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Incoming: We Must Anticipate 5G Consequences Now

Fifth-generation (5G) superfast cellular technology is coming. And it will revolutionize the way we think about networks, the amount of data and analytics that can be presented in real or near real time, and how we use this data and related analytics to make everyday decisions

Fifth-generation (5G) superfast cellular technology is coming. And it will revolutionize the way we think about networks, the amount of data and analytics that can be presented in real or near real time, and how we use this data and related analytics to make everyday decisions. 5G is going to enable a national high-speed virtual highway. Much like the rollout of the physical national highway system, the introduction of 5G will affect defense and business and change individual behavior in ways we haven’t even thought about yet. It could create positive, long-lasting economic changes in the United States, improve the safety and security of travel along the virtual highway, and allow the United States and its allies to influence behavior worldwide.

Full disclosure: My employer, Samsung, is a leader in 5G technology and certainly has an interest in the growing 5G business. However, this article isn’t about growing the company’s 5G efforts; rather, it is to generate some discussion about what 5G will mean to mission, business and supporting activities.

5G will enable very high-speed wireless communication, with speeds well in excess of 1 gigabyte per second. It will do this at very low latency, at a price point that will continue to fall. Speed and latency gains will permit a larger tax on bandwidth for security and other network sensing operations without a significant impact on information delivery speed. 5G will provide the capability to take full advantage of the Internet of Things—or maybe better said, the “sensor net of things.” The ability to capture and use real-time data and data analytics will grow exponentially.

These new capabilities will present some new challenges and require us to think about current mission and business processes. Just moving data faster, allowing for more real-time data analytics and increasing security, won’t automatically deliver better outcomes or increase value. Real-time data analytics using a higher volume of data inputs will provide decision makers more and richer options, but this could complicate or paralyze the decision-making process. We must begin to think about these potential challenges.

A real-world example many of us soon could face involves driving. Before we get to autonomous cars, we will continue to see an enriched sensor environment for cars with drivers. Sensors will supply more and more data—not only about the car we are driving but also about the cars around us. These sensors will provide better predictive data about what the cars around us might do. 5G will enable connecting the cars and allow them to talk to each other at machine speeds. It will provide government organizations the ability to monitor and influence traffic behavior down to a single vehicle. 5G could allow more centralized control of cars that would reduce accidents, but this would require taking control of individual vehicles.

The data is going to present drivers with some complicated real-time safety decisions. For example, what data can be shared between cars? Do we allow automated decisions? And who will act as decision maker? If we don’t carefully consider the answers to these questions, then we may not fully realize improved safety or traffic flow.

If we expand these concepts to other environments, then it is easy to see where challenges could occur. What would it mean to have multiple sensor-connected drones linked by 5G flying over a mobile combat unit? These sensors could provide the commander and staff both individual and unit data on soldier health, vehicle status, extended high-definition 360-degree visuals, even micro weather—the forecast down to a city block. If we haven’t thought about how to prioritize or visualize this data in a manner that supports the commander, then we will have lots of input with little value that could be a command distraction, leading to poor decisions and bad outcomes. Similar scenarios could apply to business, health, social services and other sectors.

Then there is privacy and data protection. More data with privacy implications will be collected, and more privacy data will be exposed intentionally—not accidentally. Governments, businesses and individuals will see high value in exposing the data and applying analytics, particularly because applying analytics will expose more data. The privacy implications will be challenging to a degree we have not seen before.

5G will put more data in motion, enable the collection of more data and increase the sheer volume of data that could be compromised. While 5G has the capability to improve overall security, it will be both a direct and an indirect attack vector. If we haven’t thought through the minimum security standards—and how to implement them from the beginning—then 5G could be a pathway for adversaries to take vast amounts of data.

We need to discuss now what 5G lets us do differently with regard to security. Higher levels of encryption are certainly one option that could be employed. The network speeds could allow for more continuous network monitoring, which would detect anomalies much faster. But these are just variations or improvements on what we do today. What new security techniques could 5G allow us to implement?

5G is going to arrive sooner than we think, and it will transform many aspects of our lives. It’s time to start thinking about the how, what and why. As always, your feedback is welcome.

Terry Halvorsen, the chief information officer (CIO) and an executive vice president with Samsung Electronics, is the former U.S. Defense Department CIO. He also has served as the Department of the Navy CIO.