It’s hard to predict exactly what 5G means for the Australian business landscape. The technology is billed as so disruptive, so game-changing (Kaan Terzioglu, CEO of VEON, famously called it “the beginning of the fourth generation of the industrial revolution”) that it’s tricky to separate genuine potential from marketing hype.
Predicting the future of 5G in 2020 is like seeing analogue internet in 1993 and somehow extrapolating Twitter, Uber and AirBnB. But there are some broad industry trends that many experts agree on.
What is 5G?
5G refers to the fifth generation of the global wireless network, the infrastructure for which is being rolled out around the world as we speak. 1G began with brick-like car phones in the 1980s. 2G gave us SMS and voicemail. 3G introduced basic image sharing and mobile GPS. And 4G brought lightning fast download speeds, to keep up with the explosion of global data transference. 5G promises something else: a leap in wireless performance that’s so vast, it’ll unlock a new technological age. At its theoretical limit, 5G is up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks.
The obvious effect of 5G is a huge boost in productivity. With faster wireless speeds, lower latency and better reliability, companies will be able to coordinate and optimise their internal processes like never before. Recent economic modelling suggests that 5G networks will add about 0.2% to Australia’s overall productivity every year. This may not sound like much, but it adds up to between $1,300 and $2,000 in additional GDP per person after the first decade—around $50 billion all together. It’s one of the reasons that 80% of Australian businesses are intending to adopt 5G technology over the next three years.
According to a study commissioned by Samsung, around 68% of Australian businesses feel that their operations are constrained by current network performance. There’s room for efficiency improvements practically everywhere, but 4G network speeds are holding businesses back. Take transport company Linfox, as an example. Thanks to the emergence of 5G, Linfox is planning to install Internet of Things technology on its entire truck fleet (about 5,000 vehicles). Not only will this enable real-time tracking of goods, it’ll be able to measure driver fatigue and fuel efficiency, optimise fleet coordination and routing, even alert customers when a delivery is running late.
New technology adoption
One of the big hopes for 5G is that it will unlock the full potential of technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and machine learning, dragging them into the commercial mainstream. As network speeds and reliability improve, it’ll become more feasible for businesses to adopt new technologies and experiment with different applications. Banks could implement biometric authentication, allowing you to withdraw funds instantly with a simple face scan. Integrated ‘mesh networks’ could provide invaluable on-the-ground data for fighting bushfires. Surgeons will be able to operate remotely using VR, and track patient vitals using wearable tech. In short, businesses will be able to fundamentally change their service delivery.
A lot has been written about the so-called 5G “jobpocalypse”. By powering driverless cars, will 5G make truck drivers redundant? By automating manufacturing processes, will production line workers be out of a job? Amazon Go is already promising ‘cashier-less’ supermarkets, where checkouts becomes unnecessary (everything you take off the shelves is automatically charged through your smartphone). Businesses need to analyse where their current workforce is vulnerable, and how 5G might disrupt existing structures. Will it be cheaper to use machine learning to automate entire departments, or will consumers be better served by some kind of human-AI hybrid model? These are the sorts of thorny questions 5G is going to raise.
One of the things that makes 5G technology so exciting is that, almost by definition, we can’t yet imagine its ideal use case. Bill Menezes, a mobile enterprise analyst at Gartner, told TechRepublic that we’re essentially limited by our lack of 5G experience, and it’s going to take time to explore the potential, and the boundaries, of this new technology. "When 4G came out no one imagined getting an Uber,” he says. “It took familiarity with new technology before its most important uses appear.”
All businesses can really do, at this point, is to prepare themselves for disruption and learn as much as they can.
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