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CWTA: 5G & the Hyperconnected Digital Lifestyle

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in CWTA’s (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association) 2021 virtual series on 5G titled ‘5G & the Hyperconnected Digital Lifestyle’, along with Accenture’s Jefferson Wang). CWTA’s Eric Smith was the moderator. In contrast to the many discussions around business use cases for 5G, this conversation dealt with the overlap of 5G and the connected home, an area that I know something about.

Jefferson Wang is a co-author of a book on the same theme: “The Future Home in the 5G era”¹. It was released in 2020. The book envisions an acceleration of 5G adoption and its seamless integration with the connected home.

There is no doubt that COVID has transformed our home to becoming multi-utilitarian. For so many of us, it is now our office, a classroom for our kids, besides continuing to be where we live, get entertained and connect to loved ones. Jefferson shared research that suggests the same where 53% of people who never worked from home before, now plan to do so. Also, that 41% of Gen Z prefer virtual or digital experiences with Doctors and 49% expect to virtually connect with friends and family more.

The shift to the connected home driven by the pandemic has borne out for Rogers too. Prior to COVID, 95% of our home installations were conducted by sending a Rogers truck to a customer’s home. But within 72 hours of the imposition of the stay at home orders in Ontario, we adapted to this new reality. Installations flipped to becoming 95% by the customer, aided by virtual or near (tech outside the house) support.

What has that got to do with 5G and the home?

Today’s home is mostly serviced with fixed broadband accessed through WiFi. Rogers ‘Ignite WiFi promise’ ensures a best-in-class experience for our customers. We are connecting a multitude of devices to our respective home networks, and interference can sometimes occur in a denser urban environment. In comparison to different WiFi experiences, the cellular 4G network that runs on licensed spectrum, is encrypted, managed and more consistent and dependable. Thus, today, there remains a distinct difference in experience when we are on a WiFi-enabled network compared to the wireless 4G network.

I believe 5G will be the ultimate “AND.” Previously, one set of consumers could have access to a service while others didn’t. This is because our fixed broadband footprint covers 3 provinces and within them not everywhere. Our 5G network will have national coverage. 5G will ensure similarity in the online experience in a city AND in a rural area, in our home AND outside, while on the Fibre network AND the 5G network.

With faster speeds, lower latency, network slicing (i.e., use cases to support various applications), enhanced network security and a continuation of a world with unlimited data allotments, 5G will create a seamless experience across the different spaces we inhabit today. Jefferson shared the metric that we have 100,000 devices per square kilometer in a 4G world. We will have 1 million devices per square kilometer in a 5G world. This means that we will be able to replicate experiences inside and outside the home seamlessly.

To illustrate our thoughts, we discussed a few examples that were along the lines of those in Jefferson’s book.

An in-person afternoon with friends, spent at the Rogers Centre, watching the Jays play was special (and will be again, when we return to normalcy post COVID). For some reason, if we are unable to attend and must watch it at home while our friends are at the stadium, the experience is very different. In a 5G world, virtual reality, with the same instantaneous access to feeds from various camera angles and sensors on the field, we will be able to enjoy nearly the same experience even if we watch the game at home (of course, barring availability to hot dogs and popcorn).

Another theme we touched upon was how many of us now also have to play the role of CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) for our home and possibly for our parents’ and grandparents’ homes. If something doesn’t work well, we try to troubleshoot in person or on the phone. Further, when we care for our elderly relatives across distances, we worry whether they have remembered to take their medication. A 5G world will bring an immense dose of predictability, and automation to such technology-related problem solving. In the future, we may even be managing our parents’ homes from afar and with the benefit of sensors and devices be able to remotely monitor if medications have been taken.

The possibilities of the hyper-connected home enhanced by 5G technology are truly endless. What were once considered optimistic but distant applications in books are coming to life in front of our eyes.

Eric Bruno, SVP – 5G, Content and Connected Home Products, Rogers