2021-07 Lab Notes Header—5G.jpg

The 5G revolution

Behind the buzzword, it promises to be
a game-changer for communications
 

Fifth-generation wireless (5G) entices with the offer of anytime, anywhere connectivity that works 20 times faster than the 4G wireless our cell phones currently use. These speeds, if reliably achieved, would rival standard broadband internet service, opening doors to a wide variety of new services that could transform modern society. Heralded as potentially the world’s next technological breakthrough, the economic benefits for the U.S. and other countries could be very significant: creating all kinds of jobs, contributing a noticeable growth in GDP, and supporting countless multiplier effects for manufacturing, retail, automotive, transportation, telemedicine, and more.

 

Of course, achieving these immense benefits will require significant additional investments in network deployments and technology R&D in the entire 5G value chain. All of 5G’s beneficial economic impacts are predicated on significant, indeed revolutionary, advances in previous generations of cellular connectivity. These advances result in much higher bi-directional bandwidth and speed, thereby facilitating new ways to engage people with data-heavy multimedia applications like streaming video, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). 5G can also facilitate Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as our thermostats and lights, all the way to self-driving vehicles, for which reliability and speed of connections will be crucial. Perhaps most transformational will be the extent to which 5G enables the further untethering of workers from physical workspaces, which started in the COVID pandemic and transformed the ways in which businesses operate, where and how people live, work and purchase goods and services.

Assuming that 5G is implemented strategically and effectively in the U.S., wider broadband connectivity could play a key role in solving the prevailing digital divide. Since many lower-income Americans rely on mobile connectivity for online access, these households could benefit greatly from 5G access in both urban and rural areas. The national strategy for 5G implementation, however, has to ensure that the technology reduces the communication disparity these disadvantaged families today face. This will likely require some kind of legislation or subsidization, as without government incentives, it may not make much economic sense for private cell providers to prioritize the in-need communities that stand to benefit the most.

 

Not being discussed yet is the outside-the-box possibility of 5G-enabled real-time data/information, including AR and VR, being made available to disadvantaged (and other) people, specific to each person, as personalized virtual learning experiences. 5G has the potential of transforming computer and mobile online learning experiences for any user from its current more or less pedestrian form to AR-driven hyper-immersion, individualized learning experiences. This would be a leap forward for the revolution that the COVID-19 pandemic set in motion for online education and working from home.

 

Continued from the emailed newsletter

In recent surveys, at least half of the people in all demographics who did not have an opportunity to work from home said they would if they could. This would require substantially higher bandwidth for most people and a much larger number of smart devices to support learning/educational and employment needs. A recent survey revealed that almost half of U.S. households with incomes below $30,000 a year do not have broadband service at home. A great many of these households rely on mobile connectivity. The bottom line is this: in close consultation with the information-technology industry, it is imperative for the U.S. government to control the next generation of internet connectivity (e.g., 5G) that benefits business, consumers and all aspects of urban, rural, and community development. 

Analysts of the impact of 5G on all aspects of society are very confident that it will be a critical enabler of improved healthcare, helping people to live longer, healthier, more productive lives. 5G will enable much better use of the prevailing explosion of medical data for patient diagnosis and care, including more timely and beneficial treatment through AI-driven prediction, far beyond what is possible today. In addition to improved healthcare quality and significantly improved patient outcomes, 5G will drive economic benefits for both healthcare and society at large. Accelerated by the pandemic, telemedicine and telehealth already have been proving very beneficial for both U.S. healthcare providers and patients, even with bandwidth and speed limitations of current wireless networks that are major barriers to expanding the scope of services that can be provided remotely. With 5G, communities of all kinds across the nation will be able to share medical specialists virtually and provide better overall standards of care. Reaching the full potential of virtual care in the U.S. and elsewhere requires 5G-level connectivity that can facilitate the transfer of massive amounts of medical data such as for MRI images or CAT scans.  

Over the course of the next decades, investments in 5G networks and enabling technologies will transform the automotive and transportation industries. Vehicles will become much smarter, safer, greener, and faster. Using 5G to connect vehicles and road infrastructure in the United States will harness the power of the internet to ensure that information can instantaneously be accessible to make life-saving decisions. 5G fully deployed in the automotive and transportation sector also will drive up GDP for the U.S. and revenues and employment for all sectors of the economy. Even with a huge increase in internet-connected vehicles and infrastructure, electricity-service disruption will be minimized by the utility industry’s accelerated development of intelligent grids and smart power plants. 
 
Compared to previous generations of wireless technology, 5G deployment is very complex and expensive. Support and approvals by government agencies at all levels will be essential to ensure timely and equitably distributed 5G network availability. The availability of a skilled workforce will be another factor, transforming or creating jobs over a long period of time and touching every element of American life and work. Unquestionably the benefits will be substantial if the right actions are taken at the right time. Maximizing the potential benefits of what has been called the next or fourth Industrial Revolution—the 5G revolution—will require making 5G a sustained national priority that capitalizes on every available lever. 

St. James Faith Lab will continue to keep an eye on the rollout of 5G across the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, and the effects it will have on communications going forward.

The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees

Executive Director

St. James Faith Lab

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