With all the global hype around 5G we can sometimes forget that this is actually a technology still very much in its embryonic stage of deployment – even the most advanced 5G networks are little more than a year old.
Despite that being the case 5G technology has played a crucial role in helping to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in China – so, if 5G can help us counter a problem like CONVID-19 just one year after launching then imagine how it can help us when it has fully matured?
As we know, COVID-19 has caused huge problems for countries all around the world, although China was the first country impacted but negative effects of COVID-19 are now global, catching most countries unprepared and forcing them to scramble for solutions
This is first true global pandemic for many decades – there is no established response for countries to follow but, to put this into better perspective, this is also really the first global pandemic of the ‘technological’ age – so how can technology – especially 5G technology – actually help fight COVID-19?
From what we have seen so far the most effective method is for containing the virus is this: Tracing – Test – Diagnosis – Treatment.
The question then is how do we use technology to follow this path? By using technology appropriately we can reduce the impact of dealing with COVID-19 on people’s lives and we can also improve how efficiently we deal with the crisis and also lower the spread of the infection.
So, how can technology help? Well, as we should all be aware, even in normal times specialist medical staff are scarce – and in a crisis like COVID-19 they become even scarcer but technology can help us maximize their availability and keep them safe.
By using 5G-powered video conferencing we can allow specialist medical staff to not only conduct patient consultations – even remotely operating equipment – but we can also allow them to review CT-Scan results in real time and, when necessary to hold consultation and collaboration sessions with their colleagues both in their own country and around the world.
Most importantly of all, remembering we have seen hundreds of medical staff die after being infected with COVID-19, using tools like remote consultations and collaboration we can keep our medical staff stay safe during crises like COVID-19.
Of course every hospital and medical facility will need staff on the ground – but how do you minimize the risks to them?
Well, in China in some hospitals robots were used inside hospitals to take temperatures of patients, serve meals and even distribute medicine, thereby minimizing contact between staff and infected patients.
Once deployed these robots can also move independently within complex hospital environment and, more importantly given the complex tasks they are undertaking, multiple robots can self-communicate and collaborate.
Technology was also used outside the hospitals too with autonomous vehicles used to disinfect residential areas to prevent spread of the virus and were also used to distribute medical supplies to citizens – again all helping to reduce person-to-person contact and lowering the infection rate.
Now, the reality of the situation is that 5G is the fundamental infrastructure that underpins all of these technological breakthroughs that helped combat COVID-19 in China – principally because of the low latency and reliable ultra-fast download/upload speeds on 5G that are available.
These 5G applications are based on using AI and are delivered via Cloud-based servers and these new devices such as service robots are a key part of the 5G-era technology solutions.
As we have seen at various points of history, these kinds of economic crises as we are currently going through actually present opportunities to build for the future – and the same could be the case here.
After the tech bubble in the early 2000s the US underwent a substantial broadband upgrade which, in turn, helped to create the perfect conditions for companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google to emerge.
Similarly in China following the 2008 economic crash we saw the Chinese government encourage the deployment of huge amounts of 4G mobile broadband infrastructure – even at a time when there was not real business case for 4G.
However, that huge amount of 4G capability paid off because it helped build the right conditions for companies like Tencent and Alibaba to prosper – and the same opportunity exists now for countries to build next-generation 5G infrastructure that delivers the applications of tomorrow.
Indeed, China has already set out its post-COVID-19 plans to help spur economic recovery and investment will be targeted in the following 7 sectors: 5G network deployment, Artificial Intelligence development, Data center construction, Industrial Internet, Inter and inner-City rail systems, New energy charging station for electric vehicles and High-Voltage electricity grids.
Most of these investment areas will now help underpin the successful adoption of 5G and its allied technologies and focusing on these areas will help China spur economic and social development – especially in less developed economic areas.
So, the faster the countries can build out 5G, the sooner they will gain the benefits of the technology and the reality is that countries that don’t build 5G quickly will be the last ones to benefit from 5G’s associated technologies because without the 5G network being in place you cannot build the 5G eco-system that delivers the benefits.
Hudson Liu is CEO of Huawei Australia