North Star

The North Pole Star in a Constellation of Technologies

A refrigerator that pings you with a choice of welcome drinks and dining choices based on the produce and ingredients stored at optimal temperature. Similarly, think digital services for home automation, which spans security and surveillance, and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Advances in telecom are akin to a roller coaster inter-galactic voyage. Every successive generation of technology standard has its upside manifesting in new applications as well as downside in terms of high capital expenditure without a commensurate return on investment. The good news is that every cloud has a silver lining. 5G represents the North Star, a bright star in a constellation of technologies that points to the direction where telecom is headed.

In a 5G landscape, waves are transmitted across the troposphere, which facilitates higher speed, bigger data capacity, and lower latency. This potentially opens a new world of applications for retail and enterprise users on a data-centric network. The challenge here is not so much in attracting subscribers but in persuading them to adopt digital services at every touch point.

The ubiquity of 5G can transform the way we live and work. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the very first telephone call to his assistant, saying, “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.” A century and half later, Bell would be astounded because you do not need to summon a person anymore. In fact, with 5G, you can transport yourself to conduct a business conversation via telepresence. Imagine the possibilities when you get home after a day at work. A refrigerator that pings you with a choice of welcome drinks and dining choices based on the produce and ingredients stored at optimal temperature. Similarly, think digital services for home automation, which spans security and surveillance, and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).

Enterprises can capitalize on 5G to consolidate their business and open new revenue streams. An oil and gas enterprise can monitor the hydrocarbons across their upstream assets in real time and make informed decisions about extracting oil and gas based on the current price of Brent Crude. In a medical emergency at a hospital, 5G can be a lifesaver. Doctors can use telemedicine to consult specialists across continents, review diagnostic reports, and even use robotic surgical tools to ensure high precision and minimally invasive surgery.

Governments can facilitate a faster and more reliable delivery of public services. 5G can transform public transportation and mobility. It can be a catalyst for autonomous vehicles by enabling vehicles to sense and respond to the infinite data that pings across the sensor network during a journey. Rwanda is building a nationwide drone airport network to deliver medicines to the remotest corners of the country. Estonia is a digital republic where the state provides 600 e-services to citizens and 2,400 services to businesses.

While 5G offers new opportunities, it also presents unforeseen challenges. As digital natives and enterprises are always connected, edge or Internet of Things security becomes an imperative. Mainstream adoption of 5G is possible only when telcos safeguard the privacy of users and mitigate the risks of remaining always connected. The telecom industry needs to collaborate and set global standards to ensure that 5G connectivity becomes as ubiquitous as 24/7 power supply.

Indeed, 5G is a shining star on the telecom horizon, but we need to work towards its sustainability to ensure this star shines bright for the benefit of humanity.

Raja Shah

(The author is Vice President and Industry Head for Energy, Communications, Utilities, and Services for Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa at Infosys)

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