Fighting COVID-19 with 5G enabled Technologies (White paper)


White paper by Dr. David SoldaniHuawei Technologies

As of today, COVID-19 is counteracted by tracking, testing, diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of the infection, as countries dealing with COVID-19 have found out early identification of positive subjects is crucial for the purposes of their treatment and containment of the infection [1].

To this end, 5G technology could help us increase the diagnostic capabilities in areas at risk by locating infected subjects as early as possible and promptly tracing their contacts and identify the origin of the infection, thus avoiding future propagation of the virus through subsequent interactions.

The COVID-19 test is effective when it is combined with a strict path of contacts and the tracking is effective as long as it is combined with an appropriate communication system that collects and disseminates information about the movements of potentially infected people and so on.

5G technology could also help us monitor in real time patients with mild symptoms, particularly those who remain undiagnosed in their home, as well as health workers, who are the most exposed staff and therefore at greater risk. These people represent a strong risk for the transmission of the infection in their families and in the community, especially in the post-emergency phase or “phase two”, i.e. when the social distancing will be relaxed because the curve of new deaths will have turned the corner, see e.g. [2] and [3].

Through high-speed and low-latency 5G technology the exchange of high resolution images, videos and other information in digital form, related to successful and unsuccessful cases, could take place in just fractions of a second right across an entire country or even around the world.

This near seamless transfer of information would enable knowledge and experience sharing between hospitals and laboratories scattered throughout a national territory, or even broader, and therefore enable the accurate and timely diagnoses of COVID-19.

In turn, such a shift towards using 5G technology would allow a shift from patient- centered care models to a community-based approach that offers solutions for the whole population [4].

For example, in Italy, the evidence shows us that different policies followed in different regions towards dealing with COVID-19 produced very different results despite the regions sharing many similarities.

If these different regions had been able to take advantage of the benefits offered by 5G technology as outlined in this paper then it would have been possible to implement these across the whole of Italy and subsequently achieve a better outcome.

For many years now the healthcare sector has considered the usage of robotics to deliver more efficient care for patients – COVID-19 saw robots deployed to actually achieve this.

Following this real world experience we now know that the use of service robots, remotely controlled or with a high level degree of autonomy, connected to the 5G network, can amplify the diagnostic capabilities of the existing laboratories, limiting the number of human resources currently necessary help to ensure social distancing from infected people.

In addition, Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used “on top” of 5G for analysis of images and data aimed at capturing the temperature of people at risk, clarifying the severity of the infection, and could be event adopted as a general purpose technology to produce data aimed at clarifying, for example, the correlations between antibody levels in the blood and the presence of an infectious virus in respiratory secretions as well as in other areas of the human body.

For example, the latter application would help us clarify the idea of using antibody positivity [5] as the only useful indicator for the decision about the resumption of an individual’s work activity without risks.

The advantages offered by the use of cutting-edge technologies in the fight against the epidemic are manifold and plenty of examples thereof are from China – but the same could be achieved in any country with 5G network availability.

As fever is one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 in China, they are using artificial intelligence-based systems in transport junctions, office buildings and communities to identify high body temperatures from a flow of people on the move.

Based on body shape and other facial information, the intelligent system can help staff identify and monitor people with abnormal body temperature quickly. In addition, in compliance with relevant regulations and standards, Chinese cities are using big data analytics platforms to track close contacts of patients or suspect cases.

Intelligent robotic platforms with different functions have been developed to relieve pressure on doctors and nurses. A smart robot, controlled at a safe distance by medical personnel, is able to collect a patient’s swabs, without injuring the subject’s throat, and with a success rate of over 95% [6].

In some hospitals, most of the activities normally carried out by medical personnel are currently converted into tasks performed by robots, which go around the departments to deliver drugs, measure the temperature of patients, serve meals, and inform the latter on important medical precautions to be taken.

