5G is expected to hit the market this year. By 2021, the number of 5G connections is forecast to reach a figure of between 20 million and 100 million, with some estimates putting the figure at 200 million, according to Statista. And spending on 5G mobile infrastructure for the same year is forecast to reach around 2.3 billion U.S. dollars.
The European Commission has described 5G as "one of the most critical building blocks of our digital economy and society in the next decade". As we move into an era of Intelligent Connectivity, 5G and the Internet of Things – combined with powerful insight delivered by Big Data and Artificial Intelligence – is set to reimagine entire industries, from automotive, to transport and distribution, infrastructure networks to healthcare.
But how, in reality, 5G will impact the world in which we live is still somewhat of a mystery to most. Yes, on a technical level, we may know that 5G will speed up data communication by up to three times, compared to 4G/LTE. In fact, the key thing driving its development is the improvement of mobile broadband services. It will allow for easier streaming of high-definition media in urban areas or when out of reach of Wi-Fi hotspots. 5G is also expected to advance machine-based, IoT-centric functionalities, for example, in automotive for autonomous and self-driving cars. With other potential benefits including integrated management of the vast number of connected devices in a smart society, lower cost, lower battery consumption, lower latency and improved support of device-to-device communication.
But while this gives us a good idea of what 5G will enable, it’s still hard for the likes of you and me to envision how business and society will evolve – and transform – as a result. After all, what we now take for granted would have seemed impossible just a few years ago.
As the World Economic Forum explains: First generation mobile communications, with brick-sized phones, brought just a handful of users expensive, and often unreliable, analogue voice calling. The second generation introduced digital voice service that was less likely to be dropped, available to many more people and ultimately cheaper to use. 3G ushered in the mobile internet, mobile computing, and the proliferation of apps. 4G made possible all we have come to expect of mobile broadband: streaming video and audio; instantaneous ride hailing; the explosion of social media.
So, where will 5G take us?
Will we all be working alongside bots? Own autonomous cars? Shop using augmented reality? Unfortunately, we’re not currently hearing enough from those in the know – chiefly the telecoms industry – on how the advent of 5G will reshape our societies, economies and daily lives. And that white space has given rise to fear and uncertainty. 5G media stories are, more often than not, flagging security concerns, particularly regarding Huawei’s involvement in the 5G infrastructure. While fears surrounding radiation risks have sparked conversations in online forums and resulted in Brussels halting their 5G roll out. There are even bogus claims now circulating around 5G and COVID-19.
As we weather the current health crisis, we are all beginning to understand the extent to which we rely on broadband and mobile networks – to communicate with colleagues, friends and family, as well as for work and entertainment. And we’re also witnessing not just the value, but the resilience of these networks, in the face of a 50-70% increase in internet usage and a 30-50% traffic surge across broadband providers’ mobile and fixed networks, as a quarter of the world’s population goes into lockdown. Now is the time for the industry to demonstrate its value clearly. And to paint a picture for us – of something that we can’t yet imagine. Our 5G future. So that we can truly begin to grasp the countless opportunities that will open up for us as this technology starts to scale.