Digitalised economies deliver increases in productivity, efficiency and global scale that have far reaching effects for society, employment and GDP. Indeed, adoption of digital technologies is now the single most significant factor affecting economic growth and global competitiveness. Consequently, countries that embrace digitalisation will achieve significant advantages over those that don’t. Companies too must embrace the digital and mobile revolution or face being left behind by faster, more agile competitors. Research by BCG/GSMA shows that leaders in mobile adoption outpaced revenue growth by a factor of two and added jobs eight times more quickly than those who were slow to adapt. This is a situation that cannot be sustained for long and will ultimately see companies that fail to adapt go to the wall.

The GSMA identified five essential elements for digitalising an economy as shown in the graphic below. Of these, infrastructure is without doubt the key enabler, without it, delivery of the rest is limited. Building ubiquitous infrastructure is therefore paramount. The rapid growth of smart technologies require that this future infrastructure has mobile at its core and this is what 5G must deliver.

Source: BCG/GSMA Association, 2017

The Growth in Mobile

The growth in Smart Devices will be rapid in the coming years; Cisco/VNI Mobile predicts that of the 12 billion connections in 2021, 75% will be Smart Devices. This leap in Smart Devices will lead to an explosion in data consumption. Cisco/VNI Mobile estimates a CAGR of 47% in the same time frame and a staggering 49 Exabytes per month of data usage. That’s a billion Giga bytes! Per month! As well as Smart Devices, new applications are emerging and growing rapidly. Cisco/VNI Mobile estimates the CAGR of 34% for Machine Type Communication (MTC) or IoT by 2021 and a colossal 50 billion connected devices.

In light of this what will future mobile infrastructure need to look like? It will be like electricity, it’s just there, providing connectivity anytime, anywhere, to anyone or anything. Like electricity too, it will provide the perception of infinite capacity. When an appliance is plugged in the wall no one stops to consider if there is sufficient power, in effect, it’s assumed to be infinite even though it is not. This is the way to think about future mobile connectivity too. Whether the connection is 3G, 4G or even 5G is irrelevant; that it delivers the required performance is all that matters.

A New World of Mobile Applications

This anytime, anywhere connectivity opens up a new world of application areas. Where 4G was primarily aimed at mobile broadband or MBB, future infrastructure must target many types different types of devices, with many different and conflicting requirements. 5G then has to support a diverse set of devices, from the very smallest to the most powerful and at extremes of performance in data rate, power and cost.

5G will continue to deliver and enhance (eMBB) on what 4G can do, delivering the Gbit performance, at scale, that video streaming and virtual/augmented reality need. But, it also opens up new possibilities for Massive IoT or mMTC and Ultra Reliable, Low Latency Communication (URLLC). 5G must be all of these. An Intelligent Orchestration Platform, the network of networks, one network to rule them all.

5G is one the biggest disruptions we will ever see so it’s critical to act now. If we don’t position our digital economy to exploit the opportunities 5G presents we risk losing out to countries and competitors who do.