Connectivity acts as one of the drivers towards a more pluralistic world, deepening connections between businesses, services, and communities across the globe. Mobile, or wireless, technologies (mobile phones, tablets, and other wireless devices) have become basic communication tools of everyday life. These enable billions of people around the world to stay connected. For many worldwide, mobile is the primary – and sometimes the only – channel for accessing the Internet and the benefits it brings. The number of connected devices on the Internet is projected to reach 50 billion any time from 2025 onwards.
Consumer demands are shaping the development of mobile broadband services. Anticipated increases in traffic (estimated to grow between 10 and 100 times in the period from 2020 to 2030), growth in the number of devices and services, as well as demand for enhanced affordability and user experience, will require innovative solutions.
The spread of the Internet influences almost all current and future trends, with repercussions across all sectors, connecting systems and people at an exponential rate and facilitating the digitalization of businesses and everyday services (see ‘Services moving online’). Indeed, “some estimates indicate that the Internet’s influence over the next 15 years will exceed the impacts of the industrial revolution over the course of 50 years.” As more people go online, information can be shared faster and more widely, increasing cooperation and efficiency at all levels, from connecting businesses, consumers, ideas, and technologies to coordinating global value chains. Although Internet connectivity is everywhere in both the public and private sphere, the largest growth is in the use of ‘Internet of Things’ connections in the industry sector, with connected industries expected to account for more than 50% of global IoT connections by 2025.
The spread of the Internet and increasingly integrated online systems make cybersecurity improvements and digital infrastructure improvement key regulation priorities.
With increasing Internet connectivity comes increasing ‘Cyber-vulnerability’. Effective cybersecurity will therefore be vital if society is to benefit from all the Internet has to offer, without exposure to threats from malicious (state and non-state) actors who can use cyberspace as a battle arena, with impacts ranging from outages of critical infrastructure, to breaches of industrial or personal data, and election manipulation.
Meanwhile, improving digital infrastructures will be key to dealing with the major challenge of unequal access to the Internet. Access already varies greatly both within and between countries and, in least developed countries, only 20% of people use the Internet largely due to inadequate infrastructure, making it slow and expensive. More generally worldwide, digital divides exist between rural and urban areas, between genders, and ‘Age groups’. Because Internet access variability can reinforce pre-existing inequalities, connectivity differences are one factor that will contribute to defining the inequalities of tomorrow (see ‘Diversifying inequalities’). Taking action to address such connectivity differences will ensure more countries can access global markets and more people can connect and benefit from technological innovation. Accounting for current efforts, optimistic scenarios suggest that global Internet penetration could reach 90% by 2030, with 75% of the world’s population having mobile connectivity, and 60% having broadband access.[3,7]
Because the Internet has the power to spread false, misleading, or harmful information just as easily as it provides truth and knowledge, another challenge for regulators revolves around Internet censorship and safety. While there are legitimate reasons to censor harmful Internet content, access can also be used as a means of political control. States can limit or control platforms for Internet access, for propaganda purposes, and to restrict access to information. To date, over 23% of countries still ban or censor news, and, in some cases, shut down access to certain sites, effectively reducing their citizens’ access to digital information and resources. Nevertheless, the Internet remains a valuable tool for citizens to search for more sources of information beyond state-controlled media.
