Impact on Societies & the Economy
The greater speed, coverage, and amount of information transmitted by 5G, and the stability it will provide, is expected to improve the population's relationship with the internet. In many cases, it will also contribute to reducing the 'digital divide' within society, although there are also dangers that certain inequalities will rise.
One of the stated goals of 5G is to provide universal access to the internet. A stable connection for millions of people who were previously without one could provide them with new ways to obtain the economic resources they need to improve their lives – such as access to e-commerce, where they can sell their products, or to job portals, where they can get a digital job. It would also reduce social inequalities through online access to democratic tools for participation, information and expression.
Developed versus developing countries
However, the deployment of this technology will not be the same for all countries, nor between regions in a particular country. 5G technology is being primarily developed in developed countries, and its deployment is likely to take place in these nations first, which could further contribute towards the ever-widening economic and digital divide between rich and poor countries. This inequality may also occur within national borders – with urban and industrial regions benefiting more than rural areas.
For 5G to be used as a tool for integration and equality, national governments and international organisations will have to promote policies for the equitable development of this technology, including funding for regions without the necessary resources to implement it.
Digital public services
On the other hand, 5G would further stimulate the development of e-Governments, that is, the use of technology to bring public services closer to citizens. This, along with the population's greater access to the internet, would increase citizen participation in political affairs and strengthen democratic mechanisms. e-Governments using 5G technology could also stimulate economic growth, enhance resource management, and promote greater social engagement.
5G and its associated technologies, such as IoT, will also improve the quality of life of citizens and their security. Smart cities will offer services that adapt in real-time to traffic conditions and optimise mobility. Smart homes will also automatically regulate optimal comfort conditions, while connected cars will automate many aspects of driving.
The job market will continue its digital transformation. Jobs that are easy to automate could diminish and be replaced by robots, while more technical profiles, specialised in high technology, will be needed. Countries that are unable to adapt their labour market and educate their workers in digital skills could experience a significant increase in their unemployment rate.
In the industrial sector, 5G networks will interconnect machines, robots, processes, self-guided vehicles, goods, and remote workers in real-time. This will allow better integration of production components, the realisation of more precise predictive analysis, and the automation of certain decisions – all aiming to improve the performance of industrial processes, reduce costs, and improve the safety of work environments.
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Rao and Prasad, 2018, Impact of 5G Technologies on Industry 4.0
Rao and Prasad, 2018, Impact of 5G Technologies on Smart City Implementation
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Nyamapfene, 2016, The Impending 5G Era and Its Likely Impact on Society
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United Nations Human Rights Council, 2011, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue