How superfast internet will democratise computing and help close the digital divide

(Credit, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Cristiano Amon, President and CEO-Elect, Qualcomm


  • 5G will reliably connect everyone and everything to unlimited storage and processing power of the cloud, generating extraordinary efficiencies and unlocking innovation.
  • Superfast internet will generate trillions in economic sales and support tens of millions of jobs, but to realize this requires public and private sector collaboration to speed deployment.
  • Policymakers can help speed 5G deployment by incentivising broadband investment in underserved areas and create policies to encourage wireless innovation.

The pandemic has accelerated the breakneck speed at which digital technologies are already altering business, government, schools and lives. Seemingly overnight, we began working, going to school and seeing our healthcare providers remotely. However, this dramatic expansion of digitisation through connectivity and computing is not benefiting everyone at the same rate, nor to an equal degree.

The events of the last year demonstrated the importance of high-quality connectivity. It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity that will drive our economy forward. But for a true transformation, we need more robust policies and technology solutions that make connectivity available to everyone, at any time. This is what inspired the formation of the Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network (EDISON) Alliance. In 2021, the Alliance will focus on healthcare, education and financial services. Qualcomm is proud to engage with the Alliance as their designated 5G Champion.

Democratising access to the internet

4G cellular connectivity has been key to helping close the digital divide by democratising access to the internet. Today, 5.1 billion people – that’s three-quarters of the earth’s population – communicate and connect to the internet using mobile devices, and over half of these connections come from smartphones. However, while 76% of people in developed nations own smartphones, only 45% in emerging economies do, representing a striking digital divide.

Clearly, we’re not done. 4G and mobile devices will continue to be primary tools to bridge the gap, but 5G is revolutionising what a mobile device can do. Just as 4G allowed us to stream music on the go, 5G’s high throughput and low latency allows us to consume high-quality video from anywhere and connect with one another over video, an experience that has brought us together during the pandemic. But the benefits of 5G are even broader and more impactful than this. Unlike previous generations, 5G will connect everyone and everything to the cloud, reliably and securely. When things are always-connected, we gain access to the virtually unlimited storage and processing power of the cloud, generating extraordinary efficiencies and unlocking innovation.

Remote working opportunities

Consider the opportunities of remote work. The pandemic has proven that remote work can be effective for many people. All that is required is a laptop with a high-speed internet connection – and ideally a quiet space to work. With 5G, laptops become powerful enterprise-grade connected workstations, providing access to the vast data, computing power and AI resources of the cloud, securely, 100% of the time. When you consider that a recent Gartner survey of global business leaders showed that nearly half (47%) will allow their employees to work from home going forward, 5G will not only help entprises tap into talent, regardless of geography, but also allow people to access a broader array of job opportunities.

And office work is just the beginning. 5G will generate $13.1 trillion in economic sales enablement by 2035, supporting over 22.8 million jobs, according to data from IHS Markit.

5G can improve farming, transportation, manufacturing and more. In fact, a recent Accenture study, also commissioned by Qualcomm, finds that in the US and EU, 5G has the potential to raise productivity gains in manufacturing by 20-30% over the next five years. Similarly in agriculture, in the EU, the study finds that improved connectivity and digitisation can yield up to 25% increased productivity. There are possibilities we haven’t even imagined yet. But to realize them, we need public and private sector collaborations that can help speed the deployment of 5G.

South Korea is at the forefront of this trend, securing $25 billion in public and private funding to secure nationwide 5G adoption by 2022. The South Koeans see the new network as an innovation growth engine for the region in its ability to support connected smart factories, autonomous vehicles, smart cities and digital healthcare. They expect this growth engine to contribute $50 billion to GDP and 600,000 new jobs by 2026.

Education is taking the next step in South Korea’s digital transformation with 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) – an ultra-fast, high-frequency network technology that can deliver fibre-like speeds. 5G mmWave can already deliver speeds of 1 Gbps over a 7 km range and further, as well as reduce network deployment and maintenance costs by up to 34% compared to the sole use of traditional frequencies, according to GSMA Intelligence.

Qualcomm, LG Uplus and LG Electronics launched the country’s first deployment of 5G mmWave at the Kumoh National Institute of Technology (KIT). The 5G mmWave network will enable new, innovative services for KIT employees, professors and students, showcasing the technology’s ability to power a Smart Campus model that will augment education.

In the UK, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure has a £200 million trial scheme to explore innovative uses for 5G mmwave spectrum to revolutionise the agricultural sector. One project is 5GRuralDorset, aimed at understanding how next-generation connectivity can help people live better, safer and more prosperous lives in rural communities. The organization recently announced a relationship with Qualcomm to demonstrate how 5G mmWave can bring smart agriculture capabilities to remote farms.

Here in the US, the Federal Communications Commission recently launched the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will inject more than $9 billion over 10 years to expand high-speed wireless broadband coverage to address the digital divide. The final phase of this initiative will offer an additional $1 billion to support 5G networks that facilitate the new frontiers of 5G in farming, or precision agriculture, which will help allocate resources such as water and nutrients via the integration of smart cameras, machine learning and real-time data analytics. digital, COVID-19, EDISON Alliance

What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide. Nearly half of the world is still not online.

With more basic services moving online and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in wealthier nations, these deep digital gaps are exacerbating inequality and preventing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At The Davos Agenda, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-sector alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical sectors of the economy.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as the platform of platforms for partners with a common purpose for achieving the SDGs. Its vision is to ensure that every person can affordably participate in the digital economy.

Companies are invited to join the EDISON Alliance – read about how in our Impact Story.

Historic moment to address digital divide

Programmes like these are transformative. To encourage them, policymakers can do much to accelerate 5G deployment. They can make more spectrum available – including traditional and mmWave frequencies. They can also incentivise broadband investment in underserved areas, prioritise spectrum availability, support a resilient wireless technology supply chain and, critically, create policies that enourage wireless innovation.

The possibilities of technology can only be realized if it is widely available. Government leaders around the world face an historic moment. If they act with speed and resolve, they have an opportunity to deploy 5G rapidly, helping to lift their economies out of the downturn while shrinking the gap between those with unfettered access to information, and those left without. We share this vision and stand ready to assist in this important project.

Qualcomm is proud to play its part as the 5G Champion for the EDISON Alliance and work with governments and industries throughout the world to accelerate digital inclusion.

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