Who Does it Benefit?

The process of upgrading our mobile networks to 5G will be slow and expensive but will bring a number of improvements to different sectors. 5G’s new frequencies cannot penetrate walls and windows or travel as well as 4G. This means that more infrastructure needs to be built to accommodate it. Much of this infrastructure will take the form of small boxes placed at regular intervals in public places, though some new large masts will be also installed, and some existing 4G masts will be updated. [bbcmag.com/rural-broadband/5g-is-not-the-answer-for-rural-broadband]

At its core, 5G brings faster data transfer speeds and reduced latency, so downloads on a 5G network will often seem more like those on a fast wired home network. The reason for the upgrade though isn’t just to build a faster network; the important thing is what kinds of technology and services a faster wireless network will enable. 

The showcase topics are: drone technology, driverless cars, VR headsets and augmented shopping. [verdict.co.uk/benefits-of-5g

Drones within range of a 5G network can be highly responsive, significantly reducing risks of crashes or sudden operating failures – this makes them suitable for delivering goods, even takeaways and fresh groceries on demand. Improved transmission rates also make it possible to accurately livestream sporting and other events from drone cameras – we could see better reporting of all kinds of events and maybe even cheaper security options, with the police being able to use drones rather than helicopters to track suspects.

Driverless cars again require drastically higher speeds and minimal latency (i.e. delay in the delivery of instructions) because they need various sensors and other technical parts to communicate and react swiftly, almost like a human operator. 5G networking could enable automated cars to function effectively, updating according to traffic and road conditions, and simultaneously allowing in-transit entertainments for passengers.

VR headsets currently rely on wires or give users a less interesting experience where 4G wireless limits the headsets’ capacity. 5G could allow companies to develop more realistic VR experiences and – where 5G has been deployed and is in regular use by consumers – cheaper headsets. 

Bearing in mind that 5G networks are likely to support many different kinds of devices, demanding large amounts of attention from different features of the network, programmers have started using ‘network splicing’ in tandem with 5G rollouts. Network splicing means that parts of a network can be split up to reduce their overall demand. For example, in a driverless car, the car computer can be on a different subsection of the network than the streaming TV screens used by passengers. The partition helps to protect the car’s latency against sudden data spikes when passengers want to change programme, for example. This means the car can be safe to ride, even when there are substantial demands on the 5G network it uses.

However, many of 5G’s much lauded benefits will only reward a minority of consumers. To start with, those who live in cities. Despite some pro-5G organisations’ claims to the contrary, it is unlikely that 5G technology will improve rural internet access. [bbcmag.com/rural-broadband/5g-is-not-the-answer-for-rural-broadband] As described, the network requires a lot of infrastructure investment – the kind of thing that will only be economically viable for densely populated areas (cities and larger towns) and wealthy business concerns. Not small towns, villages and isolated homes. Those that currently lack broadband access will not get it quicker under 5G, and the 5G rollout could interrupt the rate at which they gain decent internet and mobile network coverage.  

Next, 5G supports many different kinds of automation that are currently too expensive to achieve. In manufacturing and industry, in transport and distribution, even in healthcare and education, 5G allows automation on a scale as yet unexplored. Economic forecasts suggest it will bring millions of jobs to the world, [qualcomm.com/news/releases/2017/01/17/landmark-study-impact-5g-mobile-technology-released/] but for who? And for how long? The same forecasts also suggest it will bring trillions in profit, but again, to who? The people losing their jobs to robotic efficiency? It seems unlikely. 

The fact the UK government is fully behind the scheme to upgrade to 5G as soon as possible, without seeming to bring forward any new strategies for job creation, skills education, or state benefits for the unemployed, should leave us concerned. It might not be a major problem for five, ten, twenty years, but when companies start to replace five low-skilled employees with one highly skilled tech specialist, it won’t be they who’ll feel the economic bite – it’ll be us. 

Merlin Betts lives in Hastings and is the co-editor of Arts for Hastings Independent Press.

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