Uplifting Remote and Rural Communities Using 5G
One of the biggest problems we face in our times is the fast rate of urbanization, in both developed and developing nations, leading to large migration of rural population towards cities for better life. This makes it an uphill task for governments and local councils to plan and provide quality services to their own citizens. According to UN urbanization data, currently we have 7.6 billion people in the world, of which 4.2 billion live in urban areas and 3.4 billion reside in rural places. By 2050, global population is projected to be at 9.8 billion, with 6.7 billion and 3.1 billion distributed between urban and rural areas respectively. The sudden increase in population across cities is bound to widen the gap between the rich and the poor leading to creation of slums, and problems in health care and transportation.
Information & Communications Technology (ICT) has positively impacted human lives, particularly in developing rural areas. Almost every adult living on the planet, irrespective of his urban or rural status, has a mobile phone and is connected via voice and/or data but the real question is - has it improved the quality of life for remote communities in a meaningful way – the answer is probably not!
We see a lot of buzz about ICT, particularly 5G and how it is going to bring innovation at an industrial scale in both urban and rural areas leading to development and growth. A simple Google search of “5G use cases” brings hundreds of active use cases cutting across industry verticals. At Infosys, we are always encouraged to think about adopting technology to create better societies and this blog is an attempt to think and innovate about using 5G as a technology platform to solve the urbanization challenge.
The Way Ahead with 5G
We can create smart solutions to solve the problem of large scale migration to urban areas. To give an example, service providers in Australia are making endeavors to work with government agencies and also with leading universities to co-create solutions using 5G as a backbone in areas such as sustainable farming and remote health care services. Telecommunication companies are also investing heavily in 5G. As per news reports in August 2018, Telstra announced it had switched on 5G technology in Toowoomba, making it the first regional community in Australia and one of the first places in the world to be 5G ready. Here are some ideas around 5G:
- Build Sustainable Solutions for Better Quality of life in Rural Areas: There is a need to create sustainable technology solutions around sustainable farming, improved health care, access to world-class education and more, that can improve the quality of life for rural population. Australia suffers from a digital divide when it comes to medical facilities that are available in metro vis a vis rural areas of the country. Timely diagnosis can prevent hospital admissions, the rate of which is apparently 250% higher in rural areas over main cities primarily due to poor access to health care. 5G communications capabilities will enable real time interaction between patients and doctors and emerging technologies like AR/VR/3D imaging etc. will provide the tools to assist doctors in providing accurate diagnosis. 5G can even offer facilities for health care professionals to operate remotely using robot prosthetics.
- Improved connectivity: 3G & 4G have large connectivity issues in rural areas as service providers were not able to generate a business case for their returns corresponding to the infrastructure investment requirements. 5G will bring in significant speed and coverage improvements from 4G as well as low latency that would revolutionize rural industries such as farming. In Europe trends show that farm profitability is on the decline. Farms are getting bigger, yet the margins and profitability are dropping at an alarming rate. By enabling new precision capabilities on farm equipment with real-time connectivity through 5G and IoT, the productivity in terms of crop yield can be significantly enhanced. This will invigorate the farming industry and help us keep pace with the global food demand as the earth's population grows manifold over the next few decades. As per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, in order to feed our growing numbers, farmers across the globe will have to grow 70% more food in 2050 than they did in 2006.
- Public-Private Partnerships: Creating job opportunities for remote communities in rural areas will balance the population distribution. Governments need to work with industries and create a model where opportunities can be shipped to remote areas leveraging 5G. For example, we can create a virtual market place, where industries and enterprises have a platform to identify the skill of workforce available at remote areas and assign projects or task which they can perform as individuals or even as a collective community. 5G has inherent superior capabilities such as lower power requirements, higher capacity, lower latency and increased reliability. This technology advancement will provide the required confidence to private enterprises to create remote work force. Creating jobs in rural areas always has a positive spiral effect on the greater economic welfare.
- Fostering an Entrepreneurial Culture: While 5G and IoT are technology enablers, it is important we create an ecosystem where micro-enterprises are endorsed and encouraged. In the Indian sub-continent, microfinance organizations such as Grameen Bank in Bangladesh have contributed significantly to rural community development in the last two decades. The key challenge that a rural entrepreneur faces is access to national or global markets, compelling them to depend on middle men to market their products/services. 5G can be used to extend microcredit along with the required market access to create an entrepreneurial culture.
At Infosys, we have verticals for communications, financial services, healthcare, insurance, mining, agriculture etc. to provide dedicated industry based focus to serve our customers better. Our Communications vertical can potentially act as a conduit or a “Vertical of Verticals” by enabling the enterprise use cases to be extended to the rural sector through internal and ecosystem collaboration leveraging the benefits of 5G Technology. Our industries (OEMs, Telecoms, System Integrators, Standard bodies) should inherit a culture of not only extending existing ICT and 5G use cases to support remote populations but also create new ones with an objective to develop and enhance the quality of life in rural areas.