THE ECONOMIST: Not Just Another “G”


Not Just Another “G”

5G is coming, and it has the potential to change everything. The first wireless technologies allowed for basic communication, and 4G paved the way for the transmission of larger amounts of data, opening the door to everything from streaming video to improved navigation systems to basically constant internet access. With 5G, we are likely to see an even more dramatic shift, with much more capacity and quality allowing for communication across a new spectrum. Machines of all kinds, from cars to electronic devices and beyond, will be able to exchange information seamlessly. The implications are difficult to overstate.

To fully use 5G’s capabilities will involve invention and implementation of new devices (including cell phones), machines, and systems. At first, we will basically do what we’ve been doing, just faster and better. Over time, however, the innovations 5G enables will begin to be deployed much more extensively. In today’s world, of course, “over time” no longer means decades or, as once was the case, centuries or even millennia.

Many of the goods and services 5G allows haven’t been invented yet, but we can expect that there will be entertainment upgrades such as vastly improved virtual reality, augmented reality, and gaming. Conveniences will include the elimination of Wi-Fi networks in many circumstances and the potential for an array of services such as delivery drones. The Internet of Things, which includes connected devices of all kinds (from refrigerators to locks and toothbrushes to pet feeders) will expand exponentially with the faster and broader ability to communicate. Health care will change dramatically with sensors and smart devices which enable personalized and predictive care and much more.

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In addition to the economic benefits of a new wave of consumer items of many types, the economy will benefit from greater efficiency and productivity. Trillions in revenue and millions of jobs will be added in industries such as network operators, technology and component suppliers, device manufacturers, infrastructure providers, and content and application developers.

The United States has some catching up to do in capitalizing on the first massive wave of development that will come with deployment. Other countries, especially Japan and China, are investing far more in 5G at present. While 5G capabilities are being deployed by major service providers in some cities, we have only just begun. Although infrastructure investments of all kinds yield economic benefits, 5G is among the most important, and ensuring that coverage expands as far and as fast as possible is worthy of both public-sector and private-sector support. It won’t happen overnight, but 5G is likely to lead to some of the most dramatic and rapid changes in efficiency and capacity that the world has yet seen.


M. Ray Perryman is president and CEO of The Perryman Group ( He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.