This post was written by undergraduate ScIU Social Media Intern Sam Bolla. He was a Media Science major in The Media School’s Class of 2020!
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology for digital cellular networks. This improved technology is said to fuel the future of innovation in our world. It can transform the way we live, work, and entertain, not only by allowing us to connect with our friends faster, but also by giving us the ability to interconnect with machines, objects, and devices. The new connection offers upload and download speeds 10 times faster than 4G, allowing more devices to access the internet and more information to be transferred.
5G technology is in its beginning stages and currently raises more questions than answers. While the service will heighten our access to information and connectability, it will raise a variety of other issues that impact our society. Data privacy, health, the economy, and infrastructure are all variables that play a role in the future of 5G. It will be a slowly-adopted process that can only be evaluated when problems emerge from it.
A serious privacy concern is the ability to exactly pinpoint your geographic location and track your movements in real time. While it is said that 5G encrypts data to make it more difficult to intercept, it also sends and receives more data than previous networks. Because 5G is more cloud- and software-based than previous networks, it’s easier to monitor. This makes your data much more difficult to access by hackers and scammers, but much easier to monitor for telecom companies. The presence of 5G may cause an increase in connected devices, ultimately forcing one to give up their privacy and adopt the technology. Would you feel comfortable knowing every piece of technology you use is sending personal information back to someone? Every device that is designed to connect to the internet must also be designed to protect information.
Because 5G would give multiple information systems the ability to communicate simultaneously, it opens doors across many industries, such as healthcare. Medical devices will be able to send real-time information to healthcare professionals, meaning quicker diagnosis and treatment for those in need. Large X-Ray and CT scan files can be downloaded in just a few minutes, shortening long visits to the hospital. According to Forbes, 5G could also aid in the improvement of self-driving vehicles. Autonomous cars will be able to communicate with each other and traffic management systems.
5G was made available in major cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles because their dense populations make it difficult to access the mobile internet. 5G allows city employees to keep track of maintenance and infrastructure more efficiently. Another problem with 5G is that it cannot travel very far, so towers must be installed close together. Some towers are as close as five hundred feet apart. You could imagine how this might be a problem in cities. Cities often disguise them as trees. Fear that they spread Coronavirus and harmful radiation have also impacted their presence. Some have taken to protesting over the towers, even going so far as to lighting them on fire, although this is rare. The infrastructure is going to be expensive to maintain; however, telecom companies forecast that the technology will bring in two hundred fifty billion dollars in annual revenue by 2025. Unfortunately, low population density and lack of infrastructure make it nearly impossible to install 5G in rural areas.
This means that 5G could potentially heighten the digital divide, which is already very prevalent in low-income areas of cities and rural areas around the United States. For example, studies show that as much as forty percent of Detroit, Michigan residents do not even have access to broadband internet. Every major city has a similar situation. According to the FCC, sixty-five percent of rural Americans and nearly sixty percent of those on tribal lands have access to high-speed internet. Rural areas won’t be eligible for this service unless their populations grow, which will inevitably drive the price of the service down and availability up. If the implementation of 5G will result in leaving out rural and low-income areas, this begs the question of “should we?” Lack of access to the internet would impact access to information and connectability, leaving already isolated communities to be further isolated, but putting every effort into including these areas in this technological advancement could have significant economic impacts.
Redlining, or excluding low-income or minority communities of service, is an even greater risk of 5G, especially because it’s legal. For example, AT&T has been accused of redlining Detroit and Dallas by the FCC. This is truly an issue, because it puts a discriminatory gap between low-income communities and access to information. While companies base their decisions on cost and demand forecast modeling, I think this one should be based more on social repercussions. Is it ethical that telecom giants, advertisers, and third parties can access more information from some, but cut off information from those they deem unprofitable?