How 5G Rollouts May Get Boost from COVID-19

virus outbreak shows need for 5G

The way we live — the very ways in which we work, and learn, and spend leisure time, and of course, shop — have shifted markedly over the last several weeks.

In the maelstrom of daily life grappling with COVID-19, the rollout of 5G, the fifth-generation network that features downloading speeds reportedly 100 times faster than that of 4G, may accelerate even as economic headwinds gather.

To get a sense of how sheltering in place and staying at home are impacting providers, and why more bandwidth is critical, Verizon estimated that there was a 75 percent increase in bandwidth demand from March 8 to 15.

Drilling down a bit, the company also said that virtual private network (VPN) usage was up by 34 percent and video bandwidth usage was up 12 percent. In more recent data, Verizon said that for the week that ended March 15, web traffic was up 22 percent, and voice usage, which has been in long decline, was up 25 percent, driven in part by a growth in conference calls.

The advent of 5G is supposed to usher in true device connectivity, and perhaps never have we seen a true need for connectivity as we do now. That’s because tens of millions of schoolchildren are using Zoom and other services to log into classes (an increasingly likely scenario for the remainder of the current year).  Families are using voice and apps to stay connected. And eCommerce, increasingly, is becoming the only way we can shop. Telemedicine is, of course, going to continue to take root as waiting rooms become ever-more crowded.

CNBC reports that 5G, in China, is helping underpin apps that can help monitor individuals temperatures.  Similar initiatives may be a boon across the globe in efforts to triage the pandemic. KRAsia reports that in  Singapore, a temperature-taking tool, underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI) — called iThermo — has utilized thermal and laser technology to take the temperature of people as they walk past the tool.

The more devices we wield, across a greater number of (sometimes simultaneous) use cases, the more urgent the need for greater bandwidth capacity. As Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission told CNBC about current capacity. “We’re going to have a big stress test on our networks,” she said. “There are a lot of potential points of stress.”  The FCC, of course, has been putting a number of tailwinds in place for 5G deployment. The FCC has said that it would pay satellite firms as much as $10 billion in incentives to offer up more wireless spectrum, to boost access in rural areas.

In a “National Security Strategy” paper that debuted in 2017, the current administration said that “Data, like energy, will shape U.S. economic prosperity and our future strategic position in the world. The ability to harness the power of data is fundamental to the continuing growth of America’s economy.” Key to getting data to those who need it, with speed and security, will be 5G, which the paper notes is needed to “improve America’s digital infrastructure.”  The pandemic may give rise to life connected by technology in ways we never imagined but will find necessary.