i3 | December 29, 2020

The Connected World of 5G

Susan Schreiner

One of the lessons from this pandemic is it’s not enough to have connectivity — the broadband connection also needs to be reliable, robust and resilient. Think dropped calls, incoherent audio or pixelated images.

Technology and communications are central to how modern society operates. Many people now must home school or log into an enterprise system leading to a boom in videoconferencing services from companies like Zoom, Cisco’s WebEx or Microsoft Teams.

Businesses have been forced to work differently. There’s been a quickened shift to the cloud and to an ‘as-a-service-model.’ There’s also a surge in demand for artificial intelligence (AI) and automation services including robotics that enable contactless transactions.

Many are looking to the promise of 5G networks as the backbone for a future that promises ultra-high speeds, increased capacity, reliability, low-latency, bandwidth and efficiency. Advancements in fiber, cable, Wi-Fi and short-range technology are facilitating 5G as well as IoT, AI, edge computing and blockchain.

While the 5G backbone will make the world’s digital connections faster — 5G together with related technologies also could unlock $4.3 trillion in value across U.S. verticals over the next six years, according to KPMG. Groundbreaking innovation and services will change the way the enterprise, retail, healthcare, telecom and media industries, government, finance, manufacturing and consumers interact and do business.

With immediate connectivity, real-time data will become the driver for innovative disruption. 5G will enable industries to push digital transformation using connected intelligence along with the development of new business and revenue models.

A more robust communications backbone will improve efficiencies, productivity and life-saving responsiveness:

    • Mobility: 5G will let vehicles communicate with their surroundings and other vehicles in real-time improving safety and traffic flow.
    • Manufacturing: Nodes improve logistics, manufacturing and supply chain management to run efficient smart factories.
    • Retail: Seamless and personalized experiences can be created for customers online or in-store.
    • Health care: Patients can be monitored remotely using AI to make diagnoses or guide procedures distributing professional expertise to reach underserved communities, understaffed facilities and hospitals to deliver improved services, efficiency and reduce costs.

New consumer devices are being developed including the recent launch of Apple’s 5G smartphones — considered a watershed moment aligned with a unified ecosystem.

5G Faces Challenges

Given economic slowdowns resulting from the pandemic as well as the gargantuan investments needed for 5G build-out, companies are restructuring their business strategy to increased collaboration even among former competitors.

U.S. policy plays a major role in advancing 5G at an accelerated pace. Spectrum, security and privacy are at the fore — along with infrastructure policy often through state and local leadership. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai recently said the government was moving quickly to issue more spectrum in the mid-band range with plans to auction an additional 100MHz from 3.45GHz to 3.55GHz in 2021.

Policy initiatives, public-private cooperation and network investment, app development, and new devices across a range of price points are central to 5G’s growth. These interrelationships are propelling North America as a leader on the worldwide stage with 5G connections expected to surpass 100 million in 2022. North America will be the first region to have more than half of the world’s 5G connections or a total of about 426 million mobile connections by 2025, according to GSMA.

There is an imperative to make basic broadband available and affordable for all, and to overcome adoption challenges such as digital literacy and app accessibility. What we do now will help to ensure a more equitable 5G future where transformative tech advancements will empower a more connected world.

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