5G’s impact: a conversation with Werner De Laet


We talked to Werner De Laet, Chief Enterprise Officer, Innovation & Wholesale at Orange Belgium, about how 5G is transforming companies and entire industries. He outlines where we are today and explains the innovative potential of 5G.

Where are we today with 5G?

“All major telecom operators in Belgium have already rolled out 5G in a select number of cities and they are actively expanding their coverage to new areas. This enables faster mobile bandwidth speeds and a larger network capacity, creating fresh opportunities for innovation and further digital transformation.

We mustn’t forget that 5G is still relatively new in Belgium. Much of its potential to transform businesses and industries is yet to be realised. Several striking evolutions have nevertheless taken place in recent years, which indicates that 5G technology is starting to gain a foothold in a variety of industries and lines of business.”


Want to learn more about 5G? In the video below, Werner De Laet explains why 5G is a game changer, how the start-up phase of a 5G project unfolds and what the near future has in store.


Does 5G facilitate these new developments as an enabler, or is the mobile network a prerequisite for those innovations?

“Both are possible, depending on the specific use case and business context. On the one hand, 5G unlocks new possibilities and opportunities, thereby facilitating business transformations. With its faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity, 5G supports new applications that couldn’t be rolled out on mobile networks of previous generations.

For instance, 5G allows for the real-time monitoring and operation of industrial processes, the deployment of autonomous vehicles and the development of virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. Certain industrial applications require immediate automatic adjustment based on measurements from wireless sensors. This requires reaction times below 10 milliseconds. The combination of 5G and edge computing makes this possible. Another example is cargo handlers at airports. Thanks to smart glasses, they can manage aircraft loading and unloading more safely, quickly and with greater accuracy. In the event of problems or damage, an expert can use the glasses to assess the situation from a distance.

On the other hand, 5G can also be a prerequisite to innovation, especially in companies where connectivity is a critical factor. This is definitely the case for the logistics and transport industries. Businesses in those industries require a fast and reliable network to track and monitor their vehicles or cargo in real time.”


Do companies appreciate the full potential of 5G? Or is there still a way to go in terms of raising awareness?

“Quite a few Belgian companies are already exploring 5G, especially in terms of improving industrial processes. In December 2019, Orange was the first mobile operator in Belgium to launch a standalone 5G network for businesses in the port of Antwerp. Covestro, world leader in polymers, used the port to test how it could use 5G to support its field operators. Helicus called on the security and reliability of our 5G network to test the transport of medical supplies via drones. So companies do see the potential and they receive support from the government, which awards subsidies to organisations looking to trial 5G innovations. This year alone, 11 innovative 5G pilot projects supported by Orange Belgium have been selected for these subsidies.

Apart from companies, cities like Antwerp and Leuven are also investing in smart city initiatives that use 5G technology, with the aim of improving their public services and infrastructure.

But there are still large numbers of companies and organisations that aren’t fully aware of the possibilities of 5G, or that don’t yet know how to deploy the technology to its best advantage. That’s why we definitely need additional awareness-raising and education efforts about 5G technology and its potential benefits.

As a mobile operator, we try to contribute to that goal. We bring together the industry, government officials and other stakeholders to foster awareness of and investments in 5G technology. For instance, at our 5G Lab in Antwerp we work closely with the port of Antwerp community. The launch of the lab was an excellent opportunity to give Flemish Minister for Brussels Affairs, Youth and Media Benjamin Dalle and other politicians a taste of the potential of 5G. At our second 5G Lab in Liège, we also work with local partners such as EVS and Challenge Group. Local politicians including mayor Willy Demeyer have already been introduced to innovative use cases, like a digital twin of a robot that manipulates test tubes.”


Companies can opt for a private 5G network at their own location. What are the benefits? And how is it different from the public 5G network?

“Private 5G networks offer benefits for companies that need more control, security, bespoke applications and capacity than public networks can provide. Such solutions also require considerable investments in terms of network infrastructure. Custom integrations may be required and it may be necessary to guarantee interoperability with specific devices and applications. For every situation, a cost-benefit analysis must be carried out in advance to ensure the right choice.

There are also other solutions, such as the use of network slicing on the public 5G network. This gives every company its own slice of network, with bandwidth and security guarantees. It’s comparable to having your own lane on the motorway.”


What’s the most interesting 5G use case you’ve come across in the past year?

“The use of 5G in the healthcare sector can improve patients’ lives, lower costs and improve access to care. That is why for me, these are the applications with the greatest impact.

We see that operations are becoming more and more specialised and using increasingly complex medical equipment, such as surgical robots. In addition, there is a growing shortage of surgeons, a growing percentage of whom specialise in one or two procedures.

In a partnership with Barco and KU Leuven, we have submitted a 5G subsidy project to enable the team in the operating theatre to consult with external experts remotely. The external surgeon has full access to all the data and images in the operating theatre and is able to communicate and give instructions. The project has been awarded a federal grant and will be rolled out in the course of the next two years.”


Curious to find out what innovations 5G brings for your business? Get acquainted with the possibilities of 5G.

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