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5G is the post-pandemic adrenaline shot we’ll need

April 14, 2021, 12:00 AM UTC
A portable Dish Network 5G wireless tower in Sedalia, Colo., on Aug. 31, 2020.
Daniel Brenner—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend industries and businesses all over the world. However, new data from IHS Markit shows a ray of light cutting through the clouds.

5G, the next generation of mobile broadband rolling out globally, is a resilient economic driver. (Qualcomm and Verizon are both market leaders in the rollout of 5G, and as such would benefit from the expansion of the technology nationwide.)

In fact, while IHS’s current forecast for overall global gross output in 2035 is 2.8% lower than its pre-pandemic forecast, the projection for 5G gross output is lower by only about 0.6%, reflecting the economic resiliency and potential of this high-speed, ultra-low latency network. By 2035, the 5G value chain is expected to support 22.8 million jobs, delivering $3.8 trillion in economic output.

As COVID-19 spread in early 2020, businesses and institutions fast-tracked digital transformation and ushered in a work-from-home revolution—a trend that will likely continue when the virus subsides. In fact, a survey of corporate leaders by Gartner found that going forward, 47% plan to allow full-time remote work and 82% plan to allow part-time remote work. For these businesses, 5G should be a game-changer, helping transform home laptops into powerful, cloud-connected enterprise workstations capable of tapping the most computer-intensive applications and data streams.

More broadly, sectors such as manufacturing stand poised for wholesale digital revolution, as a litany of sensors, connected tools, and robots connect to private 5G networks. Tomorrow’s smart factories will be dynamically configurable engines of innovation that will generate nearly $4.7 trillion in economic value by 2035, according to IHS. 

The 5G rollout also offers small businesses constrained by COVID-19 an opportunity to run efficiently and better serve their customers. Verizon is providing 5G service to such businesses, including Mastry’s Brewing Co. in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

“Having the 5G hotspot will be tremendously helpful because we won’t have to live in fear of the moment that our Internet drops,” said Danie Dahm, the general manager at Mastry’s. “Business can keep running—we can get customers checked out, our menus will be online, entertainment will be up on the TVs, and we have a lot of people who want to check their email or connect their phones.”

In addition to aiding businesses, 5G can help strengthen America’s education system, where COVID-19 has laid bare a glaring broadband access gap. Who can forget the viral image of two girls sitting outside a Taco Bell this summer, using its WiFi to attend school digitally? 

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14% of all U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 18 do not have Internet access at home. Always connected PCs (ACPC), powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon compute platforms, allow students to connect on the go. To address the growing need for this technology, HP has also developed an affordable ACPC.   

A July 2020 study found that 5G would provide various improvements in classrooms, such as offering immersive augmented reality lessons to engage students, creating flexibility in where or how a student learns, and providing teachers with the ability to download content faster or log feedback in real time.

Finally, 5G will help our health care system go digital, allowing for real-time sharing of electronic health records, in-home video doctor visits, and easy transfers of high-resolution medical images and videos. For health care systems and hospitals, cloud-connected, A.I.-enabled 5G networks could help fight the next pandemic by uniting a variety of disparate data streams and sensor-enabled devices. This could help them better coordinate the allotment of medical supplies, PPE, and beds, as well as the assignment of first responders, doctors, and nurses.

As we seek to build back from the impact of COVID, 5G needs to be part of the national effort to rebuild and reinvigorate America’s critical infrastructure. We are encouraged to see that $100 billion of the recently announced Biden $2 trillion infrastructure plan is set aside for broadband, an essential aspect of the nation’s infrastructure. Moreover, within that sum, the plan focuses on future-proofing broadband technology, particular in rural areas. This would be accomplished through technologies such as fixed wireless access, which can cover the last mile of a rural area with high-quality broadband at an economically feasible cost.

American businesses must step up to the challenge and craft strategies that innovate with and build upon 5G. This will ensure that countries around the world rebound from COVID-19 and set the stage for a resilient, prosperous future.

Cristiano Amon is president and CEO-elect at Qualcomm Incorporated.

Kyle Malady is executive vice president of global networks and CTO at Verizon.