can’t come to life without the best memory and storage built into the end devices. And those are what we’re working on here at Micron — enabling you to create amazing experiences right where you are, as though you’re right where the action is.

Faster reactions “feel real”

Beyond bandwidth, there’s latency, or how slowly something responds. Staying with the entertainment theme, a multiplayer game on 5G will connect to the cloud much, much faster because of lower latency. And my sons will tell you what a massive difference that makes to whether the experience feels real. If you move and the other person moves much later, the game's not the same. That’s 4G, and it’s why people don't play real-time multiplayer games much on phones. With 5G, we’re bringing latency way down, opening a whole new world of mobile gaming opportunities.

Low-latency tech addresses a more serious new concern too: driving. While fewer people are driving, car crash rates are up as people tend to speed on less crowded roads. Latency in automatic braking systems determine how fast a car stops after it senses a pedestrian. It’s a simple causation: lower latency, fewer car fatalities.

Reliable connections are critical

5G is integral to giving the internet of things a bigger role in automotive design, in smart city infrastructure, and in the future of health care. While 4G modems were a start to all of these advances, they don’t work with low power, and perpetually changing batteries isn’t practical. Micron products benefit from best-in-class low power. Lower power means longer battery life. With 5G, modems have batteries that will last 10 years. We’re finally creating that connected world we’ve been watching in sci-fi movies. And a connected world is a more convenient world. But it can be more than that.

Think of the implications to health in the post-COVID world. It will be different. Could doctors use connected devices on patients’ bodies to keep tabs on those who don’t require intensive care? Could we have sensors in nursing homes so that family members and health care providers could check on residents in real time? Today, you can call your doctor, but “Let me look at your tonsils” doesn’t show much with a low-resolution video. With the high-quality 8K video made possible by 5G, doctors will be able to test symptoms and conduct diagnostics — and that may be world-changing in a pandemic.

That doctor’s appointment won’t be limited to your Wi-Fi-enabled PC, either. It’s telemedicine on the terms you and your doctor choose — uninhibited by external constraints of device, place and time — and enabled by “always reliable” communication. You may have noticed that first responders don’t rely on cell phones. They use their own radios. That’s because 4G drops calls. But with 5G, we’re designing an always reliable spectrum that never goes down. When the 5G networks launch, first responders will finally be able to use network devices.

Advanced memory and storage solutions are essential for 5G deployment

As higher bandwidth and lower latency 5G networks become reality, the bottlenecks to realizing the above-mentioned type of user experiences promised by 5G become the speed and latency at which the processors and connectivity devices can access the memory and storage systems. Without significant advances in both of these, the processors and connectivity devices cannot take advantage of the 5G networks. The faster the 5G networks get, the more critical memory and storage access speed and latency becomes.

We at Micron are developing both memory and storage solutions to optimize the customer experience. And isn’t enhancing the customer’s experience the whole point?

5G connectivity is where the future begins

As the COVID-19 curve continues, we’re following the changing psychological needs, sociological trends, workplace requirements and educational approaches. Connectivity is what makes all that change work. And connectivity takes memory — more, better, faster memory. It also takes really low power. And it takes higher bandwidth to support the new standards.

At Micron, we are on the vanguard of this new era. We are working hard to ensure we're first to market with products with high bandwidth, low power consumption and low latency, both for work and play. That leadership — enhancing everything from autonomous driving to virtual reality (VR) and beyond — and the collaboration with our customers to create a global footprint are putting us in front today and for the future. Our aim is ultimately to connect the world.”

Bruce Franklin

Raj Talluri

Raj Talluri was the senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile Business Unit at Micron Technology. He is a technologist who has built camera teams at Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. His doctoral dissertation from The University of Texas at Austin focused on image technology. Best of all, he is a photographer, thrilled to bring his work home with him.