Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Jo Bertram, Managing Director at O2 Business, examines how 5G will enable us to do a lot more remotely.
There is no question that the way we work has changed for good. Not only because of the adjustment to remote working as a result of the pandemic, but also the advancements in technology allowing workers to stay connected wherever they are.
5G and AI are often talked about as the technologies of the future, but the reality is they are already here, with both playing a major role right now in allowing people to be more productive, work more efficiently and feel more secure when working remotely.
Innovation is usually focused with a consumer audience in mind, however 5G and AI will likely see an initial focus and opportunity for more industrial and business focused applications, as organisations look to utilise these technologies to both enhance and evolve their own organisational processes, and improve the services and interactions with their customers.
But like all technological investments, it’s important to contextualise what’s needed and understand the ROI, with 5G and AI delivering in three key areas.
Connectivity is already proving critical in driving productivity, particularly as workforces become more flexible. As we look to rebuild the British economy, superfast 5G connectivity alone will benefit the economy by up to £1.3 billion in productivity gains, thanks to better business communications, reduced workplace absence and a widened talent pool as more workers are able to connect from any location.
By focusing on connectivity, employers can deliver the choice of flexible working that employees want even after the pandemic recedes, and still realise their full business potential. Employees can also enjoy a more positive work-life experience; delivering better outputs for the company, whilst balancing their personal lives.
As most readers will know, 5G offers greater capacity than earlier network technologies across a larger frequency spectrum, resulting in higher speeds, which are calculated to be about 100x faster than 4G. But 5G is more than increased data speed, it’s the enabler to the next stage of the digital revolution. Combined with lower latency and greater capacity, this offers exponential growth opportunities for businesses.
For example, city workers that choose to commute daily can enjoy a much better work-life balance thanks to 5G sensors on railway lines, which will save the average commuter 2.6 hours a year. Likewise, complex tasks are now able to be performed more efficiently, such as monitoring organisational energy use which can now be managed by 5G-enabled smart grids, allowing office Facilities Managers time back to focus on other tasks, knowing that the job is being covered by the power of technology.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, we were already seeing developers and designers explore the real possibilities of artificial intelligence and how 5G can enable its better use to improve the efficiency and experience of workers. In the last few months we’ve seen a raft of new technologies digitising operations, such as smart sensors to track levels of occupancy in times of social distancing and automated administrative systems.
Recent developments show that AI will also automate many responsibilities – such as data analysis and content generation for Marketing departments – but it’s no secret it must be trained on the right data. We know that artificial intelligence may never be able to think like a human in a rich and unpredictable physical environment, therefore it is important that sensitive systems such as recruitment and onboarding are also monitored by a human to apply the ever-important lens of emotional intelligence.
This brings me on to my final point – security.
The implementation of GDPR in 2018 helped turn data from a concern that was dismissed as overly technical, to a boardroom-level issue. The pandemic has only increased the importance of data protection, particularly with so much work undertaken remotely on often insecure Internet connections.
A permanent remote workforce will require a renewed approach to security, with ‘zero trust’ and resilience (the ability to recover from a cyber-attack) becoming the norm for all businesses. This includes issuing official devices for business use only, endpoint security using 2-factor authentication and app security, as well as the adoption of 5G which encrypts more data, making it harder for hackers to intercept. This will all be vital to ensuring employees put data security first – both inside and out of the office.
Organisations are now exploring how AI and 5G will both evolve their current services and offerings, and how these technologies could bring new services and solutions to market. I predict that AI and 5G will drive both disruption and disintermediation to some established industries.
As talk begins around a new generation of technology, it is important that companies consider how they future-proof their business in what has become an increasingly unpredictable environment. Not only in making workers feel supported and allowing them to work more efficiently, but also in maximising the resources available to them.