As the ever-advancing technological landscape continues to shift, 5G—and the promise of swifter connectivity—remains a topic of growing interest. With 5G technology steadily being deployed across the United States, Japan, and other regions, the Japan Society decided to bring together a diverse panel of experts to share their perspectives on the merits and challenges of 5G and exchange views of how they envision the future of mobile technology and the creative solutions it brings. The discussion also proves a useful tool for better understanding use cases and how business, industries, and society are expected to be impacted.

Nicol Lee-Turner, Governance Studies & Director, Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute, led the robust discussion among four distinguished panelists:

Elsa B. Kania, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security

Yuka Koshino, Research Fellow for Japanese Security and Defence Policy, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Muriel Médard, Cecil H. Green Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kazuo Noguchi, Senior Manager, Cyber Security Team, Research & Development Division, Hitachi America, Ltd.

It is widely understood that 5G will profoundly impact our lives with its groundbreaking speed and the promise of added value for society. However, “This technology has a suite of questions that we should still answer,” said Ms. Turner-Lee, “Why are we touting this new technology, what is the purpose, and what is the meaning that makes 5G so incredibly different, and special at this time?"

“An informal definition of 5G”

“I think that one of the things I like to always make sure that we distinguish is that there is a formal definition of 5G and an informal definition,” explained Muriel Médard, Cecil H. Green Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And it is the informal definition of 5G that has people excited. “Which is in effect a network, which is integrating everything. It’s integrating the cloud, it’s integrating what we call “the fog,” which is the cloud at the edge, it’s integrating storage, it’s integrating different types of networks.”

Addressing the point about what makes 5G so different, Prof. Médard painted a picture familiar to most of us: “I have a phone here, I can make phone calls and I can watch YouTube videos of cats, so what else could I possibly want? I can even make Zoom calls. The difference is that there’s a desire to have very low latency systems…and there’s this idea that I should be able to use all the spectrum out there. And it’s very clear with 5G, that in effect, it has acknowledged that Wi-Fi is a huge part of it.”

A substantial portion of Prof. Médard’s work involves figuring out how to “take this hodgepodge of different networks and make them look at synthetically and through mathematical means, which is what network coding does…how do you make all these disparate pieces actually work together?”

“Critical for future economic growth”

From the economic perspective, Yuka Kushino, Research Fellow for Japanese Security and Defence Policy, International Institute for Strategic Studies, believes that “low latency and massive connections, not just to smartphone devices but also with IOT devices, really brings the difference between 4G and 5G, allowing industrial applications like remote medicine or smart manufacturing, and smart agriculture. And in the Japan context, these are critical for future economic growth,” in light of Japan’s shrinking population and aging society.

Clearly, with such substantial economic implications, 5G technology will play a crucial role in contributing to solutions that address a multitude of societal needs around the globe. This also explains why, according to Ms. Kushino, “the rollout has been very much gaining a lot of attention” at this particular time.

“Enabling applications that we can’t imagine”

Elsa B. Kania, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security, describes the current time as “an exciting moment to be talking about 5G when you think about the potential and possibilities that this capability will bring into bare.” Accelerating deployment is becoming increasingly important considering that the global economy is “facing threats of severe recession and economies struggling to find new sources of growth and dynamism going forward, 5G will be incredibly consequential when it comes to enabling new types of digital economy, enabling applications that we can’t imagine, whether in healthcare, education, agriculture, or likely can’t envision today.”

“Who would imagine we’d be living our lives on Zoom?” she posits.

“In Japan, 5G became a catalyst”

As Senior Manager of the Cyber Security Team, Research & Development Division at Hitachi America, Ltd., Kazuo Noguchi shared his view that, “In Japan, 5G became a catalyst in innovation for the technology area, digital transformation, and sustainable development goals (SDGs),” and believes that the spotlight on the upcoming Tokyo Olympics “is a great moment to go into 5G as a new technological area.”

He also emphasized the importance of trusted relationships: “The security clearance mechanism, particularly from the U.S.-Japan perspective and the government level is critical to build a foundation. And collaboration between government, industry, and academia is a key partnership in the multilateral area.”

“5G is not a single monolithic technology”

Moderator Ms. Lee-Turner, digging further into the heart of the matter, asked if people think they can do the same things with 4G as with 5G, why do we really need 5G?

“We need to think of the informal definition of 5G, which is the next level of integration and particularly satellites,” explained Prof. Médard, adding, “I think that’s going to be extremely important in terms of the coverage and in terms of having a complete different backhaul, that is to say, you know how you get into the core of the internet.”

On the topic of security, Mr. Noguchi stated, “Ultimately 5G is the entrance of all the data. On the other hand, the end-to-end supply chain is critical—hardware, software, firmware—all kinds of insight from beginning to the end whether or not that is secured.”

Ms. Kania suggested that, “When we talk about 5G, there’s a tendency to speak in terms of a race. When there’s a focus on speed, at times that may come at the expense of security. And security is so fundamental and foundational to the viability of 5G going forward. So, I’d say this is more of a marathon, and not a marathon with a single course…5G is not a single monolithic technology; it is being used to characterize a range of potential techniques and approaches that may differ or diverge going forward. But I think the shared challenge is that with this greater complexity comes new security threats and concerns that could be more difficult to mitigate, but if done right 5G could be more secure than the quite insecure systems upon which we’re very dependent today.”

As communities, governments, and businesses around the globe continue to innovate, shape the future, and face challenges, it is an exciting and pivotal time to observe the ongoing rollout of this game-changing technology, and how exactly it will touch all our lives.

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