When Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the moon in 1969, the winner of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union was determined. Fast-forward 50 years and there’s another global tech showdown afoot: the race for 5G. And this time, China is poised to be the first to take that one small step.
Building a faster mobile network might not seem as ground-breaking as putting a man on the moon. But 5G isn’t just zippier download speeds for the latest Marvel movie. 5G can be a multi-industry game changer with the potential to supercharge a nation’s economy.
By using more of the radio spectrum, 5G allows far more devices to access the mobile internet at the same time. With the 5G-enabled IoT (Internet of Things), infrastructure can be run much more efficiently – whether that means coordinating the emergency services in the event of natural disasters, or just unblocking a drain.
China’s 5G rollout is well underway. According to estimates by Huawei, the world leader in 5G wireless technology, China will have 400,000 5G base stations installed by this year across 300 cities. It aims to reach a 75 per cent penetration rate – or more than 1 billion 5G mobile phone users – by 2024.
But it’s not just about having the best coverage and fastest speeds. It’s what you do with 5G that counts. Last year, a patient with Parkinson’s disease underwent brain surgery in Beijing. The doctors performing the operation were in Sanya, some 3,000 kilometres away. It was the world’s first 5G-powered remote surgical procedure, the speed and low latency of the connection allowing for extreme precision.
In other hands, 5G can help smash through rocks. Chinese mining companies in Shandong province have installed subterranean 5G base stations that allow for unmanned mining operations. In an industry marred by accidents worldwide, it’s a significant breakthrough.
Global adoption of 5G is lagging, partly due to privacy concerns about the Chinese origins of much of the tech. But as more nations join the race for 5G supremacy, it’s us – the users – who stand to benefit.