5G isn't just good for business. It's potentially good for all of us. We've barely begun to explore the ways New Zealand can benefit from 5G adoption.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how it might optimise current infrastructure with more intelligent solutions, bringing about improved environmental sustainability.

Smart power

5G wireless uses less electricity than previous standards, but that's actually just the beginning. 5G could unlock the potential of smart energy grids – two-way distribution systems that constantly monitor and manage the flow of electricity.

Every element of a smart grid is constantly in communication with the others and that's a job where 5G excels. As we move towards a future of multiple, smaller energy sources, 5G networks look like the ideal communications solution.

5G could also help us predict and manage demand, something that's likely to become increasingly important as electric vehicles need to top up on the move.

Lighting, heating and cooling of public spaces and buildings are all key energy uses. Could smarter management with the help of 5G connectivity lead to services that not only work better but consume energy more efficiently?

Smarter traffic management

Future urban traffic control will rely on networks of cameras and sensors that feed real-time data from thousands of 5G devices into a dynamic management system. The result will be reduced fuel consumption, more efficient journeys and safer roads – whatever kind of vehicle you're using.

Those same features of 5G may help with better public transport planning, assigning resources to where the demand is. They could also be crucial in making autonomous or remotely-driven vehicles a safe and practical option on our roads.

Air and water

We already know that air quality is a problem in parts of our big cities. With 5G, we could be monitoring air conditions in real-time, and making that information instantly available to anyone who needs it. Public health organisations could learn more by tracking symptoms such as asthma attacks against reported air quality in specific areas. Relief inhalers, for example, could become connected devices.

Harbour cities can currently only track water contamination by manually taking samples from beaches – which often means the use of expensive helicopter time to take those samples. What if there was constant data delivered from waterborne sensors? Could spillages and overflows be detected sooner?

In rural environments, the health of waterways has become a matter of urgency. Could fleets of waterborne sensors let farmers and other land users know sooner when there's a problem? This would potentially help farmers to manage their waterways and stay in compliance with regulations if they can see at a glance what's going on.

Smart farming has become a quiet revolution, helping farm managers know exactly when and where to intervene to maintain optimum production conditions. Could farms eventually operate private 5G networks that harness together all their devices? Could the data from those devices be gathered from multiple properties and analysed for the benefit of the whole sector? Could rural weather forecasting be revolutionised if it can use data from thousands of connected devices? The sky really is the limit.

Better medicine and healthcare

5G could help revolutionise healthcare. It may provide better ways of doing what we already do, and it could offer entirely new opportunities.

Medical imaging files are a key part of modern care, but they're very large. Transferring large files quickly from point to point, even outside hospitals, is exactly what 5G is good at.

5G may also hugely expand the scope for telemedicine. Patients who find it difficult to get to a consultation could soon find it much easier to consult by video link. In the future, 5G may offer enough responsiveness for some medical procedures to be performed remotely.

Medical devices are increasingly going mobile. Low-cost wearables could transform the way patient health is monitored – and the secret to unlocking their potential may be 5G's ability to support thousands of devices on the network. 5G's network-slicing features could allow wearables to have their own guaranteed bandwidth.

The potential of connected devices extends beyond day-to-day use. What happens in the back of an ambulance is vital. A patient's condition could be monitored en route and that vital information made available to doctors at the ambulance's destination at the same time it is to the crew. The flow might also run the other way, with important information in patient records instantly available to first responders.

5G combined with the Internet of Things could also help spot medical problems sooner, or even predict them. The elderly and others at risk could be monitored in their homes with the use of sensors that spot changes in their daily movements. Sensors linked by 5G networks could also pick up potentially problematic changes in household environments. Smoke alarms could be networked, to make sure someone outside the house gets the alarm.

It's a big, busy world and the solutions are waiting to be discovered.

By Russell Brown