The importance of 5G, AI and embracing new technologies in a post-Covid world

24 Jun 2020

Jijay Shen. Image: Huawei

Huawei Ireland CEO Jijay Shen talks about how Ireland can emerge from the Covid-19 crisis by embracing new technologies.

Our world has been rocked by the events of recent months. Society, business and the workplace will now have to adapt and we will all be living by a phrase that has become common to us all: ‘the new normal’.

There is a consensus that we are headed for a global recession and in the midst of the uncertainty caused by these black swan events it is vital for all businesses, and the ICT sector in particular, to take a leadership approach in plotting the smoothest path to economic recovery. The digital economy will be central to Ireland’s future success.

As the country reopens for business, we should look to how technology can help enable the creation of high-value jobs and power Ireland’s innovation and enterprise economy. Companies and entrepreneurs are examining how traditional industries such as construction or agriculture can be disrupted and optimised using technology.

Already we are seeing large builders such as Cairn Homes trialling GPS and facial recognition technology on sites to ensure social distancing, while Irish companies are leading the way in sensor technology to improve the management of dairy herds.

In early June, the Government announced that it expects more than 7,700 businesses to access the Trading Online Voucher to help themselves do more online, compared to only 1,200 last year.

Connectivity is the common thread

The possibilities for e-medicine, retail, manufacturing and the all-important area of logistics and transportation are virtually endless. The common thread uniting them all is connectivity. We expect 58pc of the world to be covered by 5G by 2025 and Ireland has every chance of being a global leader in this regard.

5G will play a central role in improving business performance through faster data transmission and more reliable connectivity and this will present more new opportunities for Irish businesses in the post-Covid recovery.

This will see the true advent of AI into business with almost all large companies using it within their operations in five years’ time. Industrial robots will be working side by side with people in manufacturing, with more than 100 robots for every 10,000 employees helping to make life easier.

AI remains an ever-developing technology where the potential is still being realised with smart factories, smart farms and smart cities soon to become the norm in the coming years. A smooth transition to an AI-enhanced workplace will involve frontline staff to identify those tasks best suited to automation, empowering them to contribute to making a difference in their business.

AI-powered machines will be able to interpret the real world in the same context as we can. One such application will be to help autonomous vehicles navigate poor road and weather conditions, which will make a potentially huge difference to road safety. AI will allow businesses to boost productivity, increase agility and flexibility, spur innovation and be the root of digital transformation.

AI is not just about robots, computing and smart factories, it’s also about real applications in people’s everyday lives. For example, Huawei has developed StorySign, a mobile application to help deaf children learn to read in a fun and engaging way. It is a global initiative and in Ireland, the company worked with the Irish Deaf Society to help develop it for the Irish market because technology should be used to encourage digital inclusion for all.

At the consumer level, we expect that the adoption rate of intelligent digital personal assistants will have reached 90pc by 2025, while C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything) technology will be installed in 15pc of the world’s vehicles, making transport safer and more reliable.

The need for digital learning resources

Education is one sector that has been irreversibly changed since Covid-19. Over recent months, educators and their institutions have taken technological steps which might otherwise have taken years to implement.

As the crisis subsides, the next couple of years will see technology and practitioners work side by side more holistically to enhance the educational experience, widen access and introduce ways of learning not yet considered.

Taking the higher education sector as an example. Institutions can now diversify and enhance their subject offerings whether that is in AI, data analytics or cloud computing because this is where the jobs of the future will be created.

In China, a national cloud platform was launched offering digital learning resources to students in schools free of charge across the country. With 7,000 servers and a 90-terabyte bandwidth, the platform already accommodates 50m learners simultaneously. Good connectivity, whether fibre broadband or 5G, was key to ensuring that students, teachers and classrooms remained connected to ensure the education sector operated successfully.

In April, the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland announced ICT funding for schools including a €10m fund to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students. When schools return later this year with the likelihood of classroom sizes being restricted, technology will play an important role with virtual lessons, one-on-one support via video conferencing and submitting assignments online. All of this will be underpinned by good ICT infrastructure.

5G, VR and the workforce

Society and the workforce will see the benefits of these innovations, particularly if critical thinking and emotional intelligence can be prioritised in the mix. These skills will be in high demand and it is these attributes that employers will look for when recruiting new staff.

Technology should add value to a business, making it easier for teams to collaborate and drive innovation. The widespread adoption of 5G will be an enabler to this and will see the growth of a smarter way of living. The ability to monitor, assess and troubleshoot in real time will bring about another wave of innovation and opportunities for businesses.

The use of virtual reality is also something we will see more of in the future. Creating an experience whereby you can showcase your company’s products or offices to perspective clients or new hires allows you to give them an immersive experience without the necessity to travel. That being said, I do think that the human touch and connection will still be as important, if not more important than ever, when we return to our offices and back to the ‘new normal’.

By Jijay Shen

Jijay Shen is CEO of Huawei Ireland.