Mapping out a new world of opportunity in our “Industry Talks” panel on the impact of 5G

Jass Sarai Leader of Industry for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, PwC United Kingdom February 2020

We’ve all heard how 5G – the latest generation of wireless communications technology – will revolutionise our daily lives. But what difference will it make for your business? And what use cases will it unlock to maximise the resulting value? To answer these questions and more, we dedicated the latest in our recent “Industry Talks”, a series of cross-industry discussions, to the impact of 5G. 

The fast-paced session, hosted at our More London offices – attracted an excellent turnout of senior executives from a wide range of industries. They were there to participate in a discussion among a panel of 5G experts and visionaries, each with their own unique perspective on this ground-breaking technology. I had the privilege of chairing the discussion with our panellists,

  • Gerry McQuade – CEO, BT Enterprise
  • Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE – Member of the House of Lords & Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, and former CEO of Mitie
  • Robert Franks – MD, West Midlands 5G
  • Adrianna Mangion – Senior Sector Director, Telco & Media, Microsoft
  • Rolf Meakin – Global Telecommunications Consulting Leader, PwC
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Starting off, the panellists began by highlighting the technical attributes that make 5G such a break with the past, including its superfast speeds – 100 times faster than 4G – as well as its very low latency and vastly increased capacity. While accepting that technical performance alone doesn’t add up to a robust business case for investment in 5G, they went on to describe how it will transform a vast swathe of industries – with the impacts amplified by combining 5G with artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality (MR), robots and drones to drive the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), the next wave of technology-driven change.

Next we discussed the practicalities of making this happen, looking at whether we have the right equipment in the right places and what investment will be required. One of the panellists commented that there are three key barriers in these areas: first, creating the business models to ensure an adequate return; second, planning and regulation issues; and third, installing fibre-to-the-premises to provide the backhaul that 5G needs. Others added that a lot has yet to be decided around issues like who's going to pay for the investment and how long it is before it’s recognised. They also stressed that infrastructure companies face a chicken-and-egg situation, needing to invest ahead of demand without a clear visibility of what that demand will be.

From there, we zeroed in on the new use cases that 5G will enable. Here the panellists emphasised that these won’t be opened up by 5G alone, but through combining it with other technologies ranging from intelligent cloud to automation. The result will be a vast array of exciting use cases in sectors like manufacturing, transport, healthcare and gaming, to name just a few. And the benefits will go beyond speed and efficiency: one panel member described how connecting up an airport and its entire supply chain with 5G will help usher in lower-carbon operations.

Broadening the focus, we then tackled the wider social impacts of 5G. One speaker highlighted the “fantastic” opportunities for everyone in society to travel seamlessly and see taxpayers' money being used more efficiently. Others pointed out that 5G will help to expand existing efforts focused on issues like climate change and biodiversity. Hopes were also expressed that 5G can help to bridge the “digital divide” between the UK’s big cities and rural areas, and increase access to NHS care in people’s homes.

Related societal issues include the need for new skills to realise the full potential of 5G, and whether the education system is keeping pace. Here the message was mixed: the panellists stressed that more upskilling and reskilling is needed – but were also gratified that younger people in particular are extremely keen to learn the skills needed to succeed in a 5G world. The consensus was that upskilling will require sustained effort, investment and collaboration from all parties across the public and private sectors. And they noted positively that this is now gearing up – with one member commenting that we need to start reskilling now for jobs we can’t even name today, but which will exist in five years’ time.

Finally, I asked the panellists what excites them most about 5G. Their answers ranged from making a difference to people’s lives, to collaborating with the market to bring use cases to scale, to transforming UK infrastructure projects while furthering the move towards a low-carbon economy. These visions of 5G’s future teed up a closing Q&A session with the audience, whose questions focused on issues like how firms will collaborate with universities to help drive innovation; how 5G and fixed fibre will coexist and interact; and how the risks around 5G cybersecurity will be addressed.

With that, the session broke up for networking, with plenty to mull over and discuss. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our panellists who gave us their time and insights, and the audience who made the event so lively and interactive. If we’ve whetted your appetite, and you’d like to know more about how 5G will affect or even reshape your business, please feel free to contact me, or visit www.pwc.co.uk/5G.

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Jass Sarai

Leader of Industry for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7753 928448

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