As COVID-19 has demonstrated, powerful, flexible and stable networks stand at the very heart of emergency response, education, business productivity and government operations. Hundreds of millions of people are suddenly gathering, learning and working online as social distancing keeps us physically apart. Wireless is playing an essential role in keeping us all connected, and for those of us in the industry, it is a responsibility we take seriously.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Healthcare is a prime example. As we shelter in place, the global healthcare industry is being transformed at lightning pace. To accommodate the increased need for video conferencing for doctors and front-line medical professionals, the FCC just moved forward with two telehealth grant programs: a $200 million program for devices and connectivity for telehealth needed now for the current emergency; and a $100 million longer-term program for connected care. The need for those programs is real, and it’s being met now.

5G’s ultra-low latency and high reliability opens up even more possibilities for medical innovation and efficiencies. For hospitals, private 5G networks can provide the flexibility to wirelessly stitch together a vast array of vital data sources and technologies, which can be tapped seamlessly in the cloud to monitor mission critical equipment, track epidemiological data, diagnose and treat patients, and restock inventories. At home, 5G can help people monitor their health. We expect many more life-saving applications to follow at an accelerating rate.

New technologies have also helped education transform – and kept students learning. There are 55 million children out of school in the U.S. alone, driving a sudden shift to online learning. That makes closing the digital divide more crucial than ever. 5G technology will provide even more students and teachers with high-quality connectivity, ensuring that distance learners won’t need to wait for videos or applications to load properly. Going forward, we anticipate 5G networks will enable a raft of virtual and augmented-reality learning tools, capable of whisking students to the far corners of the galaxy or taking them on a guided tour of the cells of the human body.

Technologies have also ensured many can continue to work remotely. From our vantage point at Qualcomm, progress on 5G continues across the ecosystem - just virtually for the time being. In the first days of our worldwide office closures, 96% of Qualcomm’s team members were collaborating online. In just one 24-hour period, our people hosted over 40,000 virtual meetings and sent 2.5 million chat messages. Like many, we’re tapping documents stored in the cloud, videoconferencing and collaborating across a broad spectrum of platforms and workplace tools, staying focused and productive. As 5G proliferates, and more business processes move into the cloud, we’ll be able to do even more, such as AR virtual conferences that resemble in-person meetings.

"5G will provide the digital backbone for essential industries and infrastructure all over the world, enhancing our ability to respond to threats, while catalyzing a broad spectrum of new uses and capabilities."

—Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm Incorporated

Three recent developments in Washington DC will help support those uses and advance our work to enable better, faster mobile broadband for as many people as possible. First, as everything gets connected to the 5G network, security is paramount. This is why we were pleased to see the passing of the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which will lead to the development and adoption of a 5G security plan for the U.S. Secondly, it’s key to ensure that 5G rolls out as broadly as possible, including in rural areas that lack good broadband. That’s why it was important to see the signing of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which will help provide access where the need for 5G is acute. Third, and most significantly, it’s crucial that children have access to connectivity and devices so they can learn from home, especially while schools are closed. We were very pleased that the recently passed CARES Act created a $13.5 billion program for K-12 schools, which provides grants for educational technology, including hardware, software and connectivity, particularly targeting children with disabilities and those from low-income households.

From the start, 5G has been designed as a technology not just for mobile phones, but for all kinds of devices across factories, hospitals, schools, city infrastructure, businesses, farms and stores. Unlike prior generations of mobile broadband, 5G will provide the digital backbone for essential industries and infrastructure all over the world, enhancing our ability to respond to threats, while catalyzing a broad spectrum of new uses and capabilities. It will allow us to be better prepared for whatever comes next, and help us stay close to the people and things that matter most.