- Artificial intelligence
- Customized products
- Diversifying inequalities
- Edge computing
- Extended reality
- Internet of Things
- New business models
- Quantum technologies
- Reinventing the workplace
- Rise of the middle class
- Services moving online
- Smart cities
- The experience economy
- Young generation influences
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile technologies and an evolution from the previous generations of mobile technologies: 2G, 3G, and 4G. Meanwhile, 5G is expected to be faster, connecting more people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart, networked, communication environments. It should transport a huge amount of data much faster, reliably connect an extremely large number of devices, and process very high volumes of data with minimal delay.[1,2]
Whereas 4G systems, for example, have opened a new era for mobile Internet, enabling many app-based businesses used for services such as m-Learning, m-Health and mobile money, 5G is seen as opening yet another new era, supporting applications such as: smart homes and buildings; smarter and cleaner cities; self-driving cars and other intelligent transport systems; 3D video; work and play in the Cloud; remote medical services; virtual and augmented reality (see ‘Extended reality’), and; massive machine-to-machine communications for industry automation and manufacturing. The 3G and 4G networks currently face challenges in supporting these services.[1,2]
Although the business cases and scope of use present challenges, these new functionalities and new services necessitate a new way of deploying advanced mobile services, as well as new approaches to making 5G technologies work together in industrial settings by machine-to-machine communications, the ‘Internet of Things’ or with connected vehicles.
The advent of 5G has arrived, and with it comes a world that is better connected and more powerful than ever before: 5G rollouts are happening worldwide. The US, UK, Germany, and South Korea already have 5G in some regions, with many more countries planning to follow suit. South Korea’s SK Telecom hit one million 5G subscribers in the first 140 days of service, surpassing its 2011 4G LTE uptake. And 5G is expected to account for 40–50% of global mobile connections by 2034.
In 2019, carriers AT&T and Verizon both launched their 5G networks in more than a dozen US sports stadiums. The concentration of people, along with an augmented reality experience use case, made these venues the ideal place to test the early rollouts. In the stadium, fans could connect to the network and participate in AR experiences through their smartphones, such as dancing with virtual National Football League players.
The record-breaking speeds, capacity for a higher number of connections and minimal latency of 5G are enabling a new frontier in the IoT. In the healthcare industry, technologists are already developing 5G devices to enable remote surgery, which would allow for highly specialized training of the next generation of doctors and bring previously inaccessible healthcare to populations worldwide.
5G wireless technology is expected to be critical for the IoT due to its greater ability to handle massive volumes of data: 5G networks can process around up to 1,000 times more data than today’s systems. In particular, it offers the possibility to connect many more devices (e.g. sensors and smart devices). It is estimated that by 2025, the United States, followed by Europe and the Asia-Pacific, will be leaders in 5G adoption. In order for developing countries to maximize the impact of the IoT, significant investments in 5G infrastructure will be required. By 2025, the share of 5G in total connections is expected to reach 59% in the Republic of Korea, compared with only 8% in Latin America and 3% in sub-Saharan Africa.[<15] Moreover, the deployment of 5G may further increase the urban-rural digital divide, as setting up 5G networks in rural areas with lower demand will be commerciallychallenging.[5,16]
Estimates put 5G as contributing up to USD 12.3 trillion to global economic output over the next decade. Rapidly maturing technologies are expanding businesses’ experience customization capabilities, making the balance between customization and consumer choice increasingly critical: as 5G networks are expected to enable faster and more interconnected networks of people and devices, the opportunities are growing quickly. The 5G infrastructure market is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 71% between 2019–2027, according to Fortune Business Insights.[18,19]
The development of digital technologies such as ‘5G’, ‘Internet of Things’, ‘Artificial intelligence’, machine learning and big data, is leading to an increasing number of services moving online (we define services here as the result of interactions/activities performed between a supplier and a customer/user). Such services include business activities (including business to business), finance, e-commerce, education, healthcare, and the entertainment industry with e-sports, ‘Extended reality’ gaming and e-tourism. While such a shift towards online platforms can positively increase accessibility and connectivity, it can also increase digital inequalities and cybersecurity issues if left unregulated.
The digitalization of services has strong implication for the future of trade and business interactions: it can make shorter supply chains economically viable, in addition to increasing the market reach of companies with an online presence. Some analysts suggest that the digitalization of the economy will significantly increase in the next 20 years, where many global activities will be ”digitally intermediated, customized, on demand and globally distributed.” During the period 2020–2021 alone, the pace of change in this trend was significantly accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many businesses and individuals to both provide and access online services because of social distancing and movement restrictions. In terms of education, this meant the implementation of innovative teaching and learning methods. For healthcare, as communities faced lockdowns and isolation, and hospitals were under pressure to deal with the outbreak, the availability of virtual doctor’s appointments and health tracking apps for diagnosis and monitoring enabled a certain continuity of service for the population. For both education and healthcare, the continued development of online services and mobile apps is expected to reduce the pressure on social and healthcare systems around the globe and increase access for vulnerable populations.
