“Accelerate” is a good descriptor when it comes to 5G, because the fifth generation cellular network is fast. Yes, people said the same about 4G during its rollout, and at some point in the future you’ll click on content that touts the rapidity of 6G. But the numbers are the numbers, and 5G speeds may outstrip the bandwidth of LTE networks by as much as 100 times.
So, functionally, what does this mean? It means more than just fast downloads, although fast downloads will be on the menu, allowing for file sharing at a previously unheard of level. But thinking of 5G as a step towards faster, contemporary communication misses out on the game-changing potential of the technology. According to Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, a futurist and professor at the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, 5G will facilitate an increasing level of connectivity that is simply difficult to conceive of — which is saying something, as so many people already feel like connectivity has become baked into their daily lives.
This may be the case, but 5G will allow for more devices to come online and into networked contact. This phenomenon is, of course, not embraced by everyone, a fact underlined by the plethora of conspiracy theories that have sprouted amidst the news of 5G adoption. Golbeck argues we are entering a phase beyond just new levels of connection — we will see new types of connection. Online interaction will be less hobbled by buffering, download speeds (or lack thereof), and a million other burps in the telecommunications sphere. Our connection to the outside world will become more seamless, and more ubiquitous.
A common complaint about online interaction is that it can be dehumanizing, but Golbeck argues that the smoother communication 5G delivers will also more naturally convey nuances of social cues and emotion that are currently lacking in networked communication. Additionally, there’s a lot of device potential waiting to be cracked by 5G; the networks may, for example, allow people to remotely interact with pets, which could have huge implications not only for dog owners, but isolated individuals who are, say, in hospice care and craving animal interaction.