I watched a very interesting documentary from Panorama the other day, called ‘Can we trust Huawei?’, which explored 5G and the Chinese tech-giant Huawei. Our government are currently in talks with Huawei and will soon decide if the company will be allowed to build our next generation mobile network that will transform the way we live.

So what is 5G and what does it mean to us?

5G is the next generation of mobile technology. It is envisaged to bring a ‘Network Society’ which will provide an unlimited access to data and information at anytime, anywhere by anyone and anything. 5G is expected not only to interconnect people but to also interconnect and control machines and devices too, and in this way will take on a much larger role than previous generations of mobile technology.

5G is different to previous generations in the following ways . . .

  • 1G – was about the analogue phone which allowed us to make calls to one another.
  • 2G – allowed us to send sms messages and use voice recording.
  • 3G – the promise of a smartphone, allowed us to access video broadband services.
  • 4G – (since 2009) allowed us to do all of the first 3 things but much faster.
  • 5G – will not just change how we use our mobiles but how we connect our devices to the internet. The improved capacity and speed of the network will signal ‘Internet of Things’ (loT) trends, such as connected cars, smart cities and loT in the home and office.

In the Panorama documentary, Dr Stephanie Hare, Technology Consultant, describes 5G as ‘like going from Earth to Mars, it’s not a faster world, it’s a different world. It is going to be a world where we are connected, machines will be talking to each other and talking to you’.

At the moment we instruct and control our machines and devices, however 5G will mean the way we communicate with machines and how they communicate with us and each other will completely change. ‘We will be able to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human to computer interaction’ (https://internetofthingsagenda.techtarget.com/definition/Internet-of-Things-IoT) – everything will have a unique identifier (UIDs)

How will this affect us in our everyday lives?

To achieve 5G, the idea is that more and more antennas will be attached to lamp posts, buildings and pretty much everywhere you can think of. This will help us and machines/devices to talk to each other and make our lives easier then we probably can’t quite imagine yet.

One of the examples in the documentary mentioned that your fridge would be able to tell you when you run out of groceries and then it could re-order them for you via a self-driving truck! It sounds good to me, as a busy working mum of two I’m always looking for easier, more convenient ways to do things around the house so 5G surely will make everyday chores a thing of the past, right? Or should we be concerned? Does this mean judgement day is upon us and machines will take over the world?

Moral panic and Huawei

Huawei claim to be 18 months ahead technologically of any other 5G manufacturer. Whoever supplies 5G to the UK will be everywhere, so is this a cause for concern especially if we do choose Huawei who are hugely controversial? The US calls Huawei the enemy and claim that China will use 5G for cyber spying and want the UK to ban using the company.

The other concern is when it comes to warfare, future warfare will more than likely be cyber, unlike traditional warfare when we think of armies in the past. With the idea of 5G highly embedded in our infrastructures, the fear is that the whole country’s systems could be taken down at one flick of the switch leading to a cyber attack.

Therefore should we embrace 5G or fear it?

To summarise, as with all new technologies there are fears, fears of the unknown and how life will be changed from what we are used to, to something we can’t quite understand or imagine yet. However, technology also brings development and opportunity, ways to better society and our everyday lives. All technologies bring with them their own risk and these will need to be managed, however the use of 5G could also lead to an exciting transformation of the world that we are all used to. I’m interested to see the role it will play within HE – how do you think 5G will have an impact on education?

If you missed the documentary  ‘Can we trust Huawei?’ – I would recommend catching up with it on BBC iPlayer.

Image credits: https://pixabay.com/images/id-3443540/