By Jay Ellison, executive vice president and chief operating officer for U.S. Cellular
As we approach the dawn of a new decade, it’s amazing to think about all of the technology innovations that have been created over the past 10 years. Back in 2010, the first Apple iPad was introduced, e-readers were just gaining popularity, everyone was checking in on foursquare and a lost iPhone 4 prototype was the talk of the tech world. By 2019, the tech buzz was around the Internet of Things (IoT), digital currency, augmented reality (AR) and the return of the flip phone in smart form.
But nothing has taken the wireless world by storm quite like the launch of 5G networks. Mainly because the time it took from concept to a consumer facing product was by far the fastest of any wireless technology. We know that reliable and fast wireless technology is imperative for consumers and businesses, so we are moving quickly to bring 5G technology to our customers – a technology that provides faster data speeds, a more responsive mobile experience and the ability to connect more devices to the network at the same time.
Last year at this time I cautioned that 5G networks won’t transform the way we use our devices overnight, and that is still true today. However, as the 5G ecosystem continues to be developed, there are three trends that I expect for 2020 that will continue throughout the next decade:
1. Cities Get Smarter
There are a lot of elements that fall under the umbrella of a “smart city,” but what we have learned from talking to various city leaders is that having a smart city means different things to different cities. And in 2020, wireless carriers and municipalities across the country will work together to find the best solutions to meet the unique needs of each area. Some cities are interested in utilizing 5G and IoT technology to improve transportation or congestion. Others want to track foot traffic in downtown areas to help lure businesses and create jobs. As cities large and small look to become “smart” in 2020 and in the future, I expect that collaborating with wireless carriers to find creative uses of existing infrastructure and alternative ways to fund additional build-outs will be at the top of their to-do lists.
2. 5G Use Cases Will Continue to Evolve
Determining the best ways to leverage 5G networks will continue to change and evolve throughout 2020 and beyond. Currently, for consumers the most logical and first-to-market use cases are bringing faster speeds to the smartphones in our pockets and offering high-speed, fixed wireless solutions in our homes. Beyond that, there are 5G capabilities that can bring more connectivity to rural areas, improve AR in gaming and enhance our virtual assistants. For businesses, evolving use cases include enhanced applications of IoT solutions, efficiencies for a mobile workforce, and the possibility for wireless carriers to provide large companies their own private network that they can self-manage. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and consumer and business reaction will guide where the innovation and investment is directed.
3. Security Will Be Paramount
Don’t get me wrong – security is extremely important now and has been forever. But 5G provides much more capacity and therefore many more devices can be connected to the network at once. At U.S. Cellular, we are laser focused on ensuring the security of our 5G network and our customers’ data, and we aren’t alone. I expect to see several new companies sprout up in the security space that will specialize in protecting 5G networks. Studies show that data security is a major concern among consumers and businesses, and the companies who take the necessary steps to ensure their networks are protected will be most successful.