Also in China, 5G has been widely applied in the Tele-medicine sector, playing a crucial role in the treatment of severe cases of COVID-19 and in the sharing of information and experiences at national and world level. For example, the 5G network has made remote computed tomography (CT) scanning a reality, allowing specialized personnel to control CT scanners in hospitals from a distance in real time [7].

(It should be noted that CT scans give the best diagnosis for COVID-19 and scan results can be shared in real time with doctors across the country – they don’t have to be at the hospital.)

The massive deployment of 5G will allow governments to set up a systemic decision- making approach, which gives priority to learning and is able to quickly scale successful experiments and identify and close ineffective ones.

For which use cases is it necessary to deploy a 5G network?

5G is necessary for all those communications that require high speed data transmission, especially from the terminal to the network (uplink), very low latency between peer entities end-to-end, and very high reliability [8]. With a much faster and more reliable connection on offer, 5G will support many more use cases than WiFi, likely co-exist with WiFi 6 in our urban environments, but it will largely complement the need for that. Moreover, 5G can support more devices and seamless mobility, offer higher bandwidths – using licensed and license-exempt spectrum in low-bands (e.g. sub-3 GHz), mid-bands (e.g. C-band) and high-bands (e.g. mmWave spectrum) – provide widespread of indoor and outdoor coverage in all areas, and lower latency for end users [8].

The use of self-driving or remote-controlled vehicles (unmanned cars) can reduce contact between individuals. Specifically, these cars can be used to deliver supplies, critical medical equipment and disinfect contaminated places or areas at risk. For safe remote control, the images, captures by the many cameras installed on vehicles on the road, must be transferred to the control station in real time.

In practice, this requires at least 50 Mbps in the uplink direction and end-to-end delay – including the time required to capture images, process and render them, and exchange commands between the two communicating parties (application platform and onboard unit) of less than 150 ms, so that vehicles can avoid obstacles and stop immediately when required from a remote control distance [9].

In addition to these autonomous or semi-autonomous transport systems, epidemic prevention robots and disinfection and spraying robots have been introduced for:

  •   Prevention of COVID-19 epidemic, as means for measuring body temperature, disinfection, sterilization and spraying, and communication via a remote intercom.
  •   Security patrol, with facial recognition and license plate recognition.The network requirements, to support applications and machines of this kind, are more or less the same as those required for the management and control of automated guided cars, especially in terms of throughput and latency [9].

The solution – meeting optimal end-user experience and public safety requirements – for the use, control and management of unmanned vehicles consists of a 5G network that connects the automaton to the cloud by means of a CPE (customer premise equipment, similar to a fixed broadband modem) and a management and control system for the operator.

What other favorable opportunities are available both now and in the future on this new network?

The drama of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overlooked. In the world, there have been millions of infected people, loss of lives, jobs and economic consequences whose vastness is impossible to evaluate at present.

However, the COVID-19 crisis actually presents itself as an interesting challenge for the information and communication technology (ICT) and industry.

China, having been the first nation hit hard by the virus and the first one on its way out, has already defined its post-COVID-19 plans to foster economic recovery. To this end, investments will be placed on the following seven sectors [10]:

  • “First of all” the distribution of the 5G network; and consequently
  • the development of artificial intelligence,
  • construction of data centers,
  • industrial Internet,
  • inter- and intra-city railway systems,
  • new energy charging stations for electric vehicles; and
  • high voltage electric grids.Most of these investment areas will adopt 5G and its related technologies. In focusing on those fields and infrastructures, China targets to stimulate itself towards new economic and social development, especially in areas currently less developed, where trade and industry growth would be needed.

The same opportunity now presents itself in any country, adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which should take advantage of the current crisis to build next generation infrastructures, to be used in the imminent future and above all to be left to – also in order to be further modernized – future generations. In order not to find themselves still unprepared to face a probable future “war” with the same “weapons” used in this very moment.

What is the way forward?

Leaving aside the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic for a moment, I would like to add that the 5G infrastructure allows other revolutionary applications based on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and also using artificial intelligence (AI).

