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How technology can make a social difference. The 5G transformation will have a profound impact on our society and our lives as individuals, helping us stay safe, learn more, and care for our planet. But this transformation requires much more than new technology. It requires us to work together.
Learning to live with typhoons is a fact of life for countries on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean. Each year, over 50 tropical storms and typhoons form above the vast stretches of the Northwest Pacific Ocean . When these violent storms hit land, they bring with them heavy winds at speeds of up to 120 km/h, lashing rain, rising sea levels and potential flooding. In these extreme weather conditions, communication is both essential and a huge logistical challenge for emergency planners. Though modern technology makes forecasting and tracking extreme weather possible, informing the public so they can take timely action to protect themselves is a complex, but essential, requirement for local authorities. But on the east coast of China, where people can expect to face 10 typhoon landings a year , a technological revolution is occurring that offers a glimpse of a better, safer future.
At 8:36am on June 19th this year, phones across the Chinese province of Zhejiang lit up with an emergency notification—warning residents of an imminent typhoon. But instead of simply providing a plain text warning, or encouraging recipients to search for further information, this mobile message was considerably more detailed. Thanks to a partnership between ZTE and local telco Zhejiang Mobile, the message was sent in the 5G-enabled Rich Communications Standard (RCS) format. Taking advantage of the improvements in bandwidth offered by 5G, an RCS emergency alert can include text, graphics, images, maps and video—giving the receiver a much more detailed picture of the unfolding weather situation.
What makes RCS alerts on the 5G network particularly effective is that they are on an open framework. Emergency planners in Zhejiang can reach every 5G phone with no need for proprietary software. This ensures that everyone can be reached, regardless of where in the world they are, which network they are on or what messaging app they use.
Managing disaster response is just one example of how 5G can help improve lives and societies. The features that make 5G unique, such as its enhanced mobile broadband, reliable low latency, efficient energy usage and massive Internet of Things application, will create social and economic value across various sectors, areas and industries.
One such sector is healthcare—where 5G is expected to have significant societal impact. A 2020 report by the World Economic Forum and PwC identified several use cases for 5G-enabled technology that would contribute to improved healthcare, including remote patient monitoring, remote surgery, cloud-enabled medical skill sharing, image transfer, augmented and virtual reality-enabled healthcare, wearables and ingestibles, and drone-enabled medical service delivery. What’s more, these 5G-enabled innovations are already delivering better healthcare delivery systems, technology and governance.
At the height of the covid-19 pandemic, healthcare systems around the world struggled to deal with the sheer number of patients needing treatment. To help local authorities cope in Wuhan, the municipal government constructed a 1,500-bed field hospital in the space of just two weeks. The speed of Leishenshan Hospital’s construction was remarkable—but this would not have been possible without the site’s connectivity. In less than five days, ZTE worked with health authorities to setup at the site and deploy 5G equipment capable of maintaining 25,000 simultaneous connections. ZTE then established 5G video conferencing systems at Leishenshan and 29 other municipal and district hospitals across Wuhan. This ensured that crucial medical information could be shared by doctors, and enabled medical professionals and planners to coordinate their response to the pandemic more effectively.
Another trend in healthcare is the rise of mobile health, remote care and telemedicine, which can increase access to quality healthcare for groups such as the elderly or those living in rural areas. With 5G, healthcare systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine appointments and provide remote consultations, transmit patient data in real time to enable doctors to make quick decisions, and quickly and reliably transmit large, data-heavy files and images such as x-rays or CAT scans. Last year, ten of the world’s leading experts in thyroid surgery were able to remotely sit in on an operation taking place in the Chinese city of Kunming . Because of 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency, the experts were able to watch multiple live 4K video feeds and follow and advise on the procedure in real time. Together with China Mobile, ZTE has also built a 5G network for Xiushui People’s Hospital in China’s Jiangxi province. This network enabled the hospital to deploy its first mobile diagnosis and treatment vehicle, which allows medical professionals to communicate face to face with patients in the county hospital.
