5G Rollout Could Get a Boost From Coronavirus Measures

The international coronavirus health crisis has impacted nearly all our lives. It might very well also light a fire under the rollout of 5G networks in the United States and elsewhere.

More than 90% of the U.S. population is now under stay at home restrictions. That number is almost sure to grow in the weeks ahead.

With most of the population unable to leave home to go to work or attend school, we are leaning on the Internet even more heavily than ever. And there are signs that existing networks are feeling the strain.

Last month — after schools and offices began shutting down and some regions of the country issued the first stay at home orders — mobile network operator Verizon abruptly announced that bandwidth on its network shot up 75% in just one week. The implication was clear: with more people remaining in their homes to avoid exposure to the virus, the data traffic — particularly video and videoconferencing ­— shot up exponentially. Almost overnight, the role of the Internet in keeping us connected to family, friends, colleagues, and the workplace became even more vital.

5G was already poised to go mainstream in the U.S. this year. After dipping their toes in the water last year, major U.S. operators were already planning to push the accelerator on 5G network deployments in 2020. The 5G marketing machine had already been working overtime in the weeks before the sounding of the alarm about the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., with network operators and device manufacturers buying up airtime in quest of consumer mindshare.

The spread of the virus and the changes it has forced have only heightened the urgency of the move to 5G. Operators are likely to accelerate planned 5G network deployments to alleviate the increased stress on their networks. And many consumers — not just early adopters — are apt to fast forward plans to make the jump to 5G to give them enough bandwidth to keep clear of the traffic congestion on legacy networks.

Beyond the U.S., many other regions of the world could see an acceleration of 5G deployment and adoption for similar reasons. In China, for example, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently called on local governments to pull in 5G network deployments in part to help reduce the impact of the coronavirus.

In light of the global health crisis, the advantages offered by 5G are more important than ever. Increased bandwidth and faster, more reliable connections will help workers and students get more done in an environment were remote work and learning is — at least temporarily — the new norm. But more than increasing productivity, 5G technology could be an important tool for the science and medical communities engaged in a critical fight against this global pandemic.

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