SAN FRANCISCO – The next generation of wireless technology could bring many new benefits, but they won’t be coming to everyone
When it comes to 5G, the possibilities are the stuff science fiction dreams are made of. We picture our lives inside our seamlessly connected smart homes, with autonomous cars to take us to work and the speediest, most reliable internet connectivity ensuring that our streaming video never buffers.
That’s great for people living in societies that will have access to 5G technologies, but what about those that don’t?
For all the hype and potential benefits that stem from 5G, there are few parts of the world that will actually see deployments in the next few years. Other countries are still moving to 4G, or even struggling to offer any level of internet connectivity. The Alliance for Affordable Internet’s (A4AI) 2017 affordability report found that only 19 countries can say they have affordable internet.
Overall, the digital divide between rich and poor was found only to be widening. A new set of advantages for the connected only look set to leave the unconnected even further behind.
“5G has great potential,” Sonia Jorge, executive director of A4AI, said in an interview earlier this month. “It is fantastic. But in the markets where we work, it’s a very small opportunity still.”
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If the discussions taking place at the Mobile World Congress trade show in February were any indication, the focus was wasn’t on the unconnected but rather on bringing better and more sophisticated services and products to those already connected. After all, a lot of the buzz focused on operators like T-Mobile and Sprint in the US bringing 5G to multiple cities as soon as this year.
There was less attention paid to connecting people everywhere else.
Affordable internet needs affordable devices 5G networks will enable phone manufacturers to make connected devices smarter and more capable than ever. But the lack of connectivity isn’t the only thing preventing people from owning such a device.
Many people around the world remain priced out of owning a smartphone, and network speeds won’t magically lower the price tag. “5G comes with a need for very smart devices and smart phones which are not exactly at the price point yet where people who are poor can afford and that’s the economic reality,” Jorge said.