The Digital Divide: How is 5G Infrastructure Impacting Inequality

The idea that 5G technologies will uplift the world is an inspiring and popular proposition. However, the realities of life – and how human beings behave, govern themselves, and prioritize their self-interests – will truly determine the ultimate value and impact of 5G technologies. Currently, the exciting narratives being promoted by the enterprises that will benefit from 5G are captivating and indeed plausible. But the real world, as we know, is much more nuanced, inequitable, and historically unfair. How 5G infrastructure, from small cell networks to beamforming capabilities, is rolled out across the world and our communities will directly benefit those with modern devices and quality access – and perhaps further entrench those without resources more deeply into the disenfranchised quagmire of the digital divide.

Leading nations in the global economy, from China and India to Japan and the United States, are expediting 5G infrastructure regulations and projects to capitalize on the competitive benefits seamless adoption provides their businesses and populations. These investments, however, could exacerbate existing inequalities that currently fuel income disparity and undermine social stability. The economic prosperity resulting from 5G technologies could be tempered by the expanding gap between those with access to technologies and connectivity and those increasingly disenfranchised from such resources and opportunities. The line separating these groups is often drawn between urban and rural areas. China’s 5G infrastructure, for example, is mainly focused on the population centers of Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai; in fact, 30% of China’s 5G infrastructure resources serve just 4% of the nation’s actual population. In the real world, balancing opportunity with need can complicate the benefits of 5G technologies. But there are still plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

 

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