In today’s globalised, interconnected world, any successful initiative must involve all stakeholders in the value chain. This is why ZTE makes it a priority to work closely with industry, regulators and standards bodies in the 5G ecosystem. “With 5G and the associated IoT landscape, there is a real need to drive towards a regulatory framework that covers the complexity of the supply chain of all actors: from network equipment suppliers, operators, IoT manufacturers to software solutions,” says Relvas.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of ZTE’s commitment to transparency and collaboration, however, is the company’s Cybersecurity Labs. The European labs in Rome and Brussels are testing grounds for reviewing and evaluating ZTE technology and operations. Equally importantly, the cybersecurity labs also act as open invitations to regulators, customers and other stakeholders to take a deep dive into ZTE’s products and solutions and examine them for themselves.
“ZTE welcomes independent assessments and audits in our cybersecurity labs, including source code review, document review and penetration testing, to verify our products, services and processes,” Relvas says, “We always consider suggestions and findings from customers and third parties to continuously improve, thus making networks more secure.”
The enhanced connectivity of 5G offers clear environmental, economic and social benefits. Two examples of 5G’s social value can be found in the very different fields of education and beekeeping.
In education, one of the most visible 5G-powered opportunities is providing access to online classes and courses. In rural areas, which are often underserved by both educational facilities and transport infrastructure, 5G networks mean children can access remote learning. In May 2020, New Oriental, an education technology group in China, partnered with China Mobile Beijing and ZTE to deliver remote lessons to students in Guizhou, a mountainous province in south-west China. With 5G able to deliver high-bandwidth, low latency connections to rural areas, teachers in Beijing were able to teach an interactive English class to 4,000 students at once. “5G, especially on low frequencies like 700MHz, can provide better coverage and bandwidth in rural areas and suburbs,” says Jason Tu, ZTE’s technical spokesperson.
5G also has the potential to improve how we manage our natural resources. Bees are essential to ecosystems worldwide; they maintain food crop yields and the reproductive success of wildflowers. However, bees, both domesticated and wild, are under threat. According to research from the European Commission, 9% of all species of bee are threatened with extinction in Europe due to climate change and human action.
Technology may present a solution to declining bee numbers. In Austria, ZTE has partnered with technology firm IoT40 Systems to deploy a bee-monitoring system. The “Bee-O-Meter”, as the system has been dubbed, draws together several cutting-edge technologies. It uses 5G to stream high-definition video from hives around the country back to scientists who use artificial intelligence computer vision to track the bees’ movements and count their numbers. The system can even differentiate between male drones, female worker bees and queens, and report back on the number of bees arriving and departing the hive in real time.
The system provides beekeepers with analytical insights to make data-driven decisions. Changes in the count are used to detect whether hive numbers are decreasing, if there are pests like the small hive beetle intruding, and whether pesticides are impacting bee populations. ZTE plans to increase the number of hives being monitored to 1,000. Working with local Austrian telco Hutchinson 3, ZTE will use the Standalone Access version of 5G, which guarantees bandwidth for the hives, to make data collection even more reliable and accurate.
The 5G revolution is set to transform our lives for the better. It will help us take care of our health. It will monitor our environment. And it will liberate us from the constraints of geography. But what unites these transformative case studies is something deeper. 5G is not just about making connections in the technical sense. Ultimately, 5G is only going to improve society if industry, regulators and other stakeholders work together to build open frameworks on which new, transformative systems can be built.
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Addressing the speed and scale of digital change is one of the most pressing issues for global decision makers. 5G offers a more secure, more connected future, but this requires all stakeholders to work together to build a transparent, open and equitable environment.
This article was produced by (E) BrandConnect, a commercial division of The Economist Group, which operates separately from the editorial staffs of The Economist and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Neither (E) BrandConnect nor its affiliates accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any party on this content.
ZTE Corporation is a global leader in telecommunications and information technology. Founded in 1985 and listed on both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges, the company has been committed to providing innovative technologies and integrated solutions for global operators, government and enterprise, and consumers from over 160 countries across the globe. Serving over 1/4 of the global population, the company is dedicated to enabling connectivity and trust everywhere for a better future.