5G will transform smartphones—but it won’t stop there

February 23, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Though the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancelation of Mobile World Congress, one of the technology industry’s biggest annual events, in Barcelona next week, mobile innovation marches onward. Today we stand on the cusp of 5G, the new generation of mobile broadband rolling out globally. 5G smartphones will allow consumers to download a movie in less than one minute, browse the web 10 times faster, experience life-like virtual and augmented reality, and stream 4K video the same way users stream audio today. But while 5G smartphones will be remarkable, focusing only on the 5G smartphone user experience is limiting the technology’s true potential. 

5G’s larger purpose is to be the underlying digital fabric connecting all elements of our modern world. In particular, look for 5G to fundamentally change the way our manufacturing, automotive, and health care sectors operate.

Qualcomm develops and sells technologies and products used in mobile devices and other wireless devices, including network equipment, broadband gateway equipment, and consumer electronic devices. As such, we will benefit from the growth and adoption of 5G.

Like the advent of electrification before it, 5G will transform countries, industries, and societies all over the world, catalyzing unprecedented growth. In fact, according to a new IHS Markit study commissioned by Qualcomm, 5G will contribute to $13.2 trillion in global economic output in 2035, supporting 22 million jobs that year. A Defense Department report from earlier this year states, “5G will enable a host of new technologies that will change the standard of public and private sector operations, from autonomous vehicles to smart cities, virtual reality, and battle networks.”

The manufacturing sector, for example, stands poised to be one of the biggest winners in this digital revolution. Deploying private 5G networks will allow manufacturers to eliminate the cumbersome bundles of ethernet cables that litter their factory floors and connect the machines wirelessly to the cloud. As a result of collecting so much data from factory operations, companies will be able to use A.I. to increase productivity and efficiency. Everything from sensors and handheld tools to assembly-line robots will be wirelessly connected, allowing manufacturing to reconfigure production lines more quickly and flexibly.

The automotive industry offers a perfect window into the transformative potential of 5G for the entire value chain. The new mobile network will revolutionize how vehicles are built, as automakers employ wirelessly connected production robots to work on car body construction. It will also affect how cars are serviced, as repair shops tap secure software updates for complex telematics systems. And of course, 5G will influence how passengers enjoy the ride, as its high speed and low latency allow for more seamless streaming of entertainment.

Tomorrow’s connected vehicles will be incredibly chatty, communicating with each other through the exchange of complex data packets only possible through 5G. They’ll also interact with road infrastructure, traffic lights, drivers, and even passengers through 5G-enabled smartphones. This next level of connectivity, combined with completely transformed navigation and mapping systems enabled by 5G, will reduce accidents and save lives through enhanced sensors and vehicle safety, and push down costs associated with maintenance, accidents, and insurance.

5G will also impact health care, an industry that consumed $3.5 trillion in U.S. spending, or 18% of GDP, in 2017. Historically, challenges surrounding the tracking and maintenance of medical records have made the field of health care somewhat of a laggard to digitization. But 5G’s reliable, faster, and more uniform data rates will create a future of telemedicine where doctors monitor, treat, and predict health challenges remotely, delivering affordable, quality care right to the living room. Earlier this year, Federal Communications chairman Ajit Pai said, “I think telemedicine and telehealth solutions are really one of the major positive impacts that broadband availability can have.”

The pace of the 5G rollout is unprecedented in the history of cellular. In the first year of 4G, there were just three device manufacturers and four mobile operators using the network. By contrast, we expect 45 different operators to launch 5G service globally, alongside 45 device manufacturers, in 2020, the year 5G is expected to roll out. 

As this unprecedented opportunity starts rolling out across this nation, and throughout the world, the time is now for businesses and governments to double down on the 5G future.

Cristiano Amon is president of Qualcomm.

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