5G is now just months away in Australia and for many the questions remain – what is it and how will it work?

Touted as the next generation of mobile network technology, 5G could potentially enable download speeds of up to 1,000Mbps -- vastly superior to NBN speeds -- and promises to support the next generation of Australian innovation, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT).

But it is seemingly unclear whether the current regulatory environment will allow the network to achieve its potential.

The benefits it could bring

Launching a new 5G paper at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney, Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield detailed the economic boost the network can deliver Australia.

“The paper finds that 5G could increase multifactor productivity and real incomes, raising GDP per capita in 2030 by up to $2,000,” he said.

“This estimate of the economic benefit is likely to be conservative, in that it does not fully take into account the consumer and non-market benefits that are not captured in economic statistics.”

He also spoke of the efforts being made by Telstra and Optus in making 5G commercially available, with plans for it to be ready by 2019.

The report, titled Impacts of 5G on productivity and economic growth also detailed the social benefits 5G could bring.

“Healthcare is an example of a sector becoming more reliant on the internet, and digitally-delivered healthcare is expected to be more important in the future as new technologies emerge,” the report states.

“5G could have the potential to change the way healthcare is delivered thanks to fast connectivity and lower latency than previous mobile technologies.

“5G can help reduce costs and improve patient outcomes and experiences.”

Creating the right environment

While the social and economic opportunities for growth are seemingly enormous, questions still surround the regulatory space.

The report highlights “lack of clear legal and regulatory frameworks” as a barrier to the potential benefits of 5G.

Fifield addressed this, citing the recently formed 5G Working Group as a way to bring together industry and government to ensure uptake of the technology is seamless.

“A key focus of the group is to identify regulatory enablers and barriers for 5G’s use in Australia,” he said.

“We are reviewing and streamlining existing regulatory arrangements to ensure they are fit-for-purpose in the 5G era.”

The digital divide

Also speaking at the CommsDay Summit was Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland.

While she also spoke of the benefits 5G can bring Australia, she warned of some of the social risks it brings with it.

She spoke of some of Australia’s most digitally marginalised demographics, particularly the Indigenous community and those aged over 65.

“The troubling irony is that the very people in greatest need of the benefits 5G promises, risk being the most likely to be excluded,” she said, in reference to the potential high costs of establishing 5G services in regional and rural areas.

She also explained that while 5G was poised to improve healthcare, elderly citizens -- who are most in need of healthcare services -- are the least likely to use online health services.