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Interactive: Understanding the global impact of 5G

By Qualcomm

From the steam engines of the industrial revolution to the bits and bytes of the Information Age’s superhighway, technology has always contributed to our economy’s development. Financial instruments like currencies or debt and monetary institutions like central banks set the framework for modern economic exchange. But it’s the introduction of new technologies over time that’s been responsible for the major developments that have impacted the flow of money and goods throughout economic history. These innovations serve as the cornerstone for new jobs, industries, and even lifestyles.

We are now in the early stages the next technological revolution: the development of a ubiquitous wireless network that will marry data collection and computation with billions of devices. This will provide us with unique, previously unprecedented insights and abilities that will change what we do and how we do it. This network is called 5G.

Outside of a few tech-focused circles, the benefits of 5G aren’t widely understood. Reduced to its most elementary definition, 5G sounds a lot like its predecessors—a set of invisible radio waves that transmit information between devices, just faster. Replete with a host of alphanumeric acronyms, it’s going to radically upend many aspects of our lives, the party line goes, just like 4G LTE and 3G before it.

Unlike its predecessors, though, 5G isn’t just a network. 5G will become the underlying fabric of an entire ecosystem of fully connected sensors and devices, capable of overhauling economic and business policies, and further blurring geographical and cultural borders. It will be capable of delivering at every rung of the ecosystem’s ladder, and provide seamless, continuous connectivity for business applications.

Let’s use one of the industries discussed here as an example. What does 5G mean for automotive? Think about the relationship between the smart city and an autonomous car. With a 5G connection, your car will know your ETA at work, taking the optimal route based on traffic data communicated from other cars and the roadways. Your car will follow that calculated route, using that ultra-fast, ultra-reliable communication between vehicles and infrastructure to get you to your office safely and on time.

While a handful of companies are working on this level of automation, the ability to deliver this type of functionality at scale will require the marriage of devices and the 5G network. And it’s the “at scale” that will have colossal implications across economies and society. The potential of truly autonomous driving through 5G, for example, can help remove instances of human driving error, reducing the nearly 1.3 million road fatalities that occur each year.

To achieve that scale, here’s what needs to happen behind the scenes. As that autonomous car shuttles you to work, it will collect data from 5G-connected sensors placed on other cars, embedded in the infrastructure—traffic lights, for example—and connected to buildings, parking garages, and the smartphones in pedestrians’ pockets. The sensors’ on-board computing will intelligently isolate certain data points they collect based on various mandates such as shaping traffic patterns to reduce congestion or automatically braking if a sensed obstruction appears in the car’s path.

That formatted data will be transmitted instantly to the cloud, analyzed, and then transmitted back within fractions of a second, changing, for example, a traffic light pattern to respond intelligently to the volume of vehicles currently on the road. This device-network merger equips governments and private industry with scores of actionable data, meaning the next time a big infrastructure project is greenlit, or an auto manufacturer evaluates a new chassis design, or an OEM designs a new part, decisions can be guided by truly meaningful data-driven insights.

The evolution from “just another network” to a robust ecosystem will be the result of new 5G technologies converging with those used today in advanced Wi-Fi and 4G LTE applications, building on current cloud analytics processes to continue to develop unique data insights.

Leaders don’t wait. And Qualcomm is using its experience, expertise, and leadership in wireless networks and mobile processing to continue to develop advanced 4G LTE applications, like Cellular V2X, that will set the foundation for 5G. Additionally, new developments, specifically for 5G, are already taking shape. For example, Qualcomm Technologies recently announced its 5G New Radio (NR) prototype platform that tests connectivity in the sub-6-Ghz spectrum, utilizing previously untapped stratum for devices to connect across. These kinds of innovative breakthroughs are paramount in leading the world to the 5G future.

With an array of advanced on-device processing technologies, a powerful presence within millions of mobile devices, and continuing development of LTE and 5G technologies, Qualcomm is ushering in 5G and a new, connected ecosystem. Read more.

This article was produced by Qualcomm and not by the Quartz editorial staff.