The jump to 5G has been nearly a decade in the making, reaching its crescendo this year as it makes its widespread deployment in the coming months. The fifth generation of cellular network technology has been the toast of the town for a while now; it has taken center stage at 2019 tech conferences, being touted as a harbinger of smart cities, self-driving cars, leaps and bounds in augmented reality, a heated techno-bout between American and Chinese colossuses, and much more.
Here in Michigan, 5G’s network rollout is a hot-button issue, going as far as to spark a schism between state and local governments over the regulation of this new tech. Outside of the courtroom, Michigan businesses are still trying to figure out just what to do with this sudden tech and telecommunication revolution. The potential positives are monumental. For instance, Brent Skorup, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, told Michigan Capitol Confidential that 5G could enable the widespread availability of telecommunication tech like remote surgery, fundamentally changing medical care nationwide.
5G is also slated to take the world of manufacturing to the next level. 5G “moves” at speeds that surpass its predecessor by a hundred-fold. Installation also has gotten a sleek upgrade, with smaller, easier-to-handle hardware making 5G easier to install in space-conscious factory floors. One example of 5G’s practical application in factories comes to us from a CNN report detailing an experiment conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology in Germany. The institute challenged a young network tech to smooth over the rough edges of the process of metal milling on a jet engine component’s automated assembly line. The error rate for cutting and shaping this particular precisely engineered aerospace part before the installation of 5G hovered around 25%, with the faulty blades being sent back through the line to be reworked. After applying 5G to the line’s hardware, however, the error rate dropped a stunning 10%, theoretically cutting production cost and energy consumption for the factory.
All of these theories and promises are exciting, but Lansing manufacturers have been apprehensive when considering 5G for their facilities. Many simply see no need to fix what’s not broken. Old industry, like tool manufacturers, feel no need to update processes that have held steady for decades. Manufacturers that lean more delicate in nature, such as clothing factories, see 5G as a significant investment that may not pay off. Again, manufacturing in Lansing is deep-rooted and moves as slowly as it sees fit to make long-term growth. Other businesses such as movers similarly see 5G as a distant investment, data transfer in the field hardly being a top priority. A select few 5G detractors doubt the validity of the new network’s lofty ambitions from the get-go. These naysayers have already caught wind of reports pointing out the possibility of poor penetration in buildings and a short-range for signals – the last things a major manufacturer wants to hear.
So, what does Lansing’s future with the new toy on every tech mogul’s wish list look like? Perhaps 5G will be worth the trouble of installation in the near future, but it is also fair to point out how uniquely unstable manufacturing as an industry can be in this chapter of American history. As the U.S. and China trade war rages on, even the most well-established industries must keep their coin purses clutched tight. While 5G may be the grease that frees American tech for bold steps into the future, it is possible that Lansing, and indeed the rest of the country, may have to wait until the time is right.