Technology companies announce the advent of the “next big thing” that will change everything.
With its arrival, they promise that new doors to worlds of augmented and virtual reality will finally open. But we must bear in mind the other side of 5G: in a hyperconnected planet, the chances of us being hacked, spied on and controlled by companies and governments will multiply.
The enthusiasm for the advent of the new highways of communication through which our data will circulate returns in superlative epithets.
If we attend to the songs of technology, operators and other market agents, 5G is the next big thing, the new big event, the nth game-changer, the key that will change everything.
5G lands involved in marketing and communication campaigns that announce a hyperconnected world of surgeons who will operate, from a distance and in real-time, using a robot, to patients from another continent; of smart farms in which they sow, water and harvest efficiently thanks to the processing of soil and weather data, and of autonomous cars sharing information to the millisecond that will warn us if there is danger ahead.
At the same time, there is no lack of voices that warn that we are facing a new hype, a swollen phenomenon that also hides disturbing derivatives.
For now, the soap opera that surrounds this new technological magnet has not started badly: political leaders engage in commercial wars after which the struggle for world supremacy is chief; promises of speed, aromas of latency and, in case ingredients were missing, frankly favorable prospects for anyone who wants to be a hacker in the new era.
Welcome to a hyperconnected and ultravulnerable world.
Our mobiles will download faster. We will download movies in a second. The time between when we send a message and when it arrives – latency – will be one millisecond – now it ranges between 40 milliseconds and one-tenth of a second.
5G, or the fifth generation of mobile telephony, will allow developing systems to constantly connect devices such as mobiles, sensors, etc.
All this in the future: commercial networks deployed today are 5G that still relies on 4G networks, but the fifth generation of mobile, at full capacity, will arrive, as soon as, from 2021.
Information will travel through high-frequency bands, there will be antennas everywhere, along with huge amounts of data that will circulate on the new information superhighways.
Such infrastructure will allow people to watch video games like Fortnite, League of Legends or Call of Duty, which today only offer good results with a home connection, on mobile.
Smart factories will have all production machines connected and sharing information, and someday not too far away, drones will replace mailmen for home deliveries.
Better and faster care will be available for those injured in an accident or any other emergency, thanks to 5G.
“Reaction time is a critical element to save lives,” emphasizes Jaime Ruiz Alonso, a telecommunications engineer, and researcher at Nokia Bell Labs.
“When 5G is deployed, there will be protocols to know where users are and check if they are trapped in the middle of the forest,” he says.
The combination of 5G and artificial intelligence, it is assumed, is the gateway to the long vaunted Internet of Things (IoT).
We will walk along the street of an intelligent city with glasses or headphones that will tell us the name of that person with whom we have just met and which we prefer to remember.
The timely and valuable information will appear overprinted on reality thanks to the glasses or it will be whispered in our ears.
“We will live in mixed reality” – also called augmented reality – predicts Xavier Alamán, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
We will be waiting for the bus with our glasses, but we can see where it is going and if it is approaching our street.
They will provide information to, for example, a mechanic, who can see graphics of the interior of the engine floating in the air while repairing a car.
In the not too distant future, glasses will allow us to display a virtual cinema screen in which we will see a film while on one side we will read WhatsApp messages.
“If everyone makes the leap to that type of device, the world will change more than it has done with the mobile phone,” says Alaman. People will live in an environment that mixes reality with the virtual.
The fever that woke up three years ago in the Retiro Park with the virtual hunt of Pokémon GO is a simple appetizer of what is coming. The speeds and latencies of 5G and 6G – which is already being worked on- are key to this type of development.
Behind the glasses will come the contact lenses. And the times of going down the street with your head down looking at the mobile screen will be history.
The prestigious technology magazine Wired ventured to emphatically anticipate, in the last March issue, the world that is coming. A technological platform that will replicate everything in the real world to offer us its virtual derivative.
What will a 5G world be like?
With augmented reality devices, the surgeon will see a 3D replica of our liver while operating it.
