How 5G is upgrading our thinking

We will be able to move information in ways that were previously unimaginable.
8 March 2019

A 5G sign is displayed at Mobile World Congress Barcelona. Source: AFP

We are living in a digital age where businesses clone their competitors, video game producers imitate each other, and everyday users post their highlight reels on social media. Maybe analysts shouldn’t be too surprised to see online communities are searching and craving for something authentic that feels real.

Even last week’s MWC 19 event in Barcelona appeared to be suffering from an identity crisis as it tried to become a little too much like CES according to some attendees. The big difference, of course, is that while CES will showcase the best consumer tech, that may or may not be a hit in five years, MWC is all about what new smartphones are on the immediate horizon.

However, much like CES, the latest trends could be accused of being just another solution looking for a problem that doesn’t even exist. The reality is that we are no longer feeling the urge to upgrade our phone as often. Why? All smartphones look remarkably similar, and a bigger screen and a slightly better camera are just not cutting it.

The industry is currently obsessed with foldable phones. But most people are savvy enough to understand how this latest tech trend is being driven by the need to get everyone excited about upgrading their handsets again. If the shiny new tech doesn’t convince you, what about a trip down memory lane? With new handsets from Nokia, Blackberry and the return of keyboards, maybe the future isn’t what it used to be.

As Amazon announced that they were going to stop selling physical dash buttons combined with the fact that 5G and IoT (Internet of Things) were arguably the biggest stars of the MWC event. Maybe it’s time to zoom out and look at the bigger picture and see how mobile technology will transform the world, far beyond one user and their smartphone.

What if the big smartphone manufacturers are living on borrowed time? 5G and IoT sensors could be the wake-up call to deliver the game-changer moment where everyone starts to think bigger than the smartphone and see the value in connecting to other devices. According to a GSMA study, over the next 15 years, we can expect 5G to contribute US$2.2 trillion to the global economy.

As providers begin deploying 5G networks across the globe, we will eventually see a much higher throughput of data at a lower latency. When adding unprecedented reliability into the mix, industries such as manufacturing, utilities, and financial services are expected to thrive. As this vision becomes clearer, many more will begin to see what’s possible as digital transformation strategies come to life before our eyes.

Having seen self-driving cars in action in Phoenix, I can understand the excitement and the potential opportunities to revolutionize our roads in the not too distant future. However, we do need to curb our enthusiasm somewhat and understand autonomous vehicles running on 5G networks is a mouth-watering prospect, but we are still several years away from seeing any significant changes.

Human drivers won’t be relegated to the passenger seat just yet. Emerging technologies will initially focus on enhancing human driver’s skills rather than replacing them. Once again, real success will be delivered by humans seamlessly working alongside each other than competing.

The world of technology has a bad reputation for people outside of the industry. Acronyms such as AL, ML, IoT, AR, and VR will resemble a plate of alphabet spaghetti to many, but if we zoom out, we can see the role that each will play in our future. With so much hype and sensationalized headlines in the media, it can be challenging to make sense of everything. But all this is about to change.

A continuously increasing number of IoT sensors and devices will produce an incredible amount of data that will be carried across 5G networks with low latency. Everything from ambulances to transport trucks will all eventually be online providing real-time data. It will be artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that will help businesses and entire industries make sense of this deluge of information.

Looking back at this year’s MWC event and talking about foldable smartphones, or indeed any new shiny device, feels like many have missed how the landscape is evolving. With the emergence of 5G, the conversation is beginning to shift away from getting our hands on a faster smartphone. We are starting to explore exciting opportunities for every connected device to move information in ways that were previously unimaginable.

It will be a few years before we genuinely get to see the proliferation of 5G and how it will reshape our infrastructure. But the fact we are talking about it now and building a new digital future is another exciting step forward in the name of progress.