Fire, flood and forest: What 5G has changed

As the 5G dawn breaks over China, Jiemian News examines how existing infrastructure is being re-energized, with new ways of working exceeding previous limits, reducing costs and saving lives.

The monitor screen of Mengbala Digital Rainforest Town in Xishuangbanna. All photos by Jiang Jinglin

The monitor screen of Mengbala Digital Rainforest Town in Xishuangbanna. All photos by Jiang Jinglin

By JIANG Jingling


With the increasing range of 5G in China, its low latency and large bandwidth are reshaping almost every industry. Not only providing new solutions to old problems, 5G is opening new frontiers and exploring new formats.

To see for ourselves how 5G is changing the game, Jiemian News took a closer look at three scenarios in southwest China: a smart power station and a UAV base in Sichuan Province, and Mengbala Digital Town in Yunnan.

Power up, costs down

Tingzikou water control project is one of six key national projects to improve flood control along the Yangtze River. It is the backbone project on the mainstream of the Jialing River, with functions in flood control, irrigation, water supply and power generation.

The view from the Tingzikou water control project. 

The 5G smart power station will solve problems of low efficiency and high costs while eliminating some of the risks associated with safety inspections. It consists of three critical parts: underwater robots, inspection drones, and remote command and consultation systems.

"High water flow erodes the dam over the years. If not found and repaired in time, wear and tear eventually become a safety issue," said WANG Haoran, deputy director of the intelligent hydropower hub research institute at Tsinghua University.

After any major flood, the hydropower station, dam and silting basin must be checked out. Traditional inspection methods are generally inefficient, costly and dangerous. Underwater inspection robots using 5G can replace human divers completely. The robots operate underwater almost indefinitely while the plant continues to function, transmitting live high-definition images that mean damage can be assessed from the warmth of a safe, dry control center.

Traditional inspections take up to 6 months and cost about 6 million yuan (US$880,000). The 5G robots cut the cost of each inspection to about 700,000 yuan, and only take three weeks. Not only are the tests substantially more efficient, but disruption to power production is minimized.

A 5G underwater inspection robot that replaces human works completely. 

Where drones dare

Drones have capabilities in emergency rescue that are far beyond anything a human can hope to achieve. By linking UAVs with ground control centers through 5G, reconnaissance and mapping, firefighting, communications and even emergency lighting can be controlled from a calm and orderly emergency hub, at a safe distance from the fire.

At a fire drill site in Zigong, Sichuan Province, 5G drone pilots practice breaking windows, laser alignment, spraying dry powder and other new methods of fighting fires beyond the capabilities of humans.

A drone putting out a fire in a drill in Zigong. 

LIU Dong, director of the China Mobile UAV research institute, told Jiemian News that drones can reach an altitude of 300 meters almost instantly, compared with the minimum of 27 minutes it takes to deploy a 100-meter ladder. A fire can be extinguished almost before the traditional fire truck has arrived on the scene.

Different drones serve different functions from establishing emergency communication networks to actually fighting the blaze. Moreover, the drones constantly transmit images of the fire to the command center allowing for cool-headed decision-making of unparalleled precision.

Digital ecosystem

Mengbala Digital Rainforest Town in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, has 5G-powered environmental monitoring; smart security, ticketing, parking and even toilets; and panoramic VR live streaming. The tourist town’s resources and information are systematically integrated and highly digitalized.

A bird's eye view of the Mengbala Digital Rainforest Town.

The scenic area aggregates all kinds of data into one map and displays the data generated by the above applications in a unified visual form. Site managers see everything that happens, as it happens.

Through the "one-map management platform," visitors can also see the traffic situation easily find facilities and plan their own sightseeing routes.