Mobile World Congress 2016
Disrupt Or Be Disrupted: The Future Of 5G

“The mobile ecosystem is disrupting industries around the globe, and there’s no stopping it,” says Ralph de la Vega, President of AT&T Business & Personal Solutions, at the top of Monday’s Mobile World Congress 2016 keynote. He cites Uber and Airbnb as popular examples of mobile platforms which are reshaping urban life. And as the technology continues to evolve, he says, this disruption will only continue, in a broader range of industries than ever before.

Joining de la Vega on-stage are Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, with CSS Insight’s Shaun Collins refereeing. There’s no doubt that we’re in the middle of another technological revolution, says Vestberg. First comes the innovation phase, and then the period where consumers begin to use technology at their disposal in unprecedented ways. We’re firmly in the second phase, he says; “We’re using this data for something completely different… Voice calls are the smallest piece of the network.”

“Disrupt your business model, or be disrupted.”

So what’s the next big innovation? IoT and 5G. “There’s no industry that doesn’t have an IoT strategy,” says Vestberg. “The disruption is coming; I don’t think we’ve seen it all yet.” As with any new tech, questions about the applications of 5G are met with speculation and vague predictions rather than concrete use cases, but the takeaway here is positive, even if a little nebulous.

Real-time, interconnected data; the possibilities are endless, and the panel agree that healthcare is one sector which could be utterly transformed. De la Vega mentions a nano-sensor AT&T have developed, no larger than a grain of sand, which can be injected into the bloodstream and detect cancer cells as soon as they appear. This has the potential, one day, to make cancer treatment preventative, rather than curative. “I truly believe that before long, cancer is going to be a manageable disease,” he says.

“I think there’s a lot of innovation going on, whether it’s connected or not, but healthcare is the one we all want to see,” says Krzanich. “If you can have an ambulance pull up next to you and say ‘get in, you’re about to have a heart attack’… that’s the dream we all have.”

“The biggest disruptions are the furthest away,” says Vestberg. “Healthcare is the industry where it means the most, but it’s also the most regulated.” Achieving buy-in to 5G from regulatory bodies is a crucial obstacle in sectors elsewhere, such as telecoms and government, as evidenced by AT&T’s recent implementation of 5G capability in Mexico, and its smart city trials in Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago.

For Vestberg, it’s not just about commercial progress, but social development. “That’s when partnership becomes incredibly important. It’s about social good; you can create a new society,” he says. “We need to get it out there that you can do public good by using this technology. In the long term, you need this infrastructure if you’re going to compete with other countries. That’s the story we need to tell more.”

And once that story is told, and organisations start to believe it — who takes responsibility for the tonnes of data being generated each and every day? There is no fixed model for this, and the panel believes that it will depend on the sector and the use case. Data ownership and protection will be proprietary in some instances, while consumers of more nascent digital ability might be willing to farm that out in exchange for value. “If you actually follow the dollars, the majority of the dollars will be in data analytics,” says Krzanich.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Vestberg, Krzanich and de la Vega all agree that the hardware and fundamentals won’t be established until 2018, and then it’s up to carriers to build out the infrastructure, meaning 5G will reach the marketplace around 2020.

“We have to be careful, as an industry, not to hype 5G,” concludes de la Vega — perhaps the first time that this sentiment has ever been expressed at a tech conference.

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