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The Pandemic Makes the Case for 5G Expansion

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Alexander J. Thibodeau
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
March 4, 2021

What is 5G?This month marks the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19-based restrictions in Michigan. As vaccine distribution begins and we look forward to a return to normalcy, some of the ways we adapted to 2020 may stick around long after the virus is defeated. In the past year, we’ve traveled less but checked in on our loved ones more; we’ve given fewer hugs but we’ve developed better sterilization and hygiene practices; we’ve chosen not to gather in person, but we’ve gotten extremely good at connecting remotely.

Before the pandemic, we’d heard a lot about 5G small cell technology and the advancements it promised to make possible. Although most of us haven’t experienced those advancements first-hand, nearly all of us have changed the way we use technology—making those promises infinitely more important to our collective future than they were a year ago.

To its credit, the telecom industry did not skip a beat as we all turned toward life in quarantine. Thousands of Michigan offices abruptly closed their doors last spring and most still have remote work policies for their employees. Local governments adapted to governing online. Online platforms not only replaced the boardroom but also the classroom, the family gathering, the birthday party, the delivery service, the call to grandma, and the movie night. We realized that life online isn’t the lonely, sterile stereotype of yesteryear or a world exclusive to Millenials or Gen Z. In reconsidering the way we work, learn, and connect, we begin to realize how far the telecom industry has come and the opportunity we have to push it further. 

Just as the world has changed dramatically, the conversations about 5G must too. Companies that were reluctant to provide support are now ripe for onboarding. To the extent that complete Cloud operations were a novelty only appropriate for companies of a certain size, they are now an essential requirement for all remote workers. Some rural communities for whom high-speed internet was an afterthought were forced online by practical restrictions against meeting and realized for the first time the convenience it brings.

While some predicted that text and email would replace voice calling, the pandemic has changed the ways we want to connect—favoring conversations we can see and hear over ones we can read and type, while still enjoying the convenience of not having to travel. Costs of business travel have decreased, while our comfort with doing business digitally is booming. Where in-person access to public services has decreased, digital access is higher than ever and has allowed for participation in judicial proceedings, local government, and community events in a way never imagined before. 

As we spend more time in our homes, the interconnectivity of our personal spaces becomes more important. The Internet of Things (“IoT”), the term for the digital relationship between our physical objects, is a household concept even if we aren’t often calling it by name. The idea is simply a system of connected objects that collect and transfer data over a wireless network without human intervention to predict our needs, desires, and complications and anticipate ways to resolve them. For example, consider implanted medical devices that provide healthcare data to your physician without the need for an in-person appointment. Or perhaps closer to home, the up-to-the-minute traffic updates your GPS mapping provides, vehicle alerts when maintenance issues arise, and doorbell cameras and sensors that provide digital alerts to packages or visitors in real-time.

5G’s ability to maximize the potential of the IoT cannot be underestimated, both in our personal lives and in the way we do business in an increasingly contactless world. The decreased latency and increased spectrum promised by 5G small cells are necessary to meet changed demands for connectivity. However, the challenge on the horizon for the telecom industry will be adjusting its development model to provide connection in more rural areas, as connectivity moves closer to becoming an essential right.

If you have more specific questions related to 5G and its impact on your community, please contact the author, Alex Thibodeau or another member of Foster Swift’s municipal practice group.