The idea that 5G technologies will uplift the world is an inspiring and popular proposition. However, the realities of life – and how human beings behave, govern themselves, and prioritize their self-interests – will truly determine the ultimate value and impact of 5G technologies. Currently, the exciting narratives being promoted by the enterprises that will benefit from 5G are captivating and indeed plausible. But the real world, as we know, is much more nuanced, inequitable, and historically unfair. How 5G infrastructure, from small cell networks to beamforming capabilities, is rolled out across the world and our communities will directly benefit those with modern devices and quality access – and perhaps further entrench those without resources more deeply into the disenfranchised quagmire of the digital divide.
Leading nations in the global economy, from China and India to Japan and the United States, are expediting 5G infrastructure regulations and projects to capitalize on the competitive benefits seamless adoption provides their businesses and populations. These investments, however, could exacerbate existing inequalities that currently fuel income disparity and undermine social stability. The economic prosperity resulting from 5G technologies could be tempered by the expanding gap between those with access to technologies and connectivity and those increasingly disenfranchised from such resources and opportunities. The line separating these groups is often drawn between urban and rural areas. China’s 5G infrastructure, for example, is mainly focused on the population centers of Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai; in fact, 30% of China’s 5G infrastructure resources serve just 4% of the nation’s actual population. In the real world, balancing opportunity with need can complicate the benefits of 5G technologies. But there are still plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Equality, Infrastructure, and the De-Balkanization of Data
Some nations simply have better 5G data infrastructure – and therefore better access to ideas, knowledge, and information – than others. Reliable, high-quality access to data is key to maintaining educated workforces and viable businesses in a competitive global marketplace. While 5G infrastructure advantages may offer some nations an edge, these advantages are likely to be only short-term due to basic supply-and-demand dynamics. The globalization of work is driving a constant push by industries and citizens who demand better data access and storage. The power of business and commerce is propelling data consumption, and new infrastructure will accommodate those consumption demands in every corner of the world – including currently underserved communities and more rural areas. While governments and policymakers attempt to regulate access to data according to their regional and cultural mores, the power of commerce and demands for unfettered access to knowledge is chipping away at efforts to balkanize data behind digital borders.
Governments and regulators are adjusting to facilitate collaborative infrastructure development projects, which oftentimes involve complicated partnerships and relationships spanning countries and even groups of countries. Furthermore, following data consumption trends, many hyperscalers are building cloud-oriented infrastructure to be closer to – and better able to serve – growing demands for data across regions. There is also pressure on the governments and regulators to be proactive in finding ways to secure the handling of sensitive data either within their borders or with trusted neighbors, and simultaneously provide access to data where it is needed. Addressing various security and privacy concerns across different regions and cultures can be difficult. But progress is being made, and as infrastructure shifts more towards 5G consumption, the world will have more reliable, high-quality, and uniform access to work-related and other kinds of data – from villages to megacities.
Growing Hunger for Bandwidth Drives 5G Innovation
Surging demands for 5G wireless capacity – increasingly expressed by people across the digital divide – is setting a baseline for future advancements in telecommunications technology. The 5G and future generations of mobile networking technologies are pushing the Shannon Capacity theorem to the limits, unleashing a constant hunger for more bandwidth and access to data. This is a positive development that will result in the creation of more immersive and experiential applications for 5G users everywhere throughout the digital divide chasm. At the same time, it could challenge the network deployment, as it will lead to a very high density of network elements and usage of spectrum nearing that of visible light. These evolving capacity challenges will force network and telecommunications technologies to devise more innovative solutions. Many advancements in the technology space have created a profound and positive impact on work-life for employees, especially as COVID-19 has accelerated the rise of remote workers and the need for seamless, collaborative team management platforms. Employees once forced to migrate to urban areas and coastal cities for employment can now work from home in locations once isolated in the disconnected reaches of the digital divide. Advancements in the telecom field are enabling 5G technologies to be implemented in timely and direct ways that provide workers with the data capacity needed to perform their work better and faster in remote areas. Some key technologies that will drive development and creativity in the telecom arena include 5G+, network virtualization, network disaggregation, Edge Cloud, AI/ML, SDN, LEO satellites, among other promising technologies. The areas of IT infrastructure, software, and networks are, for example, converging and being treated together in exciting ways. Technology both leads and follows economic prosperity.
5G Connected Coworkers: Managers and Remote Teams
New technologies have historically generated hope and skepticism, and this is certainly the case with 5G availability and infrastructure. This ambivalence over where, when, and how to construct 5G resources is understandable, and probably healthy. However, many business leaders and managers are now raising practical, real-world questions and concerns about the (1) security of game-changing 5G technologies on (especially remote) workforces, and (2) how department and team managers can best harness innovation to improve their workers’ productivity and advance business objectives.
Security Beyond Regional Borders:
In contrast to the centralized, in-office structures of pre-pandemic work dynamics, remote workers are increasingly spread throughout different locations in the digital divide and use various pathways to access data. Higher security and privacy controls – including VPN, gateway security, identity, and access control – are needed to provide these distributed workers with access to applications and data from company and client resources. Providing this level of access over a secure network can present latency and bandwidth challenges. However, 5G accommodates these demands, and the network slice capability adds a layer of security and performance for the businesses that rely on remote teams. Though data privacy regulations in each country create challenges to this ubiquitous access, virtual desktop and edge cloud offer reliable work-arounds. Despite the security and privacy challenges posed by remote workers, 5G helps provide robust solutions that should inspire confidence across teams.
Leading with an Outcome-Driven Mindset:
Business leaders and workforce managers must understand the underlying benefits and technologies of 5G to align their teams for the future of work in a digitally connected global economy. After the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed the way businesses find and hire employees, leaders must embrace an outcome-driven and growth mindset that integrates a work-from-anywhere culture into their operations by leveraging 5G technologies. From a skills perspective, managers need to become proficient in the deployment of agile methods, processes, and tools for organizing people, departments, and resources across businesses. Adapting to a digital way of working means using
AI/analytics to drive decisions around clear definitions of success, and being conversant with automation tools that streamline experiences so workers can focus on productivity. Leaders with a high-level understanding of how 5G can reduce inefficient processes and increase worker productivity – through virtual reality simulations and even 3D holograms, for example – will be invaluable to organizations that want to compete in a hyper-connected future. After all, as 5G technologies continue to blur the line that marks he digital divide, new ways of working – and competing – will fill a void once unfairly sustained by the disenfranchisement of untapped talent. At least, this is what we want to believe.