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At a time where the technology world is focused on the promise and hype of AI, Blockchain and Digital Disruption, there is a far less talked about infrastructure advancement about to make its way around the globe. 5G could be the one of the most impactful technology evolutions of the last two decades.

Speed and Consumption

5G trials have already begun in some US cities and over the next couple of years it will become readily available in most urban areas. 5G is a wireless networking advancement that will likely surpass the impact of broadband. It has a few benefits — the most obvious of which is speed. To give some context as to how much faster 5G is over the currently used 4G, reference the download times of a video file on the comparable wireless networks.

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The performance improvement stats of 5G are very impressive:

20x speed improvement (download a HD movie in a few seconds), 1000x greater capacity than 4G (up to 1 million devices connected per square meter), reduced latency of 4ms (120x greater than 4G and similar to fiber optics), and a much lower battery impact on mobile devices.

While all this performance improvement will be great for the current use cases of mobile computing, the real impact of 5G will be ushering in new use cases that are not possible with 4G. The same way fiber optics and broadband opened the world to new ways to use technology over the last 20 years. When the web browser was invented in 1993, the concepts around computing possibilities had to wait for the infrastructure to catch up. Today we take shopping online for every imaginable item, connecting to every human being we’ve ever known, accessing every piece of information ever recorded and accessing entertainment content on demand all for granted. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix would not have worked in 1993 — not for a lack of innovation or skill — for a lack of network capacity. In 1997 0.1% of US households had broadband. By 1999 that number skyrocketed to 1 million people. As of 2018 broadband is in 82% of US homes and an even higher percentage of people have mobile devices utilizing web services.

Opening New Doors

5G’s major impact will be creating an environment where today’s conceptual technologies become an operational reality. There are many technologies that are functional but not usable on today’s networks. They will become mainstream once 5G provides the network capacity that these technologies require.

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Autonomous vehicles for example, generate tremendous volumes of data. That data assists those vehicles in making better decisions around keeping traffic flowing and people safe. Today’s 4G networks can’t handle that amount of data or the speed in which it needs to inform applications in cars. 5G helps this work.

Another use case — Health Tech — is in it’s very early beginnings. Imagine all of your bodily functions monitored in real time around the clock with a baseline of normal activity helping to inform you when something is wrong. Early detection of disease is the number one factor in successfully curing chronic illness. Abnormalities will be detected at a cellular level in near real time. Nothing will drive down the cost of health care more than keeping people healthy to begin with. The quantity of information that these types of applications will generate will be at a scale not seen before — 5G will provide the backbone to move all of that information around.

Surveillance, drone technology, virtual and augmented reality, and the Internet of Things are all going to have network capacity at their disposal that is a game changer because of 5G. Some of these technologies come with controversy and many will cross into the world of policy and governance.

And then there is the stuff no one has invented yet.

Appendix: Risks?

There has been a lot of concern about the risks of 5G to people’s health. 5G uses millimeter waves vs. radio waves (which were used for all wireless communications prior to 5G). Millimeter waves are high energy waves that give off radiation. However the radiation that they generate is non-iodizing radiation — which doesn’t break chemical bonds. The data seems to point to 5G being generally safe. You can read more detail about this here:

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