5G will create a faster world. But will it be a better one? It’s up to public sector leaders to seize its transformational potential.

What will it be like to live in a 5G world? It will certainly be faster. Downloading a two-hour film, for example, will take just 3.6 seconds. Virtual and augmented reality will be able to create a virtual overlay on to the physical world that entertains and informs in completely new ways. The world will be more responsive, with devices able to respond to commands in to all intents and purposes real-time. And it will be immersive as anything that can be connected, will be. In short, it’s a fundamental transformation of the role that technology can play in society.

The question is who will gain the most from this seismic change? Previous iterations of mobile connectivity, from 3G to 4G for example, have largely been seized by telcos to provide new and better services to their customers. Others, like Uber or Spotify, have built their business models around near-ubiquitous mobile connectivity. But 5G will be very different. There’s huge potential for the public sector generally, and cities in particular, to play an earlier and prominent role in shaping the innovation agenda and harnessing 5G as an enabler to deliver real change and economic growth to citizens. Accenture research has found that in the US alone, the potential economic impact of 5G is estimated to see the creation of three million new jobs and a $500 billion boost to GDP.  It’s an opportunity that’s too good to miss. Others around the world, like Tokyo and South Korea, are already pioneering and seeing the benefits. So what do other cities and governments need to do to make sure they reap the benefits?

Ecosystem collaboration

Collaboration is going to be essential. Governments are already making investments in infrastructure. In the UK, the government is funding six UK cities as testbeds for 5G. These are creating new possibilities in areas such as social care and public safety. In Liverpool, for example, a 5G network is providing telecare services to adults who would otherwise have no access to broadband. Public safety is another clear use case, with the ability to create, for example, much faster and better informed first-responder capabilities. Others, like Berlin, are seeking to play a key convening role in the development of autonomous vehicles. But the real potential will be unlocked by public and private sector, supported by academics and non-profit, coming together to identify and develop the imaginative use cases that transform citizen service delivery and unlock economic productivity. That collaboration is going to be vital to help business and government leaders to see the potential. Our research reveals that 72% of executives say they need help to imagine the future use cases and possibilities of 5G.

Shaping the right frameworks

The nature of 5G infrastructure means city authorities have a fundamental role to play in the build out of networks. 5G requires dense networks of small-cells that are embedded in the urban fabric. That’s going to require a fresh look at the city landscape. One project that’s doing just that is examining how the ‘humble lamppost’ could be turned into an essential part of the city’s smart and connected streetscape.

Planning and policies will need to develop to make sure that the required density is achieved. It’s going to require significant capital expenditure and operating costs, so bold and imaginative thinking will have to support the right commercial models and incentives to create broad benefits for the public and private sectors.

In my next blog, I’m going to give more of a flavour of how I see 5G’s impact in the public sector and the transformational results it could achieve. What most excites you about the 5G future?  I’d love to hear from you.


Jen Hawes-Hewitt

Managing Director – Consulting, Global Cities & Infrastructure Lead

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