5G: a bumpy road for the communications technology in 2020
As 2020 was beginning, 5G was undoubtedly one of the hottest tech trends for the year ahead - at least it was, before the advent of COVID-19 and the associated disruption it has caused.
In November 2019, we were at , one of the largest technology conferences, where we heard the chairman of Chinese technology firm Huawei, Guo Ping, discuss the technology. Guo’s talk focused on Huawei’s idea of 5G+X. “This ‘X’ can be AI, Big Data, VR or AR, among other technologies,” he said. “I believe that in the future, 5G+X will create countless opportunities for entrepreneurs,” he went on to say, comparing the potential of the technology to the introduction of electricity. “The rollout of 5G commercial networks is occurring more [quickly] than expected. As of now, 40 carriers in over 20 countries are using 5G networks commercially.”
A raft of existing use cases of 5G technology were given by Guo, including musicians being able to remain in time while playing together over the internet, owing to real-time, low-latency communication, as well as reducing the need to inspect pipelines in person, thanks to high definition video streaming from remote locations. “The applications and software built on top of [5G] is what generates value. [...] Huawei has been working with carriers to create a foundation so app and software developers can fully unleash their potential,” he said.
It’s fair to say that since then, Huawei’s 5G pitch has become much more controversial. Spearheaded by about its allies using Chinese technology for critical infrastructure, a number of countries have decided to ban Huawei from 5G networking. The UK in January to allow Huawei technology into non “core” elements of its 5G network. In July, however, the UK reversed this decision, saying that all Huawei technology was to be removed by 2027 at the latest.
In the space left by the banning of Huawei, Western companies are racing to fill the gap. Take Ericsson, , which in July delivered its first ever 5G base station manufactured in the US to telecommunications giant Verizon.
What’s remarkable is that, despite many years of development, and astronomical levels of hype, 5G is still far from commonplace, restricted only to the most premium of handsets. At the time of writing, Apple is yet to release any phone with 5G capabilities, although is expected within the year.
The technology’s promise remains huge, across every sector you care to mention. Telecommunications industry body GSMA produced on the subject, in collaboration with Ericsson and others, detailing the potential benefits to IoT provided by the next generation of communications technology: “Mobile IoT delivers connectivity on a massive scale today and will continue to do so in the 5G future enabling key IoT applications such as smart metering to help reduce energy consumption, smart logistics to enhance distribution efficiency and smart environmental monitoring to reduce city pollution.”
It’s not just business use cases in the spotlight, with consumers also in line to benefit from 5G. Frank Wilde, Vice President of software giant SAP’s Global Center of Excellence, previously explained to us the consumer possibilities of 5G as part of his role in advising SAP’s clients on the benefits of 5G transformation. “5G adoption is not just for the sake of new technology but represents a fundamental shift in thinking, moving from a hardware driven network into a software defined one,” he said. “Look at how fast Tesla, Uber and Airbnb came to life. We're seeing an ever increasing speed of testing new business models.”
Even as 5G is yet to properly emerge, companies and nations are already laying out the technologies that will power the sixth generation of wireless communications technologies. Samsung, for instance, released a , with Sunghyun Choi, the company’s Head of the Advanced Communications Research Center, saying: “While 5G commercialization is still in its initial stage, it’s never too early to start preparing for 6G because it typically takes around 10 years from the start of research to commercialization of a new generation of communications technology.”
Samsung expects 6G to be commercialisable even as early as 2028, with potential features being a peak data rate of 1 terabit per second (50 times 5G) and air latency of less than 100 microseconds (a tenth of 5G latency). Despite the controversy that 5G is currently causing, then, telecommunications standards are marching on - to the benefit of us all.
The Talent War for Skilled Tech Workers
Post-pandemic, our biggest problem might be a lack of skilled tech talent. As companies move forward with their digital transformation plans, they aim to hire new staff and train their current employees. Out of 750 UK companies polled in a Studio Graphene digital report, 45% plan to hire new tech staff in the next 12 months and more than half (53%) intend to invest in training for their current workers.
Companies are realising that their survival now depends on a limited pool of qualified technology workers. Among the hardest-hit economies are those in Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan, but even the United States and the UK will experience the squeeze. “It’s pure supply and demand”, said Alan Guarino, a Korn Ferry vice-chairman. “Companies are paying more...but there’s still a shortage of high-skilled workers. Technology is the thread that runs across every aspect of business”.
Which Jobs Are In Demand?
According to a 2021 IT salary report by Robert Half Technology, the most in-demand tech jobs of the year include information security professionals, cloud architects, database administrators, systems analysts, and DevOps engineers, among others. But in those fields, it’s difficult to find hires with significant experience, multiple specialisations, and a high level of expertise. And multinationals such as Google, Apple, and IBM usually scoop them up.
Regardless of the exact role, companies need workers who can implement advanced security systems, target cloud and network vulnerabilities, document risk points and failures, and abide by new industry tech regulations. This will likely mean that companies start to take certifications like the ones pioneered by Google and Amazon, instead of insisting on four-year undergraduate degrees.
But even as coding boot camps and year-long certification programmes have ramped up to try to close the gap, smaller tech firms and startups struggle to compete with their bigger counterparts. Remote work doesn’t help matters. “Hire-from-anywhere policies will only heat up a tight candidate market”, said Ryan Sutton, a district president of technology staffing services at Robert Half. “Companies who were already having a hard time recruiting are no longer just working against local competitors, but potentially desirable companies across the country”.
How Can CIOs Solve the Crisis?
As governments try to do their part—Poland offers residency and potential citizenship to skilled tech workers, India offers broad IT, telecommunications, and cybersecurity programmes, and the Netherlands lets its foreign employees earn 30% tax-free income—company executives must take measures of their own.
Some CIOs have started looking to other countries to source expert talent. In the United States, where 80% of U.S. employers state that tech recruiting is a significant challenge, some firms are looking to Mexico, where 20% of college graduates have engineering degrees. As a result, tech companies such as Cisco and Intel have sourced labour from both the U.S. and Mexico.
To compete, here are some first steps:
- Invest in cybersecurity and cloud development training programmes
- Hire based on skills and expertise, not necessarily degrees
- Outsource to other countries with high percentages of skilled engineers and programmers
Overall, companies that broaden their search for talent and upskill their current employees will be best equipped for digital transformation. As Ritam Gandhi, founder and director of Studio Graphene, said: “Our research shows that, on the whole, UK businesses have adopted a long-term mindset [towards] technology and innovation”.