Will 5G Herald A Fourth Industrial Revolution?
It is set to speed up data transmission rates by up to 20 times. Here's what you need to know about the wireless technology that will change the way we work and live
One word sums up our 5G future: speed. And it is this speed that is expected to usher in what experts are calling the fourth industrial revolution.
Given that 5G is set to be up to 20 times faster than our current 4G network, we will soon be living in a world where a 140-minute film can be downloaded in three seconds, a library of songs in one. That speed will eliminate any delay between instructing a computer to perform a command and the computer responding and executing it.
This opens up an Alice-in-Wonderland-like world of possibilities, where we can operate on people remotely via robot technology, and connect everything from our tennis shoes to dialysis machines to a network.
The stakes are major. Studies suggest that 5G will add US$12 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years, and create millions of jobs. Entire industries, including health, the emergency services, transport, the military and e-commerce are set to receive an overhaul as a result of 5G technology. Think hypersonic weapons in warfare and an autonomous vehicle on every street.
The World Economic Forum has said that, "5G will change the world even more profoundly than 3G and 4G; it will be as revolutionary as electricity or the automobile, benefitting entire economies and entire societies".
Start preparing now
What does 5G mean for the individual consumer or business owner? And how soon will change happen?
“From enabling VR/AR experiences and next-gen video streaming to driverless cars, the potential for 5G is endless. In the future, its introduction is likely to revolutionise data transfers and have a tangible impact on society, [including everything from] helping tackle crimes [to] enabling connected transport systems," says Russ Shaw, the founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates.
“However, the tech sector needs to send a unified, positive message about the value of high bandwidth and low latency for businesses and consumers alike, to ensure society fully understands 5G. Without a full understanding of the benefits, we won’t experience them at all in our everyday lives.”
“Given its potential to herald a range of new products and services through improved speed and capacity, businesses should start preparing for 5G now," he continues. "Simply waiting for it to emerge and catching up later will be too late.
"In particular, many of the use cases that 5G will enable will involve connecting ecosystems and supply chains across borders. Therefore, businesses would do well to work with like-minded partners to ensure that there is no disparity between capabilities due to differing preparedness for 5G. However, companies hoping to leverage 5G need support from their governments, both central and local, to put the appropriate infrastructure in place to make the network a reality in the first place.”
Businesses should start preparing for 5G now. Simply waiting for it to emerge and catching up later will be too late
The impact on privacy
In a totally connected world, we are—of course—more susceptible to cyberattacks. Today, in our slower, less connected 4G world, hackers have still managed to breach US national water supplies, crash Internet-connected cars, hijack supply chains and stop homeware appliances from working. Identity theft and data breaches are an everyday occurrence, to the extent people in the US are now more afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime.
And they are right to be worried. In a new 5G, ultra-connected world, our airplanes, electricity, defence, health and banking systems would all be linked up to the wireless world.
Questions abound. One is for our health: 5G works by deploying millions of wireless relays, and some scientists are concerned about the untested impact this could have on the human body, particularly children and pregnant women. Recently, a group of scientists and doctors asked the EU to look into the low-level radiation caused by 5G but no results have been published. This year. Richard Blumenthal, an American senator, said it was dangerous to forge ahead with 5G without assessing its health risks, describing the nation as, "flying blind".
5G will be as revolutionary as electricity or the automobile
The other is for our personal autonomy. In an era where our privacy is already being systematically eroded by tech giants, we have further to fall than we realise. Telecom companies already sell our data, but 5G—which comes inbuilt with millions censors—offers an unprecedented opportunity for surveillance. 5G will allow the state and telecommunications companies to catalogue exactly where someone has come from, where they are going, and what they are doing. This can either be sold onto brands or law enforcement.
“To give one made-up example,” Steve Bellovin, a computer-science professor at Columbia University, told the Wall Street Journal, “might a pollution sensor detect cigarette smoke or vaping, while a Bluetooth receiver picks up the identities of nearby phones? Insurance companies might be interested.” Add facial recognition and AI to this potent mix, and the sensors and location capabilities of 5G means none of us will ever be anonymous again.
Is that a price worth paying for an ultra connected world? One in which not just people but all things are connected: cars to the roads and doctors to the drips and medical devices of their patients, and so on. Only time will tell.