Foreseeing what is next: the rise of 5G technologies

At the end of the 17th century, the French artist Jean-Marc Côté was commissioned some illustrations about en l’an 2000. Already back then, life in the 2000 was pictured as highly automatized: an automatic barber would take care of your skin and a barely self-standing robot would do the housework. But many intuitions that our ancestors would have thought of as barely possible are now features of our pasts.

The technological innovation that took place over this past century reaches far beyond these forecasts. Cars will drive themselves and take you wherever you wish. Probably, they will also be able to connect with the lights in your house, or to the calendar in your phone, to know when you are ready to leave and where you want to go. Things are becoming intelligent.

Information and communication technologies are fast incorporated in city infrastructures to enhance the quality and performance of urban services; cities are becoming smart. From intelligent thermostats in our homes, personal fitness clocks on our wrists, vibration sensors embedded in factory machinery and jet engines, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be literally everywhere.   

The upcoming 5G technology will make the most futuristic scenarios the very grain of everyday life. The fifth generation of wireless technologies, with its unprecedent speed, low latency, wide distribution, and the possibility to support high connection density, will take interconnectivity worldwide. IT distributed architectures, edge and fog computing, domotics, and virtual realities in the age of 5G will revolutionize our way of communicating.

Everything we use might soon be on-line and ready to connect with all aspects of our lives.

5G enhanced technologies will also boost the fourth industrial revolution. For instance, autonomous robots allow companies to make the leap to smart, data-driven flexible manufacturing. Wireless Sensor Networks are gaining ground in business environments where monitoring is the key word. And the implementation of highly connected and smart technologies is not the only frontier in business development. With the increasing availability of data and with the need to rapidly analyze it, companies are facing the challenges of dealing with big data issues of rapid-decision making for improved productivity. Machines are connected as a collaborative community. Big data, IoT, and cloud computing for the centralization of information and its analysis and conservation is a direct consequence of the increased volume of data, of the computational power, and of the rising connectivity, which enable the creation of integrated ecosystems designed to optimize manufacturing, distribution, and the product-consumption lifecycle. Companies that are leading the integration of these technologies into their digital strategies will have the opportunity to reach huge heights. But with huge rewards, huge risks await.

Highly software-based interconnectivity has already proven to be fertile ground for Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks, which disrupt normal traffic of a target server, service or network by overwhelming the target and its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of Internet traffic. With the implementation of 5G and IoT technologies, the possible reach of DDoS will increase exponentially: 2017 Cisco report highlights that the number of DDoS attacks exceeding 1 gigabit per second of traffic will rise to 3.1 million by 2021, a 2.5-fold increase from 2016.

But denial of service is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the evident lock down of infrastructure, there is the whole multifaced world of attacks to information itself. Ransomwares, multi-vectors attacks, authentication issues, malwares that take the control of your device are just some of the most frequent types of attacks. The ever-growing amount of personal, business, and financial information that will be shared with the advent of 5G and IoT technologies, and the fact that they will mostly reside in fairly unprotected clouds, will exponentially amplify its exposure to possible cyber threats, making the protection of information not a luxury but rather a necessity. If everything becomes on-line information, then everything is within the reach of possible cyber criminals. The possibility of injecting private information reaches areas of our life beyond imaginability. The very boundaries of our private life will likely shift with the predominance of widely connected technologies: our private information, pictures, medical reports, bank accounts, where we go, our daily habits, our industrial ecosystems such as supply chains, our critical infrastructure, energy, emergency systems, all of this and far more will be stored somewhere out of our direct control. One day, virtual realities will become such a key component of our daily life that even what we think, our dreams, hopes, and fears, will be on-line.

The ability of making predictions about the future is a central aspect of the human kind. It does not only allow us to engage in sophisticated thought experiments, but it also keeps us on our toes, ready to act when predictions become facts and facts overrun predictions. Hence, we need to sharpen our thinking and build educated and aware predictions about what is ahead of us, because “the desire to know our individual destinies has been linked, through the centuries, with our desire to foretell what will happen to humanity as a whole, to comprehend in all its complexity the grand sweep of history” (Asimov, 1986).


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