By Jason Paris, CEO Vodafone NZ
Today Vodafone's 5G mobile network goes live across large parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, making New Zealand the 22nd country in the world to switch on to the latest generation of mobile technology.
In time, I believe this will come to be regarded as a once-in-a-generation technological milestone for New Zealand, up there with the launch of colour TV and the introduction of the iPhone. If 4G was the Era of the Smartphone, 5G will be the Era of Connected Everything.
So what, exactly, is the big deal, and why will 5G be so important to New Zealand? After all, 98 per cent of us in New Zealand are already hooked up to the internet on-the-go, using our smartphones on the bus, on the beach, and in the bush.
Our mobile phones have become essential life remotes. According to one study, alarmingly, one in 10 millennials said they would prefer to give up their little finger than their phone. In less than 10 years, the smartphone has consolidated cameras, encyclopaedias, compasses, maps, video cameras, dating agencies, Walkmans, pedometers, watches, computers, gaming consoles, travel agents and many more, into one pocket-sized gadget.
The majority of New Zealanders can already check Google Maps, watch Netflix, order UberEats, live-stream their favourite sports, send important work emails, do their banking, or swipe right. We can do all these things and more, anytime, anywhere.
Yet while many of us now struggle to live without these awesome shiny, hand-held, engineered marvels, without an internet connection they are almost expensive and inert paperweights. Without a network connection, you cannot use maps, order food, stream content, send emails, search social media, pay a bill or swipe right. It is important to remember it's the network that brings the smartphone to life.
So if we already have access to everything we could possibly need through 4G today, why will 5G make such a difference? Four words. Speed, latency, capacity, security.
5G will be the fastest mobile network yet. When something gets faster, at first we wonder why that extra speed is needed. Soon we cannot live without it. We used to be OK with parcels taking weeks or even months to be delivered; now we want and expect them in a day.
Older New Zealanders will remember the experience of making toll calls, listening to the beeps and having a 3-4 second lag between someone saying something and you hearing it. Now, we expect to have real-time video conversations calling each other from the other side of the planet. 5G mobile will have the lowest latency between asking an app to do something, and the app doing it. This is critical for autonomous transport, or manufacturing, or real-time operations.
5G will have also have a lot more capacity for data. When the original iPod was launched, it was a truly magical thing – you could fit 1000 songs on a single 5GB hard drive. Incredible! Today's top of the range iPhone sports more than 500GB and can hold days of songs, videos or movies.
Finally, with 5G clever things can be done to improve security such as 'network slicing' – which means the mobile network can be sliced up into smaller virtual networks to be used for different things, such as dedicated networks for emergency services, large manufacturing plants or smart cities.
The point is that what we regard as normal today, will soon feel massively outdated. That is why 5G will change New Zealand's future for the better. Everything connected to everything with more speed, more capacity and lower latency will simply become the new normal.
As for the 'how' these new capabilities will be used, well, to be honest, I simply do not know. That is the point. We are providing a platform for innovation, exactly how that platform gets used and what innovations will emerge will be up to Kiwis a lot smarter than me.
What history tells us is that dramatic change nearly always gives birth to a new set of customer needs. In an ever more connected world, the characteristics of 5G will bring to life the real potential of the internet of things, or the internet of everything, and will underpin greater use of automation, data and artificial intelligence.
It means our cities and communities will become more connected, smarter, safer and healthier and many new and different jobs will be created. Every sector stands to benefit.
We know Vodafone still has a lot of work to do to earn the right to play a greater role in your lives – and investing in the next generation of New Zealand's technology future is just one of the big moves that we are making.
Right now, some seriously smart young New Zealanders are dreaming big about how they will change the world; I'm proud we are delivering the most powerful technology tool yet on which they can innovate and create the next generation of New Zealand tech companies, exporting Kiwi ingenuity to the world.