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5G: What it's good for―and what it won't fix

This episode of Technology Untangled examines the nuts and bolts of 5G, from current use cases, cost, and security concerns to the future it promises to usher in.

What is 5G? What does it do? And when will we see actual benefits?

Those are just some of the questions both consumers and business leaders have been asking as excitement continues to build around the rollout of 5G wireless networks. But for all of the technology's promises―chiefly, superfast speeds―some remain skeptical about current use cases and whether 5G is worth the steep investment needed to enable new capabilities.

"People try and throw technology at problems, but it's the wrong way of thinking about it," says Matt Armstrong-Barnes, a chief technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. "You should always think about the problem and how best to fix it."

And that applies to 5G, he says, noting that businesses should be asking, "What is it fixing?"

Please read: The latest on 5G: What you need to know

Then there's the question of security. As Chris Dando, also a chief technologist at HPE, explains, there have been concerns―warranted or not―over a main supplier of 5G equipment, China's Huawei, and the potential for the Chinese government to use the company's products to open back doors and spy on the U.S. and other countries.

Still, 5G proponents argue that the potential of 5G is vast, from enabling cutting-edge consumer and business apps today to connecting billions of ever-more powerful IoT devices in the future.

Please read: What will telecommunications technology look like in 2026?

In this episode of Technology Untangled, Dando and Armstrong-Barnes join guests Jimmy Chion, creative technologist at The New York Times, and Leslie Shannon, head of ecosystem and trend scouting at Nokia, to separate hype from reality. They examine the nuts and bolts of 5G as well as the misconceptions and debate around 5G's near-term prospects. While perspectives vary, they agree on one thing: The technology sets the stage for a whole new world of innovation.

The mother of invention

One market segment that sees a wide range of possibilities with 5G is media and journalism. According to The Times' Chion, the news outlet began experimenting with a "pre-5G" device, called the Backpack, to transmit photos from the field faster. "My goal was to kind of see, what are the extreme ends of low conductivity? What happens when you're in a war zone and you need to send a photo out?" he explains.

Please read: Why private 5G networks are on the rise

As a follow-on, Chion's team created Beam, an app designed to do what the Backpack does but "using 5G as a 'big Internet pipe'―effectively widening the bandwidth so that the photographers could get more media out fast."

For example, the photographer covering the Oscars for The Times last year attached Beam to his camera and, with Verizon's help, "set up a 5G node right on the red carpet," Chion says. Over four hours, the photographer sent more than 6,000 photos back to the news room: "So, you can do the math on the size of the data for that, but it's a lot of data―and especially in situations where it is crowded and cell signals are not great. Speed matters here."

Please read: Factories and the challenge of wireless networks

Over in consumer land…

In addition to emerging business applications, consumers are always pushing the market for faster, better quality video streaming, gaming, and other personal applications, HPE's Dando says. Add to that a spike this past year in demand for seamless remote work capabilities, particularly video conferencing, and the need for 5G becomes clearer.

"As we deploy these things into consumer land, we naturally see that following into corporate land as well," Dando says. "Now, if you think about where we might be in 10 years' time, you clearly need a step change of improved performance and improved capacity from where we are today."

The 5G journey

Colleague Armstrong-Barnes warns, however, that claims about 5G latency and speed can be misleading, noting that they are "the wrong way of talking about how this technology can really change the telecommunications landscape."

Please read: How 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will work together

Nokia's Shannon agrees: "We can talk about more bandwidth and lower latency all we want. What does that mean? Why does it make a difference if I can download a movie in two seconds as opposed to two minutes? That's not a significant change in the structure of the world."

But, she adds, 5G is opening the door to capabilities significantly different from what has gone before, and that is going to "fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between humans and computers going forward."

Please read: 5G and cloud: Telcos fight for the future

Listen to other episodes:

What AI means for you and your business―now and in the future

As-a-service: What it is and how it's changing the face of IT and business

Sustainable tech: Good for the planet, good for business

Hyperconverged infrastructure: Speed, flexibility, performance in a box

Containers: Big innovation in a small package

The edge: Data wherever you need to be

The IoT: Where real-time insights drive real-time action

2020: The year everything changed

Digital ethics: The good and bad of tech

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.