Self-driving cars communicating with each other and the roads around them. Digital experiences you’ll be able to feel. Movies that alter their storyline based on your facial reactions. Drone bees that coordinate their flight. Sci-Fi? No, just the coming world of 5G.
If you watched Super Bowl LIV, you probably noticed the commercials promoting 5G. Transforming everything from surgery and firefighting to how fast you can download the latest Marvel movie, 5G is the next generation of mobile technology that promises to change the future. It's all about much faster speeds, lower latency, and more throughput.
Just like 3G and 4G before it, 5G is essentially the next generation of wireless technology. Where 3G technology allowed us to browse the web, share images, and use GPS, and 4G introduced a new obsession with video, 5G will dive even deeper into interconnectivity and impact everything from where we work to where we live. I’m very familiar with the “need for speed” from my time at ICE building low latency, high speed, highly scalable trading systems.
“5G is one of those heralds, along with artificial intelligence, of this coming digital age,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research for the Consumer Technology Association, earlier this year.
5G and the improved speeds in and of themselves are a good thing, but combine increased speed, greater connectivity, and our private data, and you will see that 5G has a dark side —one that is full of impending terrors like an increasingly hackable internet, the possibility of Chinese technical dominance, and a full-time surveillance state.
“As we pursue the connected future, however, we must place equivalent — if not greater — focus on the security of those connections, devices, and applications,” wrote Tom Wheeler and David Simpon in a report for Brookings last September. After all, everything that 5G will allow us to do has some real ramifications if (the) implementation isn’t focused and strategic.
Here are some of the challenges of our impending 5G future.
#1: Location Privacy Will Be Non-Existent In A 5G World
One of the requirements of a 5G world is more cellphone towers — a lot more of them. Where the infrastructure of 4G was a little more lenient, 5G will require cell towers to be in constant use, and much closer than the mile radius that 4G required. Instead of giant towers, they’ll be small antennas that could be perched atop apartment buildings, on light poles, inside our retail stores, and they’ll provide incredible accurate location tracking.
Paired with facial recognition and the new capabilities of AI, the data streams and location capabilities will make anonymity in public a thing of the past. 5G capabilities paired with other modern technology could be a threat to democracy itself. Governments should never have complete knowledge of its citizens whereabouts at all times. But between the data collected by Google, Amazon, Facebook, which the government can access, and the growing numbers of video cameras present all around us, and increasingly in and around our homes, and one of the last places for privacy has become a tappable domain just like the streets of big metro cities.
In China, 200 million cameras have been installed throughout the country. Put into place to identify everything from jaywalkers to suspected Muslim terrorists, the Chinese have transformed their video technology from harmless tracker to something more nefarious: the identification and detention of one million Turkic Muslims, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others in the Xinjian area.
When 5G becomes a reality, connecting these videos to millions of other data points could introduce unprecedented amounts of surveillance into our everyday lives. Like the Gap scene in Minority Report, we are facing a world where everyone knows who you are, and where you are at all times.
#2: The Internet of more things to Hack (IOMTH) at 5G speeds
According to a 2018 study by Gallup, cybercrime is the country’s top feared crime — more than physical altercations or other violent crimes. And with the 5G world approaching, that worry will only increase as 5G security connects all of the devices known as “the Internet of Things” (IoT).
The IoT is more than just cell phones — it’s traffic lights, factory assembly lines, cars driving on the road, even baby monitors. And they’re all hooked up to the internet, with connected devices projected to number 25 billion by 2021.
Because 5G enables devices to connect to the mobile network, rather than a home or corporate network, which typically has higher security (and is, therefore, harder to hack). In short, everything employees send over their personal devices, and every smart fridge and smoke detector in your home is fair game in a 5G world unless stringent security standards are implemented.
More bad news: The current U.S. administration seems more interested in giving data access to network providers than ensuring the security of that data.
Recently, the Trump administration walked away from security efforts begun during Tom Wheeler’s tenure as the chairman of the F.C.C.,. On top of that, the U.S. recently rejected a requirement that cyber defense be included in the technical specifications of 5G devices. The ramifications of these decisions were discussed in an op-ed piece for the New York Times by Wheeler: “Leadership in 5G technology is not just about building a network, but also about whether that network will be secure enough for the innovations it promises.”
#3: China set to dominate a 5G world
It’s a pretty simple formula: Whoever controls the network, controls the data. Currently, Chinese tech giant Huawei is the world leader in 5G technology, and this is giving the U.S. pause.
In an address to NATO at the 55th Munich Security Conference, Mike Pence urged countries to be cautious of the integrity of Huawei and other Chinese telecom countries, and even went so far as to ask all American security partners to “be vigilant and reject any enterprise that would compromise the integrity of communications.”
Some cybersecurity experts and politicians, including President Donald Trump, have accused Huawei of passing along data to Chinese intelligence. As an operation funded by subsidies from the Chinese government, Huawei has been called “a Trojan horse” that allows China to have access to unprecedented amounts of digital communication. And as Huawei makes offers to replace old 3G and 4G builds with 5G, there’s a genuine possibility that the communication networks of enterprise, political, and military leadership could belong to them.
While the US shares what I believe to be a valid concern for Huawei, our partners overseas don’t seem to be as concerned. Allies France and recently Britain have said they will include Huawei in their own 5G rollouts.
#4: The Radiation 5G Technology Might Kill Us
While much of the horrors of 5G are security-related, there is one concern that affects something different: Your health.
In an appeal to the EU, 180 scientists and doctors from around the world requested a moratorium on the rollout of 5G amid concerns about the unknown effects of low-level radiation exposure emitted by the new network. Why? Because 5G high frequencies have people on edge.
Does this mean our cell phones are going to kill us? Researchers at the New York University and Temple University School of Medicine think not, saying it’s likely the 5G wavelengths won’t be able to penetrate human skin, making them actually far safer than previous technologies.
But that’s not the full story. The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously stated that electromagnetic radiation is possibly carcinogenic to humans — about on the same level as engine exhaust and gasoline. And even if previous studies have been debunked, there are still plenty of scientists who warn against how 5G will affect humans.
So what’s the takeaway? 5G technology could dramatically transform our society as we know it.
5G promises to usher in a new Internet era but will improvements in speed lead to losses in privacy, increased cybercrime, health risks, and Chinese dominance of the Internet and communications. Are you ready for it?
Interested in other trending tech topics? Check out more thought-provoking conversations in the latest episodes of Techrides, and don’t forget to stay up-to-date on the latest news by subscribing to our newsletter.