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If we are living in a digital world where software is, in fact, “eating the world,” the future will depend on fast and affordable internet access for all.
In short, the future will be profoundly shaped by 5G—the fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity, enabling greater internet coverage, faster download speeds, and more stable connections. 5G holds the potential of delivering data as much as 100 times faster, underscoring the urgency for expansion of 5G infrastructure around the globe.
But 5G is about much more than simply streaming entertainment on Netflix and viral videos on YouTube at faster rates. After all, the 4G era brought forth revolutions most of us could have never anticipated, from widespread ride-sharing to easy access to mobile payments.
Will Townsend, a senior analyst at Moors Insights and Strategy who closely tracks developments in 5G, spoke on PMI’s podcast Projectified about some of the opportunities, which he described as enhancing everything from remote surgeries to autonomous vehicle operation. Townsend praised 5G as facilitating near real-time high-definition video without a single buffer, removing the risk of disruptions during, say, a high-stakes remote medical surgery.
Indeed, 5G is a game-changing key to unlocking countless other technologies, from artificial intelligence to the internet of things—disrupting virtually every industry you can think of, from insurance to fishing, from farming to the airline industry. On the global level, 5G holds the potential for dramatically boosting global interconnectivity and opening new doors of opportunity to project talent around the world.
Just consider how the events of 2020 have underscored the need for reliable connectivity, particularly for young people enrolled in distance learning around the globe. Many increasingly argue that the internet should be viewed as a utility as indispensable as water or heating—and 5G can help modernize it for today’s hyper-connected world of work.
A Quantum Leap in 5G Across China
In China, we don’t simply have a front-row seat to the future of this technology; we are actively shaping it.
China has heavily invested in its technological and innovation capacity over the past five years, demonstrated most aptly in its leadership position in 5G expansion with the ultimate goal of coverage of virtually the entire country.
- Huawei—a member of PMI’s Global Executive Council—has helped lead the charge for 5G across China, delivering the country’s first 5G wireless network. This undertaking was a massive project in itself, covering more than 50 cities as it went live in October 2019.
- Major operators like Huawei and others have now set their aims higher, with a goal of putting 800,000 5G base stations in place by the end of the year—and ultimately reaching an estimated 460 million users over the next five years.
- As PMI’s publication PM Network highlighted in depth, the 5G revolution is broadly seen by policy makers in China as an essential means of boosting the economy; China built 10 times the amount of cell sites for cellular mobile construction compared to the United States in the years from 2015 to 2018.
The Opportunity for Project Professionals
5G will connect everything and everyone around the world. Project professionals are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this moment. Two ways in particular stand at the forefront:
Tackling the ultimate mega-project: laying out the physical infrastructure for 5G
Successful implementation of large-scale 5G expansion is a massive undertaking.
The complexity and sheer scale of connecting the world to the next generation of connectivity technology requires leaders capable of cutting through ambiguity and breaking daunting timelines down to manageable chunks—i.e. project professionals.
Helping organizations to digitize and re-imagine what they offer
Smartphones have emerged as the top devices for internet access in many countries of the world. Notably, more than 1.3 billion people in China access the web through their mobile devices. Expanded smartphone usage has profoundly changed daily life across China; for just one example, consider how online banking has eliminated the need for those in rural communities to travel to distant population centers for routine banking needs.
Just imagine how 5G can enable greater value in sectors like healthcare, allowing for the expansion of virtual health services to meet needs in our underserved and distant rural areas. We can envision a future in which members of these communities can readily access options for consulting with a doctor remotely, or receiving needed medical items via drone technology.
Or imagine how 5G expansion can allow professionals to continue working and having simultaneous ultra-definition video conferences while traveling on China’s network of high-speed trains. Imagine how 5G networks can empower smart train control systems—by reducing the data transmission delay between trains and providing a much-needed and safe increase in line capacity at peak times on the busiest routes.
Reality Makers Ready for 5G
Look far into the horizon, with so many innovative initiatives using 5G technology, executives will increasingly rely on project professionals to turn ideas into reality. To qualify for future opportunities and challenges, project professionals should hone their skills to stay at the top of the game:
- Core ability, effective project management: We view the mature project skills as the core ability to cut money waste and improve efficiency. How much value 5G will bring to people depends on the imagination and execution of the people driving the use of 5G.
- Make agility part of your toolkits and beyond: Remaining fast and flexible is one of the “survival rules” in The Project Economy. Project professionals should consider adding new agile capabilities to their toolkit, enabling them to effectively lead teams through change and evolving market expectations.
- Always put the customer first: From start to finish, treat 5G as a tool to change the world and serve people; always put user needs in mind and create a “customer first” culture.
The future is unpredictable, but only limited by the bounds of our imaginations.
The rapid data speeds enabled by 5G will be instrumental to tomorrow’s businesses—but only if organizations truly tap into their full potential. Every organization will need to re-think its approach for a digital first world—and make sure that when connecting to the newly supercharged internet, it's offering the greatest possible value.