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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2792

Brand New 5G World and the Potential for New Digital Divide

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

As the UK is getting ready to roll out 5th generation mobile networks, known simply as 5G, the countries, which already have rolled them out such as the US and South Korea, are slowly dealing with the inevitable challenges that pop up on the infrastructure front.

It’s a great leap forward since the first generation cellular networks, 1G, introduced in 1980s with analogue signals, while hopping past the pillars of 2G, 3G and 4G respectively.

With a speed, 10 to 100 times faster than the existing 4G networks, 5G has the potential to revolutionize our digital experiences – at least in theory.

5G enthusiasts, with a bit of maths, claim that the download time for a HD movie, that used to take a day on 3G, will be less than 40 seconds. In addition, 5G networks exponentially enhance the communication between smart devices as we embrace more and more of them on daily basis.

For instance, those who promote the phenomenon say that 5G will revolutionize the self-driving cars when they appear in a city near you.

We were promised similar things when 4G rolled out about eight years ago as well. The reality, however, is that there are areas with poor reception even in the suburbs of London and some major cities. It only gets worse in rural areas – and for obvious reasons.

In addition, there are significant challenges that cannot be drowned by the tide of hype of the 5G.

For instance, the signals of 5G networks are really fragile: they are short mm waves which can easily be stopped by buildings or by rain drops; in order to address the major issue, the mobile network operators have been forced to erect smaller masts – and lots of them - around buildings that could potentially damage the signals.

Unlike 4G masts that emit signals in all directions, 4G masts are in the process of sending out concentrated beams to your devices, a development, according to some, may lead to health hazards.

Even if you live in a region where 5G has been rolled out, the availability of the signal does not guarantee receiving it! You need a phone that is compatible with 5G. Our existing phones are not compatible with 5G and we have to wait until mobile manufactures release the phones with required structural changes, especially the built-in antennae.

Mobile phone manufactures such as Samsung and Huawei are already planning to release their 5G-compatible phones this year.

Unlike the launch of the previous generations of mobile networks, the birth of 5G mobile networks triggered off a political tsunami across the Western world. The US accused the Chinese mobile giant, Huawei, of causing a security headache for it – and its allies – due to the closeness of the latter to the Chinese government, something that the latter denies.

Since Huawei has been instrumental in promoting the 5G mobile networks in China and other major Western powers, the company stood out for all the wrong reasons when the row broke out.

Although Huawei made a hefty profit despite the negative PR, its ambition to be the top 5G game player in the world suffered a serious setback.

Despite the concerns, ranging from health to national security, 5G will eventually become the next evolutionary step in mobile networking; it will certainly make the communications among us – and devices that we use - faster too.

The emergence of political factor, however, has the potential to slow down the next evolutionary step, perhaps 6G, in future in a drastic way unless the ‘warring’ major players quickly find a level playing field, where they can keep mutual suspicions at bay.

- Asian Tribune -

Brand New 5G World and the Potential for New Digital Divide
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