REALISING THE POTENTIAL OF A NEW 5G-CONNECTED WORLD

The wave of opportunity brought on by ‘fourth industrial revolution’ technologies offers the promise of transformation in business and society. However, the lack of connectivity holds many people back from accessing better work, education, healthcare and life opportunities.  The high costs of infrastructure investment are hindering societal progress and entrenching regional inequality.

In the EU, targets like the ‘5G Action Plan for Europe’ aim to provide high-speed connectivity for all by the end of this decade. While capital cities and the largest urban centres are moving forward on this 5G roll out, the next tier of urban and industrial centres, as well as rural areas, are lagging.

Uneven distribution of network infrastructure will inhibit societal progress by: slowing the development and deployment of next-generation education, healthcare and public service provision until critical mass is achieved; and exacerbating inequality as access to these services will be biased towards the privileged few.

A potential route to accelerating 5G rollout would be through private investment in local networks. This is a highly ambitious goal, though critical if we are to realise the full potential of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and bridge the emerging connectivity gap. To build the investment case would require a level of engagement, trust, and collaboration with institutions and community stakeholders that goes far beyond business as usual.

But the potential rewards are significant. Imagine a truly transformational use case where a collective of leading businesses and large local employers co-invest in bringing a shared 5G network to an under-served population (for example, a mid-tier industrial city in Europe). As a result of this connectivity, the businesses are able to implement new data and communications systems, so they grow and prosper. Meanwhile the community prospers through better access to relevant education, quality employment, enhanced healthcare services and stimulus to the local economy. Both human and commercial benefits are realised, and the long-term returns, tangible and intangible, easily justify the upfront investment.

The challenge: How could private investment in 5G infrastructure, and access to 4IR technologies, bridge the ‘connectivity divide’ and stimulate regional growth?