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Last month, we introduced our 2021 Business Trends report based on in-depth conversations with top CSOs in our Outthinker Strategy Network. We will be expanding on one of these trends every week with the intention of supporting your organization’s strategy for the next year and beyond. This is our fourth installment. 

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Among the ten trends mentioned in our 2021 Business Trends Report, there is one that is underlying and amplifying all other trends more than any in the list. The culmination of automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), powered by 5G technology, is accelerating trends across all industries.

Last month, I delivered a workshop in the field of construction tech, where worksites are becoming safer and more interactive due to enhanced communication that would not be possible without the speed and low latency of 5G. The Wild, a virtual/augmented reality platform, allows architecture, engineering, and construction teams to collaborate remotely on hosted models in an immersive workspace. Vinnie, Smartvid.io’s AI, collects insights on site safety hazards and uses them to warn workers of project risks.

Our cities, homes, stores, factories, and farms are becoming smarter, allowing us to live and work more efficiently while capitalizing on the massive amounts of data available to us through machines and devices.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of 5G and the IoT 

The chaos of the past year brought us back to basics. With existing technology escalating and data tracking almost everything we do, why not use the information we have to make life easier by controlling what we can control?

We spent more time at home in our private spaces, and relied on connected devices to ease the transition to remote work and to provide fast, accessible entertainment options at our fingertips. In 2021 we will continue to see the expansion of our own devices linking with those outside of the home, to help us stock up on necessities without planning, access additional remote education opportunities, and communicate with loved ones without interruption.

The future will bring our devices into greater communication with each other. Our phones and wearable technologies will be able to deliver metrics to our doctors, outlining treatments and medicines that we may need even before we realize that we do. With increased connection speeds, we’ll check in with medical providers from home through telehealth services and may someday even receive remote surgery from a doctor thousands of miles away. To protect the safety of frontline workers, robots enabled by 5G will be called into action to safely disinfect common surfaces or conduct temperature checks.

Outthinkers recognize and embrace 5G opportunities

This web of autonomous connected devices has already become essential and unavoidable as it impacts home life, cities, manufacturing, supply chains, and energy industries. Automation, 5G and IoT will continue their profound impact on seamlessly integrating the devices that power our lives.

Companies like EDP are preparing for the future, not only by delivering solutions using data to predict needs and provide renewable energy, but also to further the accessibility of 5G networks. EDP, along with partners from four European countries, recognized the difficulties in installing and deploying 5G networks in densely populated areas. They created 5Gaas to repurpose existing infrastructure and install smart city equipment, thereby expanding market potential and enabling the adoption of new technologies.

Will future technologies unite or divide us?

At Outthinker, we like to focus on the positive implications that new technologies inspire in our society, our businesses, and our lives. There is, however, often a darker, more challenging side to most trends.

The difficulties we have seen in recent months in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in rural areas of America present the question: will 5G and the network of autonomous connected devices serve to unite or further divide us along technological barriers? Rural counties still have limited access to high-speed internet connections and smartphone service.

Historically, the most up-to-date technologies have been rolled out in wealthier, urban areas before trickling out to more remote locations. 5G has the potential to make the digital divide worse by leaving certain communities exempt from the speed and ease of a more connected world.

Outthinkers will consider both the opportunities and challenges of propagating these technologies of the future, recognizing new possibilities in areas that have traditionally been underserved.