Ryan McLaughlin

Whether you love it, hate it, rely on it, or actively work around using it, many Canadians have few illusions about the economic importance of natural resources like oil for our national economy. However, with recent headlines like barrel prices tumbling to  $52 USD, or local interventions to this challenge including reducing supply in an attempt to adjust prices, it is becoming clear that our traditional industries are shifting.

As technology permeates more and more of our daily lives, even sectors like oil & gas are affected – with big data and analytics increasingly driving decision-making. While many factors will influence this shift, a big portion of the economic fuel that will revamp our economy comes from a new network of information pipelines: 5G.

5G mobile technology is not only the imminent upgrade to our wireless Internet infrastructure; it is the charge behind the productivity improvements that will percolate throughout our society. Data is becoming a crucial commodity for our maturing information economy. By boosting the speed and quality of data flow by at least a factor of ten, 5G will loosen the bottlenecks currently impeding the flow of this 21st century resource. Focusing on the implications of this development, The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) released a new report, 5G: Jumpstarting our Digital Future. The nature of this technology, new use-cases, current and future job needs are discussed, and economic and labour needs are forecasted.

Detailing the technologies behind 5G, this report connects the dots between jobs, skills, and business scenarios that will all be enabled by 5G. New applications in the healthcare sector, such as the Da Vinci Surgical System, will come to rely on the rollout of 5G to operate safely and effectively, especially if paired with the AR/VR goggles which could enable remote surgeries. In Canada, Vancouver is already home to over 200 companies driving AR/VR technology under the Digital Technology Supercluster; and at the same time, forward-looking schools like the BC Institute of Technology are offering an AR/VR curriculum in partnership with Microsoft.

Another major development that 5G will facilitate is the rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT). With IoT-enabled smart cities and communities, agriculture, manufacturing and many other traditional sectors can benefit from increased data transmission capabilities, and improved connection reliability. Autonomous vehicles, for example, is an industry that is quickly developing and one that will rely on 5G’s high quality connections and low latency to safely operate on our roads. These are but a few examples of how 5G will transform our economy and society.

Understanding the potential business impacts of 5G is a key piece of the puzzle. Another crucial component is identifying the labour and skill needs that will drive this technology forward. ICTC’s report found that key jobs in the 5G space will include 5G system architects, microwave and millimeter radio experts and IoT software engineers; with critical skills ranging from competency with cloud systems, capability to complete radio access configurations, RF circuit simulation, among others.

Along with these changes comes the growth of new jobs, the demand for skilled talent, and ultimately, the strengthening of our economy. ICTC forecasts that 5G will generate up to $26 B for our economy and support the growth of up to 82,000 jobs by 2030 if auctions take place in 2021. However, if auctions are shifted ahead just two years to 2019, ICTC forecasts that 5G will add up to $35 B to our economy and generate the growth of up to 120,000 new jobs by 2030. These are significant opportunities that must be considered.

Many of the exciting technological advancements over the past few decades have relied on our invisible Internet infrastructure. 2G brought us SMS, 3G brought the low-bandwidth mobile internet, and 4G brought high-definition streaming and high-speed downloading. 5G is not the just the next step in this evolution. Yes, it will allow the average Netflixer to download an HD movie in a matter of seconds. However, it will also be the key infrastructural development that will enable the best use of AR/VR, autonomous vehicles, and remote services like never before. 5G can be the key that allows the Internet to deliver on its most impressive promises ever by being the very pipeline to our IoT future. – Ryan McLaughlin



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