This evolution towards online services can also provide new business and employment opportunities, especially for developing nations and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).[4,7] As it stands, the African region is very active in investing for the future, with countries spending over 1% of their GDP on digital investments, and young generations especially embracing change by launching start-ups (online and apps), including, for example, mobile, banking services in Kenya. Overall, both public and private initiatives for digital platforms are emerging to offer products and services online. &The effect of digitalizing some sectors will, of course, also disrupt the job market negatively, reducing the need for certain jobs. However, studies suggest that “the vast majority of jobs of the future do not exist yet”, which leaves space for adaptation to the new job market needs created by the online services sector.
At the same time, the recent expansion of digitalized human interactions and online services can also exacerbate or create new inequalities. When workplaces and schools moved their operations online during the COVID-19 pandemic, those that lacked the digital knowledge and skills, the practical tools, or the available infrastructures (e.g. laptop computers and Internet connectivity – see ‘Spread of the Internet’) to successfully transition, were at risk of being excluded. These digital inequalities are growing, not only between, but also within countries, with age and socio-economic status being key players (see ‘Diversifying inequalities’).
In addition, the development of online services can be linked to power concentration and monopolies. A few digital platforms are getting most of the benefits from services moving online, and have strengthened their position thanks to the pandemic, making it difficult for new providers to enter the market. “Digital power concentration could confine political and societal discourse to a limited number of platforms that have the capability of filtering information and further reduce the already limited agency of individuals and organizations over how their data are used.” This leads to an increase in regulatory pressure from governments to protect online consumer rights by targeting anti-competitive behaviour and monopolization, ensuring providers’ responsibility for aspects such as illegal activities on their platforms, and the protection of privacy.
- 5G. Human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) and health (International Telecommunication Unit, 2019)
- 5G. Fifth generation of mobile technologies (International Telecommunication Unit, 2019)
- Global Trends and the future of Latin America. Why and how Latin America should think about the future (Inter-American Development Bank, Inter-American Dialogue, 2016)
- Asia pacific megatrends 2040 (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 2019)
- Digital economy report 2019. Value creation and capture: implications for developing countries (UN Conference on Trade and Development, 2019)
- Foresight Africa. Top priorities for the continent 2020-2030 (Brookings Institution, 2020)
- Global trends to 2030. Challenges and choices for Europe (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, 2019)
- The global risks report 2021 (World Economic Forum, 2021)
- The top countries with 5G deployments and trials (SDxCentral, 2019)
- 5G Milestone. Korea’s SK Telecom First to Pass 1M Subscribers (Forbes, 2019)
- Study on Socio-Economic Benefits of 5G Services Provided in mmWave Bands (GSMA, 2018)
- Now is the time to load up on 5G stocks (Forbes, 2019)
- 5G will unlock whole new applications. Here are the most promising (CNET, 2018)
- Evolution of wireless networks technologies, history and emerging technology of 5G wireless Network. A review (Journal of Telecommunications System & Management, 2018)
- The mobile economy 2019 (GSMA, 2019)
- Setting the scene for 5G. Opportunities & challenges (International Telecommunication Unit, 2018)
- Future possibilities report 2020 ( , 2020)
- 5G Infrastructure market size, share & COVID-19 impact analysis, by communication infrastructure (Fortune Business Insights, 2020)
- Technology vision 2020. We, the post-digital people (Accenture, 2020)
- Ten trends that will shape science in the 2020s. Medicine gets trippy, solar takes over, and humanity—finally, maybe—goes back to the moon (Smithsonian Magazine, 2020)