5G: The twelve trillion dollar technology

The adoption of 5G mobile technology could enable $12.4 trillion of global economic output by 2035, according to a study by IHS Markit (commissioned by Qualcomm).

The study, The 5G economy: How 5G technology will contribute to the global economy, sees 5G as not just an improvement over 4G, but as a transformational step change that will make it a general purpose technology (GPT). Other GPTs include the printing press, electricity, and the steam engine.

Those are heady expectations, for sure, but it’s not hard to see why: right now, the fastest transfer speeds that come from 4G/LTE are about 1 Gbps. That’s assuming there are no disruptions to the connection (which, as we all know, are common). 5G could increase that speed ten-fold, to 10 Gbps, which means a movie could be downloaded in a matter of seconds. Download speeds of 1 Tbps have been achieved in test environments (which could transfer a file 100 times larger than a full movie in about 3 seconds).

Such speeds will also deliver vast improvements in latency (the time it takes for networks to respond) and reliability, since shorter, more robust connections will be less exposed to risks of interruption.

And the point really isn’t about movies, as the IHS Markit analysis details, describing that we’re at “the cusp of an era that promises transformational technological change and a revamping of countless activities within everyday life.” It’s about connecting everything, and the research sees the new 5G-enabled economy emerging in three broad categories:

First, we’ll see Enhanced Mobile Broadband (EMBB) extending all of the value we get from 4G, speeding up those movie downloads but also transforming business teamwork and training. Just imagine how many activities will be impacted if communicating virtually, whether through sound and voice, or even virtual reality (VR), is as seamless and “real” as doing so in-person.

Next, the promise of the IoT will begin to be realized as it evolves to the Massive Internet of Things (MIoT). Transferring huge amounts of data almost instantaneously, combined with the speeds already available to process it, will mean more (and better) smart homes, connected businesses, energy grids, and entire urban infrastructures (also called “smart cities”). 

Finally, consider the automation that such data sharing will empower. The report highlights Mission Critical Services (MCS) like industrial or automotive automation, and remote patient health monitoring, but the list includes almost any activity that could be outsourced to a robot or network service. 

Building the ecosystem will take time, of course; it will require the wireless providers and network operators to establish standards and build the necessary infrastructure, businesses to invest in the tech and processes to take advantage of it, and governments to contend with overseeing a level of activity that could challenge the very conception of “borders.”

IHS Markit sees these efforts accounting for $200 billion in investments annually, starting as soon as 2020, and creating as many as 22 million jobs. Sensors and chips will be its building blocks.


  1. 5G Vs. 4G: How The Next Generation Of Networks Will Change Your Life
  2. How fast is 5G?

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