October 26, 2023 | Updated: October 25, 2023
With its low latency and ultra-fast speeds, 5G technology has long been touted as a great leap forward in mobile communications.
But the rollout of 5G in many geographies is still in progress and hasn’t kept pace with expectations. About 43% of Americans had 5G subscriptions in 2023. In China, that number stood at about 59%. But consumers usually fail to notice a difference between their 5G and 4G speeds, and businesses haven’t invested in 5G services that telecom companies had envisioned. What’s more, many places simply don’t have the fiber optic infrastructure to support 5G.
“Unfortunately, the infrastructure for 5G is not as comprehensive as expected,” said IEEE Senior Member Paulo Eigi Miyagi, “so only some activities will be able to explore this technology.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom on the 5G front. Though many developing countries continue to invest in 4G technology because it is less expensive, at least 26 new 5G networks have launched in 2023 and nearly half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa.
5G is a key enabling technology that unlocks improvements in automation, IoT and critical data exchange, fundamentally reshaping how industries operate by enabling smarter, more efficient processes.In other words, the power of 5G may not lie in your smartphone, but in things like machine-to-machine communications.
“Digital transformation keeps demanding better communications,” said IEEE Senior Member Yu Yuan.
Where will 5G Have the Biggest Impact in 2024?
In “The Impact of Technology in 2024 and Beyond: an IEEE Global Study,” a survey of global technology leaders, respondents were asked which areas 5G technology would benefit most in the coming year. Here are some of their responses.
- 54% —Telemedicine, including remote surgery, health record transmissions
5G is a sought-after technology in telemedicine because it has two properties that support remote surgery. The first is low latency, which shortens the communication time between a surgeon in one part of the world, and a patient in another. The second capability is network slicing, which allows network operators to customize networks for a single purpose or user, reducing the potential for interference and lag.
- 46% — Remote learning and education
Remote education is a big benefit of 5G technology. But as the world moves past the pandemic, the degree to which respondents think it would benefits decreased from 56% in last year’s survey.
- 46% — Personal and professional day-to-day communications
Despite years of availability, substantial numbers of smartphone uses don’t have 5G subscriptions. There is lots of room to grow. .
- 43% — Entertainment, sports and live event streaming
Large crowds can stress 4G cellular networks because many people start taking selfies and filming the action. 5G is better at handling large amounts of data, making for better fan experiences.
- 39% — Transportation and traffic control
One application of 5G technology is improved traffic management, helping drivers find routes with the least amount of traffic. 5G could also support pedestrian safety, or improved logistics for shipping companies.
- 30% — Carbon footprint reduction and energy efficiency
5G’s impact on carbon efficiency includes its ability to improve data transmission efficiency and enable smarter energy use across various sectors, from optimizing logistics for reduced fuel consumption to facilitating real-time monitoring of emissions. With sustainability continuing to be a global priority, it’s not surprising the percentage of respondents choosing this category increased in 2024, from 23% in 2023.
Learn more: Want to know why the 5G speeds on your phone aren’t as blazing fast as you’d hoped? IEEE Spectrum has you covered.