Vodafone CEO hints at how 5G can counter the rise of populism

BARCELONA, Spain—Executives from some of the world’s largest wireless network operators highlighted how they expect 5G network technology will be used in the coming years—and at least one promised that such uses could lead to the creation of additional new jobs for the world’s inhabitants, rather than the elimination of jobs.

“All the signs are positive for us to build a better future,” proclaimed Vodafone’s Vittorio Colao during a first-day keynote here at the Mobile World Congress trade show.

However, he acknowledged that around the world there is an increase in “technofear” with concerns that technologies like artificial intelligence and driverless cars will reduce the overall number of jobs available to the world’s population.

Colao added that the rise of populism can potentially be traced back to an expression of anger among a people who believe that their society isn’t providing them with the things that they want and need. Colao said that technologies like 5G and the IoT “should deliver a better deal” to those who are disaffected.

Such an argument isn't necessarily new. For example, the CTIA trade association in the United States last year issued a report that found the build-out of 5G will result in the addition of $500 billion to the U.S. GDP alongside the creation of 850,000 total new jobs.

Specifically, Colao pointed to the city of Milan, a location that Vodafone and others are using as a testbed for 5G technologies. He said 80% of the city will be covered by 5G technology by the end of this year, and that 100% of the city will be covered by 5G by the end of next year. Colao said the city represents a test bed for what 5G and other, related technology can do for residents.

Among Vodafone’s 5G use cases in Milan:

  • Connected ambulances that Colao said would act like “an extension of the hospital” where emergency responders in ambulances can begin to immediately diagnose and treat patients with the help of hospital-based staff.
  • Dynamically allocated public spaces, where city sensors and infrastructure can direct vehicle and pedestrian traffic around busy locations.
  • And 5G connected cameras, including drones with cameras, can can monitor public spaces and other areas for residents’ security and safety.

“Can this become the model?” Colao asked, noting that such applications will require inexpensive access to spectrum alongside fair regulations and an openness to public-private partnerships. “We have an opportunity to create more jobs” with such technologies and services, he said.

Docomo’s Kazuhiro Yoshizawa offered a similar checklist of potential use cases for 5G technology, and he also pointed to the operator’s stated goals of improving the health and wellness of Japan’s citizens via its offerings. “We believe 5G will play a very important role in reaching these goals,” he said.

Docomo, which has said it will launch 5G technology in 2020 in time for the summer Olympics in Japan, is currently working with more than 600 partners, including 15 entities that are developing 5G use cases at the operator’s 5G trial site. Among those use cases:

  • Remote operation of a 5-ton excavator.
  • Telehealth services for clinics that are not connected to fiber networks.
  • Connected car and vehicle-to-everything trials with companies like Nissan.

Although operators across the globe—including those in Europe and Japan—have begun moving toward 5G technology, many see the United States and China taking the lead in the space.

“It’s a neck-and-neck race between the U.S. and China to see who will be first to deploy” 5G in a large way, said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri during a recent media event by the company. Indeed, in the United States, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have all promised to launch 5G services within the next year.