BANDWIDTH, ACCESS, TELEMEDICINE AND REMOTE WORK ARE VITAL IN TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT
The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about how we go about our day-to-day lives. It has affected virtually every aspect, from health to relationships to finances.
COVID-19 has also emphasized the need for and reliance on advanced technology, specifically internet connectivity. Not only have many businesses been forced to accept and adapt to work-from-home scenarios, but people have turned to the internet for everything from ordering groceries and supplies to seeing their doctors via telemedicine visits.
Even before the pandemic began, 2020 was predicted to be the year of 5G. The wireless technology was set to bring a massive increase in the speed of service while significantly reducing latency and significantly increasing network availability.
Just about every telecom company has been working hard to bring their 5G service to more markets in the United States. AT&T recently announced that it was offering low-band 5G wireless to 28 more U.S. markets, increasing its total markets served to 355. Now, roughly 179 million U.S. consumers can access some form of the 5G service from AT&T.
All along, wireless companies have touted the power of 5G. By using technology called Fixed Wireless Access, these companies are able to “pipe” 5G service directly into people’s homes. Verizon, for example, is offering 5G Home service that comes with a 1Gbps connection speed.
T-Mobile recently also announced plans to offer 5G service over FWA broadband, covering more than half of all households in the United States by 2024.
But as people have already adapted to remote work and remote connections during the coronavirus pandemic, some will ask, Is 5G still important?
The answer is a resounding yes, for a number of reasons.
5G PROVIDES SERVICE WHERE BROADBAND DOESN’T
The pandemic has had a dramatic effect on how people think about where they live. Over the last 20 years, people have flocked to revitalized cities throughout the United States, as they sought convenience over space.
Now, though, that mindset seems to have changed. Not only are people looking to flee city apartments and condos that pack people tightly together, they are looking for more space in general as they are forced to stay closer to home.
Many families with children are searching for homes with yards rather than sleek townhomes. As they are forced to work from home — and may end up remaining in that professional arrangement — they want out of their 1,000 square-foot abode and into something that has a dedicated office and yard for the kids to run around.
A Harris Poll this past spring found that almost one-third of all Americans were considering a move to a less-densely populated area because of the pandemic. City dwellers were twice as likely to have browsed a real estate website for new homes than those who already live in rural or suburban communities.
The challenge of doing that, though, is that high-speed broadband technologies aren’t available in a lot of rural and even some suburban areas. Verizon, for example, offers DSL internet to much of the United States, but not their high-speed FiOS service — which is concentrated on more densely-populated areas.
Expanding broadband to most of the country is unrealistic due to the exorbitant cost. That’s why 5G could be so important.
The only way that expanding remote services will work for those living far from cities is if they have reliable ways to connect to the internet. Checking email over a dial-up connection is one thing; trying to hold a telemedicine video conference is another altogether.
THE NEW NORMAL REQUIRES MORE BANDWIDTH
That last point brings up the real reason why 5G matters in our new normal. The things that we require and desire take up a lot more bandwidth than was necessary before we did everything from home.
Before the pandemic, streaming services were most likely the biggest hogs of our internet bandwidth. Normal browsing of the internet and sending emails didn’t take up much of the service.
Now, though, our everyday lives require more bandwidth, faster speeds, low latency, and high reliability. Can your current broadband service handle your kids watching Netflix on the TV, while streaming YouTube videos on the phone, while your spouse holds a Zoom video call for work, while you participate in a telemedicine appointment with your doctor?
Keep in mind, too, that your neighbor and most others in your area are trying to do the same thing — at the same time. This kind of activity can significantly affect the performance of a broadband network. Even upgrading to the premium offerings of your telecom company may not do the trick.
This, again, is where 5G’s promise of speed, low latency, and high reliability comes into play. It allows families to consistently use the internet the way they’re using it today during the pandemic.
MORE MEDICINE MAY MOVE TO VIDEO PERMANENTLY
Access to health care has always been a challenge in the United States. Those in rural communities have always struggled with the fact that they are located far away from doctors. Telemedicine in these cases has always been attractive, for the simple fact that a long car ride may not be necessary for a routine consultation.
What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught many of us, though, is that telemedicine is a viable and desirable option, no matter where you live. Not only is it more convenient, but it’s more efficient in many ways.
From a healthcare provider’s perspective, telemedicine cuts down on the costs of administering in-office services. It allows doctors to see more patients in a day, and allows them to be more flexible about the hours when they “see” patients.
Again, though, for it to work consistently, all parties need a solid internet connection. A blip in service that leads to a misunderstanding in communication on either end can be disastrous, health-wise. And that’s where 5G can serve a significant role.
REMOTE WORK WILL EVENTUALLY MOVE OUT OF THE HOME
One of the likely long-lasting effects of the pandemic is more companies will see the viability and benefits of allowing employees to work remotely. One of the biggest ongoing concerns companies may have, though, is the reliability and security of the internet connections their employees use.
Eventually, the pandemic will end and people will be able to return to what was once their normal lives. This means that more people will work remotely from outside of their homes — in parks, in libraries, and in coffee shops, for example.
Those areas have always been a concern for companies, as public WiFi connections in businesses can be compromised, and connectivity is always in question using 4G service.
With 5G, those fears are quelled. 5G can provide super-fast and super-secure connections to people no matter where they are. This means someone sitting at a coffeehouse can have access to the same internet connectivity that they can have sitting in their home office.
This aspect of 5G is sure to prove essential in the future as companies embrace remote work permanently, and while people begin to venture out of their homes.
COVID-19 has proven a key technological issue: That we need consistent, reliable, fast internet connections, no matter where we are.