The hoopla about 5G

Photo by KEHN HERMANO on

Who’s interested in “faster” Internet? Something that’s better than the current speeds. How will that change your life? What are the issues underpinning it? What is the “killer-application”? What all is required to run it?

These are difficult questions to answer – either you’d come across obscure engineering documents that make little sense to a lay reader, or have to rely on “paid-promotion” in newspapers. I’ll be linking to Financial Times in a series of 5 posts on 5G and cover (partially) to understand the issues behind standards, geopolitics around manufacturing equipment, and some use case scenarios. The costs can be prohibitive, and we need to understand that they will be passed on to the consumer in some way. Of course, I won’t be getting into the details of base stations and frequency to run them. Yet, 5G will eventually have a profound impact on healthcare delivery.

I am also curious to learn about AI algorithms and Telemedicine. Infrastructure is boring, and there are numerous impediments. For example, a major cost centre for network upgradation, barring equipment, is road-digging and getting the right of way. Unless that is addressed through progressive legislation (and declaring Telecom necessary infrastructure), we are likely to witness major issues around network delivery. Everyone understands that data collection will only increase and with that privacy risks. Data retention laws will increase costs of long-term storage, for example. It will spur demand for more “data-centres” and “disaster-recovery” platforms. However, the snake-oil around robotic surgery will increasingly become more creative.

Distance medicine is fine – there are several variations around SMS delivery, for example, that I have covered, and it is fun to witness teary eyed naive individuals launch SMS for communities. Yet, any behavioural change requires sustained focus from healthcare delivery personnel. They are not the “felt-need” for a community in distant “dark-Africa”. It’s a solution looking for problem. Instead, local practices need upgradation and clarity on preservation of indigenous medication, while providing a gradual framework to shift to “newer-delivery of allopathy”.

Likewise, drones with GIS overlay and delivery make for an interesting VC pitch, but we continue to ignore the issues around formalization of jobs for gig-workers. These technological issues bring forth unaddressed issues, and a different technology to address the void created by existing ones is not the solution.

Is 5G the panacea around 4G (and whether the generational shift has any meaning)? I don’t have ready answers for that, but we are in the midst of a chaotic transition for standards. End users will have to continuously “upgrade” themselves (and spend more on a shiny useless iPhone), which promises “super-powers”.

Stay tuned for more in the coming days. I have selected five out of 6- one of them was clearly a product pitch. I do apologize that the write ups are behind the paywall, but I’d be covering the gist anyway.

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