Robust communications are essential across a bewildering range of emergencies. From police calling for backup during a riot, to paramedics warning a hospital to prepare an operating theatre, first responders have long searched for ways to speak clearly and effectively, transmitting orders and receiving calls for help. With the rise of sophisticated digital technologies, moreover, emergency workers can now do more than their analogue forebears ever dreamed of doing. Between remote-controlled drones and dynamic digital maps, it makes sense that the global telecoms industry was valued at a bewildering $1.6bn in 2020. And if new, rugged devices now prove their worth across the gamut – from soldiers in the field to firefighters beating a blaze – connectivity is now easier than ever before: thanks to the awesome power of 5G.

“The main advantages of 5G are greater speed on transmissions and lower latency. That, therefore, gives you greater capacity for remote execution – which is imperative for field workers.”

Far more powerful than its predecessors, the fifth-generation mobile network promises to revolutionise communications across a range of fields, dovetailing lightning-low latency with striking stability. That will be the case provided industry insiders are careful to ensure their devices are compatible with 5G – and take advantage of everything the best machines can offer.

Higher speed, lower latency

Few people are better placed to understand the colossal potential of 5G than Oliver Ledgard. An industry veteran of two decades, he has spent years at Panasonic and Telefónica UK. At Zebra Technologies since 2017, Ledgard works as the EMEA public sector lead. And, as Ledgard stresses, 5G offers a number of benefits over its 3G or 4G predecessors.

“The main advantages of 5G are greater speed on transmissions and lower latency,” he explains. “That, therefore, gives you greater capacity for remote execution – which is imperative for field workers.” That makes sense: boasting ten times less latency than 4G, the latest technology means users can send and receive messages remarkably fast.

Naturally, all this would mean little if 5G wasn’t available in practice. But here, too, change is arriving at a gallop. As of May 2022, nearly 2,000 cities across 72 countries enjoy 5G connectivity – a global reach that spans from Kazakhstan to Malta. Just as important, Ledgard adds, is how quickly that figure is rising. By 2030, indeed, 5G networks will cover 25% of the world’s population, making it vital for users to purchase devices that’ll handle 5G even if it hasn’t yet arrived in their town.

At the same time, this new digital reality is clearly widespread in terms of prospective users. Take, for instance, the question of law enforcement.

Among other things, 5G connectivity will improve automated vehicle location (AVL) capabilities, allowing officers to seamlessly track other patrols. In a similar vein, data-rich telematics, facilitated by 5G, will allow support teams to monitor police car performance in real time, carrying out proactive maintenance before serious problems occur – maximising the time vehicles are on the road. More broadly, 5G looks set to bolster current technologies, especially when it comes to radio, with law enforcement swapping existing Tetra radio networks to broadband.

And while law enforcement may end up being 5G’s main evangelists, Ledgard is equally eager to highlight the use of 5G in other areas too. Consider, for instance, how firefighters could use drones to scout a building too dangerous to approach on foot. That’s supported by other gadgets, notably around augmented reality (AR). Offering firefighters with real-time assistance in navigating hazards like smoke-filled rooms or transmitting a rescuer’s visual perspective to command, 5G can bolster situational awareness across a range of dangerous, highintensity scenarios.

Not to be outdone, 5G could soon be beneficial to paramedics as well. One example is the way in which paramedics could use body cameras to give surgeons a sense of a patient’s condition before they reach the hospital.

Innovation and personalisation

If preparing for 5G is one pillar of this transformation, securing the right devices is another. Zebra Technologies is central to these developments, offering customers a range of devices to suit their needs.

That even begins with the type of 5G the company has chosen for its equipment. Boasting sub-6GHz technology – rather than the less common mmWave version – this ensures that users enjoy more bandwidth and faster speeds.

That’s clear, for example, if you examine Zebra’s selection of tablets. The ET80/85, for their part, are genuine laptop replacements, albeit with an attachable keyboard for when users are at their desk.

ET40/45s are similarly robust. Built to last for years, Zebra’s PowerPrecision batteries mean the devices can run over multiple shifts, making them useful everywhere from isolated military outposts to busy hospitals.

Zebra’s range of mobile computing products also offer solutions for busy field workers. Equipped with 16-megapixel integrated cameras and LifeGuard for Android, for example, TC53/TC58 devices offer razor-sharp connectivity with outstanding security. The LifeGuard for Android feature ensures devices will receive regular updates, keeping them protected from emerging cyber threats, while equally allowing users to migrate to new versions when they’re ready.

Nor are Ledgard and his team stopping there. Recently announced, the TC73/ TC78 speaks eloquently to how Zebra Technologies is always improving its offerings. More rugged, lighter and thinner than its predecessors, its trio of integrated microphones mean users can be heard no matter how frantic the situation around them.

Yet if these machines vary in their features and functionalities, Ledgard says that their commonalities are just as important. Universally built with 5G in mind, he argues that Zebra customers can have “confidence that they won’t have to buy twice in a year or two”, and can instead maintain their devices on 4G until the replacement network arrives. Given rugged devices are typically priced at around $1,500 each, that is bound to improve any organisation’s bottom line. As Zebra’s range of devices imply, moreover, the company’s devices can save clients money in other ways too. As Ledgard explains, that’s especially true when it comes to asset visibility. By giving their machine RFID capabilities, for instance, firefighters can easily scan the equipment they’ll need in the field, along the way cutting a 45-minute checklist down to just two.

And, even, if it isn’t as glamorous as UAVs, Ledgard adds that militaries will find their asset visibility improved with Zebra too, with RFID perfect for warehouses.

The point, in any case, is what Ledgard calls the sheer “breadth and depth” of Zebra’s portfolio. “We’ve got a range of handhelds, we’ve got a range of tablets,” he says, emphasising that flanked together with innovations like Wi-Fi 6E – available on certain Zebra devices – this is clearly a company braced for tomorrow.

“There were times when there wasn’t a connection, or there was downtime, which really put people off utilising a technology that should be helping,” he admits. “But this is going to be game changing.”


Apart from anything else, this optimism makes sense given everything else Zebra Technologies is doing. Already boasting download speeds up to 40% faster than comparable commercial devices, Ledgard and his team are working hard to remain ahead of the pack even as 5G wins new fans. That’s obvious in how Zebra is monitoring the latest developments in 5G technology, or how it’s keeping an eye on 5G silicon vendors.

Combined with a range of innovative external partnerships – for instance with Cisco to develop bespoke private 5G networks – and it’s no wonder Ledgard is so excited for the future. “It's going to give us greater visibility of everything going on,” he says, “and give people more confidence in utilising the technology.”

A fair assessment, and doubtless a revolution Zebra Technologies will be at the very heart of.

If you would like to learn more about Zebra's 5G Public Safety Tablets please click here to download the whitepaper