We might view contemptuously United States President Donald Trump’s attempts to revive the US coal industry against global moves towards cleaner energy, but he gave an enormous boost to the US economy in 2018 when he signed presidential memorandum 0-2518, directing the US Commerce Department to develop a long-term comprehensive national spectrum strategy to prepare for next-generation 5G wireless networks.
The move unleashed a flood of US investment into 5G, the fifth generation of cellular networks.
The slowdown of overloaded US 4G networks to internet speeds below those in most other developed countries had threatened to became a serious economic threat. When 4G arrived in the 2010s, it brought HD streaming over wireless networks marked by the rise of Netflix and leading today to insatiable consumer and business demands for exchanging data, including images, music and websites.
Phone companies began deploying 5G worldwide last year, and dozens of US cities already have what has been described as the “new electricity,” which Bloomberg has said “promises to transform our lives and add trillions of dollars to the global economy every year.”
In the VI
The Virgin Islands stands to gain more than our fair share of those dollars. However, the erection of 4G aerials in the VI was marked by communal dissension.
Telecom companies squabbled over their siting and ownership, and residents on hilltops rushed to gain the income from their land being chosen, while their neighbours jibbed at the prospect of having masts towering over them.
I am glad that the companies have agreed to share 4G masts in the future, but they will all become redundant when 5G is activated here. The transformation of the telecoms infrastructure will bring vast investment in the VI.
The new masts will be less obtrusive, greater in number, and technically far more advanced.
A tech leader?
The government should plan for 5G becoming a reality here sooner rather than later, so that the VI could become a technological leader in the Caribbean, rather than a reluctant laggard in its adoption. Aruba is projected to have achieved island-wide coverage by the end of 2021.
Apple’s widely expected release of 5G-enabled iPhones connecting to headsets providing “augmented reality” on Sept. 8 promises to be a game-changer in the realisation of numerous technical advances which would once have been considered science fiction. It could generate whole new industries here.
Prerequisites for their future must be awareness and flexibility in the face of change.
Companies quietly preparing for the future have suddenly found demand for their innovative products and services shooting up, like Zoom conferencing.
Here, a main reason for wanting direct flights from Miami was to facilitate the appearances in the Commercial Court of legal counsel from abroad, but they would be able to stay in their offices and make virtual appearances instead.
In such ways, the Covid-19 pandemic is acting as a catalyst for change globally. For example, it has alerted us to potential health hazards from handling cash, while central banks are actively considering the issue of digital money anyway. In the US, digital payments are predicted to double within four to five years, and proposals for a digital dollar are being considered.
Such developments would inevitably affect us. Sister islands, for instance, would no longer need physical access to a bank, and robberies would become rarer.
Our financial services industry should promote its interest in such developments through its patent registry and VI companies supporting vibrant but unregulated cryptocurrency markets.
The VI could benefit from the everyday use of augmented technology generating an insatiable demand for streaming information, education, recreation and cultural programmes. I foresee channels devoted to the VI being streamed worldwide, taking our history and culture to the homes of people unable to visit us in person.