earth from space lit up at nightfree-photos / Pixabay

Just three months after a major consortium of global telecommunication and technology companies under the auspices of 3GPP established a global standard for 5G New Radio (NR), the race is on for world dominance. The deployment of the fifth and final evolution of the mobile broadband infrastructure will establish a digital framework for the mobile, global world, supporting the world’s vital infrastructure, communication systems and unlocking the full power of a connected world—both for people and machines.

Tests and ambitious roadmaps have already been announced, with Australia leading the world. Optus is showcasing its network next month at the April Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and planning an early 2019 rollout of a fixed wireless network to key metro areas. Telstra is investing 5 billion dollars to make sure Australians are at the top of the list for next gen, promising mobile download speeds that are up to 20 times faster than the National Broadband Network. Vodafone, who was one of the partner organizations at the 3GPP TSG RAN Plenary Meeting, has promised that their own network will be up and running by 2020. In partnership with Chinese multinational Huawei they claim the distinction of the world’s first fully 3GPP compliant 5G phone call.

Huawei has been building coalitions across Europe and Asia and is in a strong position to lead the 5G race, having signed at least 25 agreements with telecommunications operators in those regions. It is widely predicted that they will own the largest share of the global 5G market and thus play a large role in shaping the digital ecosystem that emerges.

However, on the other side of the world, inside an American Nokia facility, another first was hailed as Verizon and Qualcomm completed an over-the-air video call based on 3GPP’s non-standalone 5G NR specification. They made the call on Verizon’s licensed 28 GHz spectrum, using a 5G NR prototype device provided by Qualcomm Technologies.

Obviously, sabers are already rattling. The Optus/Huawei partnership has come under fire from the American president, who also just blocked Broadcom’s takeover of the strategic chipmaker Qualcomm. But regardless of national politics, a globalized communication infrastructure has been established, certainly in principle, and this standardization will allow the maturation of many interdependent industries and emerging technologies, bringing technology like self-driving cars, smart homes and high-quality voice IP into many more markets and setting the stage for a new global renaissance, as information, ideas and innovations flow and synthesize even faster. The potential for smart cities to learn from each other, for businesses to build stronger digital ecosystems, and for companies to find new markets to fund growth could drive a new era of innovation and creativity.

In the United States, Verizon is the only company still pursuing fixed 5G strategy, which is kicking off in Sacramento in 2018. AT&T is rolling out 5G to 12 American cities, of which they have named Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco, Texas as forerunners. T-Mobile is planning to roll out its own network in 30 cities, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas.

Sprint is starting with six cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. However, it is unclear if their network will be truly next gen, according to the new standards.

There were even rumors that the Trump administration talked about building a national 5G network, a proposal that received considerable pushback from the FCC and many others in the industry, while others touted some of the merits of the project. For many, national security is a pressing concern and was the primary reason the Broadcom deal was scuttled.

The truly international scope of the 5G project creates a dilemma that will not be easily or satisfactorily solved for all and will test the resolve of the global business order. While the threat of hyperwar and cyber attacks lurk in the background, the globalized world pushes forward, and digital transformation continues to integrate supply chains and link up more economies in an interdependent global system.

The establishment of an international standard is an important moment for the international business community and is an essential foundation for companies who operate across borders.

The next wave of disruptive and transformative technologies will be built at the intersection of the global and digital world over the top of this shared framework. Both collaboration and competition will drive the race to build out the 5G ecosystem, which will transform industries on a scale not seen since the first phase of the industrial revolution. It will continue to transform and disrupt the idea of a nation, too, and create a playing field where prototypes of governance can compete; including different forms of democracy and socialism—as well as more authoritarian forms, which certainly could have competitive advantages. This cultural and economic cross-pollination will reshape the world, completely altering the social, economic and political dynamics in every country, and advancing the interests of a global order.

Participating in this global order is a matter of becoming a digital citizen. Having a voice will mean having a digital strategy.

Thus businesses, too, are under pressure to change in a changeable world. Data from Oracle indicates that 9 out of 10 companies surveyed say that they have a digital strategy, yet not more than 1 in 7 have the software tools and the IT talent to make it happen. Even those who are enthusiastic about the wave of digital transformation don’t always follow best practices. For example, only a quarter of transforming firms are working from a map of the customer journey and more than half have not yet budgeted for additional investments in their digital channels.

In contrast, the global picture is one of stronger investment in foundational digital tech like 5G. An international study by Frost & Sullivan survey revealed that “improving digital presence” will be the top driver for IT investment for the next two years, followed closely by lower operating costs, a better customer experience, and aligning tech with strategy. From new business models to empowering flexible work and gaining incredible agility, 5G is sure to transform the business world in ways that we can’t yet even imagine.

“We believe 5G will change the world even more profoundly than 3G and 4G; that it will be as revolutionary as electricity or the automobile, benefiting entire economies and entire societies.” –Qualcomm’s Exec VP Don Rosenberg

In the end, digital transformation is not about transforming the digital structure of business operations. Its ultimate goal is to foster smarter ways for people and organizations to interact with each other. The digital aspect is only essential in that digitization can erase the limitations of physical distance and scale. The creation of more intelligent and effective organizational structures and cultures, which will incorporate the latest capabilities of digital tech, wireless communication, and distributed processing, will be entirely up to us.