It’s estimated that in four years more than a billion people will be using 5G technology. The fifth-generation broadband network promises speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G. This means you can download a movie in seconds and make crystal-clear, no-lag HD video calls. 5G also offers greater stability, lower latency and the ability to connect multiple devices. If you’re into entertainment and gaming, prepare to be dazzled.
But 5G is about more than just fast internet. It will introduce major innovations and drive new service and industries. Although it’s not a standalone new technology, it’s disruptive because it can bring together the power of diverse networks to create flexibility. Most of the buzz revolves around the potential it could unlock for the Internet of Things. It plays a significant role in how city infrastructures, factories, homes, hospitals, farming equipment, vehicles, etc. are being designed.
There are numerous examples of 5G being combined with other technologies to create clever innovations. It’s paving the way for self-driving vehicles to dominate our roads. Uploaded with 3D maps, cars will be able to instantly adjust to traffic patterns while avoiding accidents and congestion. Rapid and massive data collection will speed autonomous learning, making vehicles safer and more effective. Daimler and GM are launching driverless taxis, while Amazon has invested in self-driving startup Aurora. Self-driving technology isn’t new, but 5G is speeding up the process and making it possible for vehicles to navigate new terrain like deserts and forests.
The truck driving industry is in for a dramatic change as well. Kodiak Robotics recently started using self-driving trucks for commercial deliveries from Dallas to Houston, a distance of about 240 miles. Daimler Trucks North America recently built its first electric semis for NFI and Penske which will operate in southern California. Spoiler alert: A driver is still required to be in driverless trucks. Also, since every state has different regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, cross-country trips have yet to become the norm.
Healthcare offers some of the most remarkable uses of 5G. Earlier this year, a surgeon in China performed remote brain surgery on a patient more than 1,800 miles away. Unable to fly to Hainan for the surgery, the surgeon instead manipulated robotic surgical instruments to remotely insert a stimulation implant into his patient’s brain. The technology offers life-saving options for people living in rural areas, unable to travel for treatment. With other innovations, such as video-based telemedicine and at-home monitoring, healthcare will look very different in years to come.
5G is also having an impact on the sports industry. While betting on sports isn’t new, real-time, high-speed sports betting is. If you believe your favorite quarterback is about to make a game-winning pass, you can place a bet on it, in real-time, before the ball ever leaves his fingertips. Football stadiums nationwide are working to provide 5G for their fans, while Verizon has invested heavily in Yahoo Sports and NFL deals. While most fans will use 5G for posting pictures of a game on Instagram, investors are hoping sports betting becomes a moneymaker for them.
For years there’s been a lot of talk about virtual, mixed and augmented reality. Discussions, however, focused mostly on expense, bulky cords, heavy headsets and graphic chips that took up a tremendous amount of space. But if VR headsets could be wireless, lightweight and offload computing power to the cloud, that could be a game changer. Oculus, Magic Leap, Hololens and HTC are all investing in 5G technology and the one to do it best will likely become the leader of the pack.
Like many innovations before it, 5G has some shortcomings. It will have a slow roll out and more rural areas are likely to lag behind. Opinions vary as to when there will be mass adoption because of logistical and technical hurdles the industry is struggling with. It also comes with a hefty price tag. The United States will spend over $130 billion in fiber optics cabling and consumers who want to take full advantage of 5G will need to upgrade their phones.
A fast and broad network also brings risks. With cameras, sensors, cars, smart homes and smart devices watching our every move, this could leave personal privacy in the dust. Then there are the cybercriminals to contend with. Data breaches, identity theft and malware are huge problems that will likely get worse with 5G. Businesses will be forced to add additional security to their systems and cybersecurity companies will have to step up to the challenge of preventing breaches.
There are significant risks associated with 5G, but the good far outweighs the bad. By 2035 it’s estimated that 5G will create 22 million new jobs in the United States and inject twelve trillion dollars into the global economy. While it will take longer to reach some areas, it’s expected to expand across the world. When it does, it will mean great opportunities for businesses that find innovative ways to harness its power and create what hasn’t even been imagined yet.
Melissa Brown is a web developer at SimpleDzn.com and former business professor at the University of Alaska. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.