5G Supplement April 2020 editorial by James Mawson, editor in chief, Global Corporate Venturing

The three big drivers of human evolution have always been living longer, better-quality lives; new forms of energy; and new, faster, wider-reaching communications.

For the last category, the world is this year entering its long-promised opportunity for the fifth generation (5G) of mobile technology.

The importance of mobile phones has only grown with each generation. The value created from 4G through the 2010s has been unprecedented. Almost everyone in the world now carries a more powerful computer accessing almost the world’s entire set of data and knowledge than almost any company was able to access just a generation ago.

As Benedict Evans, former venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz, which made its name at the start of the last decade by describing how software would eat the world, said in a presentation at the World Economic Forum in January: “‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ looks at what it means that 4 billion people have a smartphone [and 5 billion have a phone out of 5.5 billion adults]. We connected everyone, and now we wonder what the Next Big Thing is but, meanwhile, connecting everyone means we connected all the problems. Tech is becoming a regulated industry, but we don’t really know what that will mean.”

Regulation brings governments and geopolitics. If war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography, as Evans said, quoting comedian Paul Rodriguez’s line in the 1980s, then 5G will show the altering of the technology map over the past quarter-century. From US-Europe technology divisions before 3G to Sino-American arm-wrestling in the 2020s over 5G where Europe and the rest of the world are just the territories to collect the reparations in return for services delivered.

As the novel coronavirus has made clear for many people during their lockdown, paying for faster, speedier communications is a price worth almost any amount.