As the Internet has descended almost imperceptibly into every crevice of our lives, it has made telecommunications infrastructure as vital as underground sewage systems or electrical grids. The Internet’s arrival as a ubiquitous force has come astonishingly quick, as compared to previous technological revolutions. Trends related to its foundational equipment could therefore quickly become outdated, but these three will stretch into the long term.
The global shift to 5G is underway, though it will still be some years before its advantages are felt in the wider economy. The network is rolling out in major cities and 5G smartphones, the tip of 5G-enabled consumer devices, are slowly penetrating the market.
5G can be 100x faster than 4G, reaching download speeds fast enough to replace the entire wired network, which would unleash a revolution in Internet connectivity.
A 5G network would also make connection nearly instantaneous with lower latency, improving the safety and reliability of industrial (machines, robots, etc.), transportation (self-driving vehicles), and medical devices (surgical instruments, etc.). Whereas the time between prompt and response on 4G is 0.045 milliseconds, it is 0.001ms with 5G.
A 5G network can also hold a higher density of connected devices in a given area, such as at a stadium, on a factory floor, or in a crowded square. One million devices can operate in a square kilometre on a 5G network, compared to 60,000 for 4G.
“Smart devices” will continue their ascendancy in the telecommunications market and their rise will be turbocharged by the transition to 5G. Almost 15 years after the iPhone made the smart phone a practically indispensable part of life, billions more objects are being connected to the Internet.
IoT’s market growth potential is phenomenal because smart devices can drive productivity and efficiency in so many industries. Sensors, SIM cards (or eSIMs), and GPS allow devices or objects to collect tremendous amounts of data, which can then be analysed to drive strategy and decision-making.
5G – with its super-fast speeds, capacity for high concentrations of users, and low latency – will facilitate IoT innovation and adoption. Whereas 4G will suffice for most consumer IoT devices, such as a fridge or a smartwatch, 5G will enable IoT uptake and potentially transform other industries.
Still in its embryonic stages, smart manufacturing depends on innumerable objects connecting to each other and the Internet on the factory floor, which requires the advantages of 5G to really flourish. Sports are also beginning to use sensors in equipment to collect tracking data to assess individual and team performance. Architects are considering how IoT can improve energy efficiency in buildings while logistics analysts and transportation planners incorporate IoT into systems-level questions of how best to move people and goods around a city, region, or the world.
It is not yet clear what will be the impact when nearly every object that runs on electricity is also connected to the Internet. Nevertheless, tech companies are racing toward that future and potential market.
A more interconnected world also brings more risk of cyber attacks, data breaches, and other threats. Telecommunications will continue to try and actively defend their networks, but there are enough intertwining security weaknesses to keep everyone busy and alert.
In the rush to make smart devices, for example, many have been left vulnerable because security was not a priority in their design. Now they represent potential weaknesses in a home or institutional network.
Data security also presents a crucial challenge, as individuals, companies, and governments store sensitive information online, or on computers that can be accessed through the Internet. When it comes to verifying access to (especially personal) data, biometrics, such as face or fingerprint identification, are becoming more prominent. Enhancing security by collecting ever-more personal data in turn poses new data security and privacy questions.
Though cybersecurity can seem always a step behind the attackers, the stakes are higher for some parties than others. Every interested participant in the Internet needs to assess their own risk threshold.