Issue 17: The future is 5G

August 2, 2019

This week, we're looking closely at 5G — and cutting through the noise to better understand what's on the horizon.

As Apple's $1 billion purchase of Intel's modem business indicates, 5G is a major priority for telecommunications businesses. According to Ericsson, 5G adoption is only going to accelerate going forward — by 2024, 5G networks are expected to cover 40% of the globe. We'll then dig further into the industry leaders, the constraints, and most importantly, the opportunities.

Finally, we'll learn how to do strategic planning like a futurist, learn about Walgreens' chronic disease management tool investments and check out 3M's latest packaging innovation.

Focus: 5G

5G (short for "fifth generation mobile network") is the successor to 4G, and it promises to be significantly faster than previous generations. 5G uses the same radio signals as existing cellular networks, but uses different frequencies to transmit signals. Whereas current 3G and 4G phones in the U.S. use frequencies below 4GHz, most 5G signals will be at higher frequencies. This gives 5G signals shorter wavelengths, allowing them to transfer data at faster rates.

Source: Senate RPC

Source: Senate RPC

While the fastest 4G networks can deliver peak download speeds around 300mb/second, 5G could offer download speeds of over 1gb/second. In practice, this means being able to download a full HD film in under five seconds.

5G enables lower latency, so there'll be little — if any — delay when using 5G-networked devices. Finally, it will also have more bandwidth, so networks will be able to handle several apps at once.

Overall, 5G should enable faster, more stable connections. This will accommodate the emerging IoT — including smart refrigerators, traffic lights and internet-connected personal technology — that needs internet connectivity to work.

Source: Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

Current Constraints of 5G & Important Considerations: However, despite its tremendous promise, much has yet to be done to make 5G broadly available. The key challenges facing 5G are in four areas: practical, technical, regulatory and cybersecurity.

  • Practical: High implementation costs are the one of the key challengesfacing 5G. This is especially true in the U.S., where relying on the private sector to deploy 5G means that 5G deployment's benefits are constantly being weighed against their immediate costs.

  • Technical: Because higher frequencies have decreased ability to penetrate material (such as buildings), in-building 5G coverage remains a challenge.

  • Regulatory: Telecom providers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have all reported experiencing significant regulatory barriers from local authorities in the form of fees, prohibitions on small cell placement, design and aesthetic restrictions and more.

  • Cybersecurity: As 5G enables more devices to connect to the Internet and creates an exponential increase in network speed, density and efficiency, it'll make it easier to find the weakest links in security chains.


From an applications perspective, 5G will enable a broad spectrum of new products and experiences. It's not an exaggeration to say that 5G will touch nearly everything in our lives — including healthcareautomobile transportation and work itself — will be altered by this technology. When 5G is broadly deployed, the higher upload speeds it allows will be critical for telemedicine, self-driving cars and better remote working conditions.

For more about how 5G will change the world, read:
Chongqing steps up robotaxi push with launch of 5G-enabled testing zone
5G: Innovation, disruption and opportunity ahead
How The 5G Revolution Will Drive Future Innovations Of IoT
3 sectors 5G innovations will hit first
3 Exciting Innovations Made Possible by 5G
5G Innovations 2020
5G & The Future Of Connectivity: 20 Industries The Tech Could Transform
Cloud Enhanced Open Software Defined Mobile Wireless Testbed for City-Scale Deployment (COSMOS Project)


Industry & Enterprises: Given the widespread impact and massive opportunity in 5G, companies are working feverishly to beat their competition at the 5G game. These are just a few of the companies racing to win in 5G: 

  • Verizon: VP of network and technology Heidi Hemmer says the company has a multi-spectrum strategy and whose Built on 5G Challenge is a great example of crowdsourcing innovation — if you're interested, submissions close on September 15

  • Apple: plans all-5G phones after the Intel deal

  • Dish: Chairman Charlie Ergen wants the first 5G up and running by late 2020

  • Sprint: working with HTC to bring 5G to nine U.S. cities in the first half of 2019

  • Huawei: on track to beat Apple with the world's top 5G chip despite the U.S. crackdown on exports to the company

  • Xiaomi: planning a mid-range 5G device for the U.S. and India

We also have to mention the Verizon 5G EdTech Challenge, which was a collaborative partnership between the Verizon Foundation, Verizon 5G Labs and ourselves last spring. The Challenge asked competitors to bring cutting-edge 5G technologies to underserved middle school classrooms across the country. For more companies' 5G moves, read CB Insights' report "The Race For 5G: How 20 Corporations Are Building The Future Of Connectivity."

Governments & Policy Considerations: As many know, governments are even getting involved in this issue. In the U.S., lawmakers are actively working to pass legislation addressing the national security implications of 5G (includingconcerns about using Huawei technology in the United States' 5G network) and to ensure rural America doesn't miss out on this technology. Lawmakers have turned to private capital to spur 5G development and are clamping down on U.S. technology sales to Chinese companies, especially in 5G and similar technologies with national security implications.

In Europe under the EU's Horizon 2020 plan, there is a three-phase 5G research plan and 5G vision paper. The EU's plan prioritizes vertical industries, such as the automobile industry, in 5G use cases. As a response to the cybersecurity challenges associated with 5G, the European Commission has also recommended a set of concrete measures for members to assess 5G networks' cybersecurity risks and strengthen preventative measures.

China & Globally: In China, the government sees 5G as its first chance to leadwireless technology development on a global scale. Thus, it has identified 5G as a "strategic emerging industry" and "new area of growth" in its 13th Five-Year Plan. Its Made in China 2025 plan, which outlines the country's ambition to become a global manufacturing leader, commits the country to making breakthroughs in 5G mobile communication.

Currently, Switzerland — which has two operators, Swisscom and Sunrise, offering commercially available 5G networks in 225 cities — is the undisputed global leader in 5G. To keep track of 5G around the world, use Ookla's interactive 5G Map.

Source: Ookla 5G Network Map

Source: Ookla 5G Network Map

Extended Reading

How to Do Strategic Planning Like a Futurist

NYU Stern professor and quantitative futurist Amy Webb gives corporate leaders tips for planning like a futurist. To enable this, she describes a four-category cone with 1) tactics, 2) strategy, 3) vision and 4) systems-level evolution.

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Walgreens bolsters digital marketplace with new chronic disease management tools

As digital health products for treating and managing chronic disease and pain continue coming out, traditional healthcare stakeholders are looking for new ways to distribute these technologies to patients. An example of this trend is Walgreens' digital marketplace Find Care — which has been expanded with new tools from Propeller Health and Dexcom to help individuals with respiratory and metabolic diseases. This investment is a response to increasing competition from CVS Health, Walmart and Amazon, all of which are continue to make strides into healthcare services delivery.

No more cardboard boxes? 3M invents an ingenious new way to ship products


3M is replacing a new type of packaging, called the Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, that it claims can reduce time spent packing, reduce the amount of packaging materials used to ship items and cut down on the space needed to ship packages. This tape- and filler-free packaging can be customized for any project under three pounds — which 3M says accounts for about 60% of all items bought online and shipped.

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