We’ve all heard about the exciting new services that 5G will bring, from connected vehicles to smart manufacturing. While some advanced industrial services will take five to ten years to emerge fully, 5G offers plenty of near-term value.

However, this is not well known. According to a recent survey by GSMA, consumers think 5G is just a faster version of 4G. In fact, only 25% of people understand the true value that 5G can bring. They're in for a pleasant surprise.

Better experience, lower cost

First, 5G will greatly enhance mobile user experience. It will enable new services such as cloud-based virtual reality (no more clunky headsets), cloud PC (it gives your phone the same processing capabilities as a laptop) and ultra-high definition video, wherever you go.

In November 2018, the UK’s largest operator BT/EE broadcast the Wembley Cup Final live in high definition over a commercial 5G network. Because 5G is so fast and experiences so little delay in signal transmission, BT was able to produce complex effects that made the game more interesting to viewers, but it could do all the production remotely, without having to drag heavy equipment to the game site.

Going beyond the TV screen, 5G-enabled virtual reality (VR) applications will also let sports fans watch games from the perspective of their favourite players - or that of the ball itself. This will completely change how we experience sports, while opening up new revenue streams for telecoms operators and other companies along the value chain.

Second, 5G will improve the efficiency of spectrum use tenfold and network capacity by 20 to 30 times, allowing operators to provide consumers with better service at a lower price. There is no doubt that 5G is already delivering economic value for consumers, telecoms operators and vertical industries. 5G will be deployed in about 110 markets by 2025, according to GSMA. Huawei alone will deploy commercial 5G networks in more than 20 countries over the next year.

Hospitals on wheels

5G will also makes society more inclusive and sustainable. For example, both emerging and developed markets face the perennial challenge of providing healthcare in rural areas. Access to primary care; distance and transport; health literacy; a scarcity of doctors and nurses - these are all issues that 5G can help resolve.

Using 5G, China Mobile has helped turn ambulances into mobile hospitals. Doctors at Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China can operate ultrasound equipment remotely through VR glasses, using a robotic arm to examine patients in ambulances as well as other locations. 5G is crucial here, as any delay in signal transmission can be disastrous for the patient, and only 5G networks are stable enough to allow doctors to perform such delicate procedures remotely.

In January 2019, doctors in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian performed the world’s first remote operation using a 5G network transmission. The successful operation (performed on a pig) marks the advent of 5G remote surgery, laying the groundwork for a wealth of innovative new clinical applications in the future.

One day, 5G networks will connect patients in remote areas with doctors around the world. People in the Gobi desert and Arctic Circle will have access to the same level of care they could get in London or Dubai.

Carriers in China are also launching 5G pilot projects that connect students in poorer regions with some of the world’s best teachers. Although high-definition video and VR can’t be reliably delivered through 4G networks, high-powered 5G connections could benefit nearly 60% of the children in China's underdeveloped regions, giving 220 million students a chance to receive a good education.

Tech for the greater good

I believe technological innovations are meaningful only when they make people's lives better. That’s social value, and it’s ultimately what makes our industry important. It’s our responsibility to produce good technology, of course - but that technology must create social value.

5G will be huge in 2019. I’m calling on all of my tech industry colleagues to work together and deliver technology’s benefits faster, make them more widely available and deepen their economic and social impact.