Despite all the hype around 5G, nearly 90% of respondents in a poll by Channel News Asia knew very little or absolutely nothing about the next big thing in mobile technology.

Experts say 5G will be the largest consumer technology in the world. It is more than just an upgrade from the current 4G mobile technology, which has already garnered 5 billion users. 5G promises to revolutionize every aspect of daily life with its much faster speed, lower network latency – shortening delays experienced by users – and hyperconnectivity.

It will be so fast, it will make real time seem too late, said Hera Siu, Chief Executive Officer for the Greater China Region at Cisco. Speaking at the World Economic Forum's annual China-based conference, she cited an example of the beneficial impact of low latency in combating wildlife poaching in South Africa. With a faster response time, Cisco’s surveillance equipment was able to detect poachers more quickly, preventing them from killing an average of three rhinos a day.

Sihan Bo Chen, Greater China head of the global mobile industry association GSMA, said that “if 4G is about connectivity, 5G is about connecting the unconnected.” With 5G, the era of the internet of things (IoT) is at hand as network capacity expands to accommodate many devices while ensuring minimal lags in the speed at which information flows.

Gaming, autonomous vehicles, media and IoT industries will be among the early beneficiaries. Zhou Bowen, Vice-President of Chinese e-commerce group JD, expects the cost of connectivity to go down as interconnectivity increases. Artificial intelligence will equip every robot with machine learning, and optimization will move from individual to group level, allowing “a legion of robots” to perform complex tasks with ever more efficiency.

Mikael Back, Vice-President of Technology and Emerging Business at Ericsson, said that while network operators are investing in infrastructure to bring down deployment costs, it is just as important for regulators to help with spectrum costs. Chen commended China’s decision on the free use of spectrum for three years, adding that many operators are still trying to recover their investments in 3G and 4G networks.

But what about 5G’s dark side? Will it increase inequality, or create more privacy issues?

Panelists said 5G could make networks more secure, although it is still the responsibility of every stakeholder in the value chain to take the necessary measures to protect data privacy.