The latest (or fifth) generation of mobile networks, 5G is an upgrade from today’s 4G (or LTE) networks and will offer higher speeds, low or even no latency in data transfer, and the ability for billions of devices to connect to each other.
5G will reshape our economies by transforming transportation, education, financial services, entertainment and healthcare, and it will catalyze new businesses and applications we haven’t yet imagined.
5G advances today’s networks using a more responsive kind of radio technology that not only moves data faster, but also requires less power to do so. 5G will shorten transmission latency from 30 milliseconds to just a single millisecond, allowing essentially instantaneous connectivity between devices on a network. This means big opportunities for telemedicine and robotic-assisted surgery, autonomous vehicles, and streaming. Unlike WiFi, a 5G network can be built to prioritize certain data transmissions over others. For example, heavy manufacturing companies and utilities will be able to automate more of their core processes using advanced robotics systems, which will in turn create a new market for all of the components, devices and consulting services for that network.
There’s a geopolitical fight underway, pitting the U.S. against China and South Korea. As developed economies shift to the next generation of wireless technology, some questions loom about which country’s technology will power our new networks. The U.S. will not allow Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei to supply gear to American network operators in the states, which is a problem—Qualcomm, a chipmaker, is the only U.S. company making components necessary for a widescale 5G rollout.
In 2019, American security experts urged the U.S. to build a 5G network with and for our allies that excludes Chinese equipment entirely. But in January 2020, the U.K. government approved a measure to allow Huawei to build parts of its 5G network. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that he intends to wean China and its allies off of Western-made technology.
Geopolitical tensions notwithstanding, the business cases for investing in 5G are becoming clearer across a number of industries. It might take longer to find value in consumer applications.
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