The future of telecom: Embracing the power of 5G

Natasha Walji / October 2019

Innovation in the telecom industry has been constant and as fifth-generation (5G) cellular network technology rolls out around the world, telco companies are paying close attention.

In the past year, we’ve seen 5G roll out in the U.S. and Asia. In Canada, preparation is underway with unlimited data plans and spectrum auctions, and 5G is expected to be mainstream by 2021. The fifth-generation mobile technology is much faster (with almost zero latency) than 4G networks and will transform consumer experiences. For telecom companies, this means more opportunities to innovate and monetize their business model.There are five major global trends powered by 5G. Understanding them and how they could benefit your company are vital as the world begins ramping up for this major shift.

Five global trends powered by 5G

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Acceleration of the internet of things (IoT)

Connected devices are everywhere and they are creating new business opportunities. A 2019 report by the International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts there will be 41.6 billion connected devices generating 79.4 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025.1

5G technology will transform connected devices by accelerating consumer adoption, making them smarter and making it easier to integrate devices at scale. Device capabilities will increase through faster network speeds, decreased load times and processing power to handle much more data, making room for advancements across industries like manufacturing, gaming and health care. As 5G rolls out, telecom providers need to think about the role that connected devices will play in their company’s future.

Increased need for privacy

All of these connected devices will create more data, and telecom companies need a plan for how to handle that data securely. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said he believes “privacy is the most important matter of our time.” At Google, we see privacy as the bedrock of our business and it’s very important for us to get it right. It’s the common thread throughout our products and impacts how we think about integrating data with our partners.

People share a lot with Google, as you can imagine. Data responsibility is not just a fad — consumers expect it. Ignoring it is the easiest way to lose their trust. That’s why at Google, we think about privacy in three ways: transparency (making security controls easy to use and information pages clear), preference (such as allowing people to go into their settings and deleting their entire web activity immediately), and consent (allowing users more control over the experience.)

Telecom companies have an important role to play in a future powered by 5G.

But it isn’t just about Google. The entire ecosystem is changing around us, from General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to browsers and user expectations. As 5G rolls out, companies will have more user data to handle, so it’s important for every company to think about its own data and privacy framework.

A more powerful, ubiquitous cloud

Ubiquity is at the core of cloud and edge computing, and we believe 5G will make cloud and edge computing more powerful and accessible than ever. It will allow people to draw in more diverse datasets, break down silos, use faster network speeds, and process data at lower costs than ever.

Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, has suggested we’re in the next golden age of computing. It’s believed that 90% of companies will have a multi-cloud presence by 20242, and telecom companies can benefit from the range of monetization opportunities this type of ubiquity offers.

More accessible AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are changing every industry, and 5G enables algorithms to be much more efficient at processing and analyzing data at scale. This is exciting because these technologies will have the greatest impact when everyone has access to them and can benefit.

As AI becomes more accessible and intrinsic for companies powered by 5G, we see it as scientific and ethical endeavour. Last year, Google released our set of AI principles, including safety testing and how we look at unfair bias. Telecom companies need to think about their own guiding principles as they build out their AI capability, whether they plan on leveraging bots for call centres or looking at lifetime value analysis for customers. It’s so important that you build this now, along with your data and privacy framework, to ensure we are mindful of the implications of this AI as it becomes more accessible.

A more connected world with faster speeds and accessible AI will transform the way people use technology and interact.

Bridging the digital divide

This last trend is what inspires me to work at Google — access for all. While 5G is accelerating connectivity, the reality is there are still 3.2 billion people (almost 40% of the world’s population) not connected to the internet.

Google has been working on ways to help bridge the digital divide. Project Loon, a network of high-altitude, LTE-enabled balloons that deliver connectivity to remote and rural areas, came out of our Google X incubator in 2013. Over the years, we’ve tested Project Loon in Peru, Brazil and India. We are working on commercializing Loon in Kenya and have used Loon after natural disasters (like providing internet access to people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, through a partnership with the local government and AT&T.)

As the connected world ramps up for 5G, we need to be mindful of bringing everyone along, or we risk creating a wider digital divide in Canada and around the world.

Telecom companies have an important role to play in a future powered by 5G. A more connected world with faster speeds and accessible AI will transform the way people use technology and interact. Thinking about what it means for your company now can help you make the most of this new technology when it arrives.

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