AR and VR can be used in a wide range of entertainment, industrial and educational applications. All these services are currently constrained and limited, because bandwidth (50 Mb/s for 4K/Basic 3D AR/VR; and 100 Mb/s for 8K/Immersive 3D AR/VR) and latency (below 20 ms) are not available on 4G (LTE) networks. (A 4G network would support up to 1080P (~2K) VR/AR with limited applications.)

The 5G network will allow the instant transmission of 4K UHD live from a mobile location (or cameraman), intelligent public transport and will ensure greater public safety.

For example, a police wearing wireless AR glasses could easily identify a suspect in the crowd: the glasses worn by the agent upload 4K videos to the network, the cloud renders the objects and compares them with other images stored in a facial database and returns alarms information to the glasses, the latter displays the alarm information on the virtual screen in real time, so that the policeman may take all necessary actions.

If 5G allows applications of this type after a year of its introduction, let’s imagine what it can do in three, five or ten years. The faster countries are able to build and use 5G infrastructures, the sooner they will be able to get the benefits that this technology already offers. In our opinion, nations that do not invest heavily in this direction will lag behind and be the last to benefit from revolutionary applications [11].

In closing, I would like to highlight the fact that, once the current COVID-19 emergency will have been addressed, the participation of our political leaders in the approval, implementation and use of these new 5G technologies will be fundamental.

It would be desirable that our political leaders, once this current crisis has been dealt with, to focus like a laser-beam on helping to knit-together our homes, schools, hospitals, universities, government services and so much more into more than just a Smart City [12] – we should be aiming to use this horrible pandemic to bring about the Smart Society [13].


The author would like to acknowledge the support and contributions of Tony Brown and Hudson Liu 刘浩生 of Huawei Australia Representative Office (ARO).


  1. [1]  The Australian Government, “Modelling how COVID-19 could affect Australia,” April 2020.https://www.health.gov.au/news/modelling-how-covid-19-could-affect- australia
  2. [2]  Financial Times, “Coronavirus Business Update,” April 2020. https://www.ft.com/coronavirus-latest
  3. [3]  Johns Hopkins University, “COVID-19 Dashboard by the Centre of Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE),” April 2020. https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda75947 40fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
  4. [4]  G. P. Pisano, R. Sadun and Michele Zanini, “Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus” Harvard Business Review, April 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/03/lessons-from-italys-response-to-coronavirus
  5. [5]  The Australian Government, “How testing works for COVID-19,” Mar 2020. https://www.tga.gov.au/how-testing-works-covid-19
  6. [6]  CGTN Technology, “Fighting COVID-19 with cutting-edge technologies,” March 2020. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-03-19/Fighting-COVID-19-with-cutting- edge-technologies-OZCrnKSW4g/index.html

[7] National Telemedicine Center of China: Reaching Out with Fast Medical Services.

[8] D. Soldani, M. Shore, J. Mitchell, and M. Gregory, “The 4G to 5G Network Architecture Evolution in Australia,” The Australian Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy (AJTDE), October 2018.https://jtde.telsoc.org/index.php/jtde/article/view/161

[9] D. Soldani and M. Innocenti, “5G Communication Systems and Connected Healthcare”, Wiley Online Library, June 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119515579.ch7

[10] CGTN Transcript, “China ‘New Infrastructure’: Seven sectors singled out for support,” March 2020.https://news.cgtn.com/news/78636a4e77514464776c6d636a4e6e62684a4856/i ndex.html

[11] D. Soldani, “5G and the Future of Security in ICT,” IEEE ITNAC, Auckland, NZ, Nov. 2019.

[12] D. Soldani, “Smart Cities and Communities,” APAC CIO Outlook magazine, December 2018. https://smart-city.apacciooutlook.com/cxoinsights/smart-cities-and- communities-nwid-5890.html

[13] D. Soldani, A. Manzalini, “Horizon 2020 and Beyond: On the 5G Operating System for a True Digital Society,” IEEE Vehicular Technology Magazine, Vol.10, Issue: 1, March 2015.

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