The future that opens up in the world of wearables, wearable technologies, glasses, watches, headphones, is something that many brands bet on, including Samsung.
The Korean tech giant presented its 5G strategy last June on a press trip to Korea.
Seoul is one of those cities where the future of telecommunications is being cooked. And Korea is one of the four countries that lead the 5G race, behind the United States and China and alongside Japan.
The Korean capital is a city of skyscrapers and traffic jams through which people travel in cars with tinted windows. During the day, its inhabitants flee from the embarrassment and the poor quality of the air taking refuge in air-conditioned shopping centers.
5G deployment is very advanced there and it shows: Mobiles are fast. Speeds of up to 820 megabits per second are recorded.
In this advanced city, the sixth most powerful in the world according to Forbes magazine, DJ Koh, president, and CEO of Samsung Electronics received the European press in a luxury hotel. There he assured that smart devices will soon be more important than the phones themselves.
“5G infrastructures will be the engine and the strength of the fourth industrial revolution,” says Koh, a 57-year-old executive who comes from a poor family and made it a long way to the top.
The combination of 5G and artificial intelligence, he says, will change everything. “The Internet of Things is what will connect individuals, houses, factories, offices, cities, and nations. And the car will connect all these elements.”
In his opinion, in the next three or four years, we will see changes of greater impact than in the last decade.
Samsung claims to have sold a million 5G phones in Korea in the first 87 days after its launch. It has already deployed 5G networks in six cities. In two or three years, they say, they will have covered the entire country.
The fifth generation of mobile telephony will have an economic impact of $ 12 trillion by 2035, according to IHS Markit. Many actors in the sector speak of a new phase of reindustrialization, of an industrial revolution.
The development of this new technology on a planetary scale suffered a serious blow last May 16 when President Trump signed an executive order prohibiting the sale of goods and services to the Chinese company Huawei, the world’s leading provider of 5G networks.
In the US companies are deploying infrastructure and signing contracts, but it is worrying that the routes through which huge amounts of data will circulate, and on which critical infrastructure will depend, are in the hands of “the enemy”.
The veto established that Huawei’s services and products contain “back doors”, conducive holes for espionage.
Huawei has a presence in 170 countries and has already signed 50 contracts with operators worldwide, according to data provided by the company.
They were the first to make a complete 5G network to their customers. They are unfolding around the world offering very competitive prices. And all of this contributes to Huawei being used in the US-China trade war.
The future, in any case, is more vulnerable.
Although experts say 5G networks are a priori safer than their predecessors, the mere multiplication of millions of antennas and the exponential growth of the devices connected in the IoT will offer new and succulent opportunities for hacking.
The more technology we use, the more vulnerable we are. The greater the exposure, the worse the danger.
Each new connected device has a SIM card. Sometimes manufacturers install easy passwords for administrators to access them without complications: which exposes users to spies and hackers first, and to continuous spying by tech companies, too.
It will be easier getting access to the controls of an autonomous car, crashing it and making it look like an accident. The same could happen with the controls of an airplane. Some people speculate these scenarios already happened with Michael Hastings’ death and some airplane “disappearances” and posterior crashes.
The risk of emergence of new, much more lethal forms of terrorism following the deployment of 5G networks and advances in artificial intelligence are a real possibility.
Quantum computers can decrypt encrypted data; interconnected devices can be manipulated remotely and turn against us, and synthetic biology will allow a virus to be recreated outside laboratories, for example.
The controversy over all the vulnerabilities of the networks also awakens the debate of whether it is a good idea to put critical infrastructure in private hands.
The prevention of the development of 5G does not stop there. Some voices rise against something that, they say, will deepen the digital divide, connecting even more those who are already connected and leaving behind those who are not included yet.
The problem with 5G is that it is not centered on humans, but machines. It is them that communicate with each other, not us. When people are no longer the intrinsic focus of the communication system, then something fundamental has changed in the nature of the system.