How 5G will change everything

By Max Leblond
July 13, 2019
5G network lit up across a city
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What is 5G and how is it going to change the world we live in

5G will change everything, which is why the latest generation of cellular mobile communications generates so much hype. But while not obviously glamorous, it is poised to change the world.

How exactly, you say? Well, that’s where the confusion starts to arise.

In this article, we attempt to answer two major questions:

  • What is 5G?
  • How is it going to change the world we live in?

What is 5G?

Simply put, 5G is the latest generation of cellular mobile communications, the successor of 4G/LTE/WiMax. It’s going to be fast, 10 to 20 times faster than what we have now. While this is great for end consumers – who doesn’t like higher speed on their smartphone? – the real value lies in what we can’t see or imagine yet.

As you may already know, more and more devices are getting connected each day. By 2020, the installed base of IoT devices is forecast to grow to almost 31 billion worldwide. This has enormous implications not only for cloud providers – that’s the so-called “Cloud War” we’ve been experiencing – but also for the entire IoT ecosystem, from connectivity experts to product manufacturers.

The “connectivity layer” effectively enables smart devices and sensors to interconnect with each other. It is at the very heart of IoT. Many players argue that connectivity issues are to blame for the lack of widespread adoption. This is where 5G sets in.

5G networks are the foundation of our future. They will change our homes, our cities, and ultimately our lives. That fast, reliable, connectivity is the missing piece to truly holistic technological progress.

5G real life IoT applications graph

How will 5G change everything?

If we are to understand where we’re going, it is essential to understand where we are at this point in time. As previously mentioned, more and more objects are getting connected, so why isn’t the IoT revolution unfolding before our eyes?

For widespread adoption to happen, IoT actors must overcome two major hurdles:

  1. Connectivity limitations
  2. Lack of interoperability

5G will unlock IoT’s potential

Currently, IoT relies on a centralized ecosystem where various devices are connected to a network. Because connectivity isn’t always stable, some IoT products don’t work the way they should. This has direct implications, such as customer churn. But an even bigger issue is the restriction it puts on innovation.

Current connectivity shortcomings effectively stifle progress.

Now, when you think of the smart home, you think of Echo & Alexa, you think of Google Home, you might even think of Apple Homekit (but that’s unlikely). Regardless of the size of each ecosystem, voice recognition is a major component in all of them. Voice assistants are becoming more and more prevalent. Juniper Research has found that by 2023, the number of voice assistant devices is expected to grow by 1000% to reach 275 million.

Amazon Alexa demo at a 5G IoT tradeshow

5G will unshackle those voice assistants and create a path to widespread adoption. They’re fun to interact with and are behind smart home adoption. Their integration into our daily lives is well underway, and it’s only the start. Smart cars are the logical next step, that is if manufacturers accept to focus on the customer, rather than mere market share.

5G will force interoperability

So, let’s recap. While 5G is the backbone to connecting all devices together, voice assistants are the medium it needs to reach widespread adoption. Great, so that’s an easy journey, right? Well, not really.

One essential ingredient will require IoT actors to change their mindset: interoperability.

Interoperability basically means opening the doors of IoT by allowing systems to communicate with each other, regardless of their manufacturer or operator. That’s a big deal.

Closed ecosystems favor no one but the manufacturer itself. If 5G networks are to open up IoT to more and more connected products, they will require at least some level of commonality. For the IoT revolution to happen, companies need to play together. 5G is equipping them for success but guarantees nothing.

Self-driving cars are a hot topic, and it’s easy to see why. Driverless mobility is exciting and is going to become our reality… if manufacturers agree to some level of interoperability. For them to be safe, autonomous vehicles will need to be able to communicate with each other.

Self-driving car demo at a 5G IoT tradeshow

If companies manage to get past that hurdle and start thinking of our future with the customers in mind, then – and only then – 5G will change the world.

5G will generate an unprecedented amount of data

5G will bridge the gap between smart devices, and that never-ending connectivity will generate a massive amount of data. Capturing it from remote sensors and transferring it to large data centers will be the first challenge. The 5G context will undoubtedly favor cloud agnosticism. If vendors make it hard for analytics solutions to extract data, the real value of 5G will be lost.

Ultimately, enterprises that will win in the 5G era will be the ones starting with clearly-defined use cases. Business value will only be derived by players with an all-encompassing vision, and the data generated will only be worth as much as the insights it creates. Purpose-built analytics solutions that apply both AI and machine learning for real-time analysis will prove essential to any organization’s success.

So, 5G will be a game changer for private and public companies, as well as analytics solutions, but is that enough to “change the world”?

5G will raise new ethical issues

5G has the power to change the world, and with that come massive responsibilities. Two questions naturally arise:

  1. How can we ensure 5G is benefiting the entire world?
  2. How can people’s data be secure?

If 5G is seen solely as a way to generate revenue, rather than a way to solve problems, then only a few will effectively benefit from the breakthrough technology.

But there are many reasons to be optimistic. Numerous use cases highlight the importance of IoT in the developing world:

5G will be critical in fixing those problems. Steady connectivity will allow for decentralization of healthcare, real-time monitoring of water supplies, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions via smart city initiatives. If 5G networks become universal, then change – for the better – will occur.

The second ethical challenge with the rise of 5G is one of data security and privacy. Blackberry reported the results of a recent survey. About 80% of the participants indicated that they didn’t trust the connected devices they owned to protect either their data or their privacy.

The equation is simple. The more data there is, the more data there is to protect. As 5G networks allow for a holistic connected life, consumers will expect their data to be protected at all costs.

Looking Ahead

The 5G revolution is going to happen. It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when”. While hurdles and challenges will need to be overcome, the outcome is well worth the price to pay. However, it is essential to remember that 5G is not a solution in itself but rather an enabler.

IoT will finally be equipped for success, and its many promises will – at last – be kept.

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