Better, faster, less sustainable, less secure?
Right now, the national average download speed is 20 Mbps per second, but 5G could give users 1 gigabit per second.
For most people, this technology will simply eliminate the annoying lag time between Netflix episodes on shoddy WiFi or make our phones faster.
But 5G has the ability to change the world as well as improve your experience playing Fortnite. Faster networks will also let us do things we were never able to do before, from creating speed-of-thought robotic communication and augmented reality devices to building more efficient self-driving cars (just make sure you don’t unexpectedly drive into an area not covered by 5G).
But what people don’t realize is that building the 5G networks are going to be a vast infrastructural undertaking, replete with regulatory and practical roadblocks. For example, how are carriers going to build a complete network alongside the already existing 4G network they just built? Where are they going to put these new antennas? How much is it going to cost and who will pay?
5G sounds great until you realize your current devices don’t have the capability to utilize it and you’ll likely have to upgrade everything from your phone to your smart doorbell. Where does all that perfectly good tech end up once you’ve disposed of it?
And what of rural areas, who could still benefit from the expansion and upgrade of 4G networks? Some areas don’t even have 10 Mbps LTE download speeds yet, so to what extent will they be further left in the dust by the upgrades that will undoubtedly start in urban areas? We already have a digital divide – how much bigger do we want to make it?
5G will also create an increasing demand for energy. We rarely think about just how much energy we use when we binge-watch television via wifi, but it’s a lot. 30% of U.S. electricity and 40% of global electricity still comes from coal, and renewable energy sources can’t keep up with current demands. 5G technologies might help us create more green tech, but not before we steeply increase our reliance on coal. While this topic often gets politicized to the point of being unhelpful, it’s simply important to note that our energy has to come from somewhere.
And while 5G will undoubtedly make our lives more convenient, we also need to prepare for the security challenges it will pose. The explosion of new technologies will need a matching explosion of anti-hacking measures. For example, if we can build an enormous real-time database of health information that can save people’s lives no matter where they are in the world, we need to make sure it’s safe first (and while advances in blockchain technology could be helpful, they bring up the energy question all over again).
Before we build all the cool new toys and get caught up on the latest season of Black Mirror, we’d do well to pregame the security measures.
The Wired Guide to 5G (Wired, 2018)
What Is 5G Technology And Who Benefits? (Al-Jazeera, 2018)
The Political and Ethical Problems of 5G Internet (Medium, 2018)
The 5G Economy: How 5G will Impact Global Industries, The Economy, and You (MIT Technology Review, 2017)
5G Technologies Will Power A Greener Future For Cities (Brookings Institute, 2016)