Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Your smartphone will disappear, says AT&T CTO

New 5G computing will introduce an era of ever smarter wearable devices, according to Andre Fuetsch

Andre Fuetsch, President of AT&T Labs and CTO of AT&T hopes you don’t think that the new 5G internet will just mean more bandwidth. It could also mean that your smartphone will go the way of the calculator, replaced by a wristband or glasses. Put simply, more and more, “Objects become apps.”

In his talk, “5G: Connecting the Future,” he urged his audience at COSM, A National Technology Summit to think in terms of three shifts, not one: a shift from hardware to software, from centralized networks to distributed networks, and from observations to insights. 

5G will certainly mean more bandwidth compared to previous generations of the internet, namely 1G through 4G. “AT&T has been around for 143 years but for about 80 of those years, the network only really mattered one day of the year—Mother’s Day,” he joked. Then came the internet, then the smartphone in 2007. From 2007 through 2019, transmission of data across their network increased by 47000%. This load is expected to grow by a factor of five over the next five years. High-bandwidth video traffic is currently 53% of the transmission.

Will we notice? Fuetsch asks us to think of 3G (2001) and 4G (2010) internet as the difference between a junior high school rock band and a high school rock band: “The high school band is a lot louder and a lot faster.” And 5G? “It is a 40-piece orchestra. A wide spectrum of abilities but tight structure and control.” 

One way we will notice the difference is the much more precise location it enables—from tens of metres down to tens of centimetres. You will like that if you have ever called an Uber and found that the driver is, through no fault of her own, waiting for you on the other corner of the intersection.   

Cameras will also have much higher resolution. Fuetsch related the story of one AT&T client whose custom refrigerators from which a specialty soft-drink product is vended, are now equipped with tiny cameras. The cameras can count the number of cans remaining—and detect competitors’ products stored in the fridges as well, in violation of the agreement with the food services vendor. Without such innovations, it might not be profitable for the company to provide the nifty little fridges. That’s the level of detail that 5G enables.

One application Fuetsch suggested is geofencing, that is, walling off data at a closed conference or within the home, for security. That might mean that home computing networks might be both portable and secure, geofenced wherever they are. “I think 5G becomes a solution for privacy protection,” he said.

Not everyone likes 5G. One audience member joked that it was the fifth circle of Dante’s Inferno (where anger and sullenness are punished). Last week, Scientific American published an op-ed implying that 5G might be dangerous to our health: 

Since 5G is a new technology, there is no research on health effects, so we are “flying blind” to quote a U.S. senator. However, we have considerable evidence about the harmful effects of 2G and 3G. Little is known the effects of exposure to 4G, a 10-year-old technology, because governments have been remiss in funding this research. Meanwhile, we are seeing increases in certain types of head and neck tumors in tumor registries, which may be at least partially attributable to the proliferation of cell phone radiation. These increases are consistent with results from case-control studies of tumor risk in heavy cell phone users.

Joel M. Moskowitz, “We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe” at Scientific American

However, there are ongoing debates about how to understand the data from research on suspected carcinogens in high-tech equipment.

One way of thinking about 5G is that bandwidth will largely disappear as an issue, to be replaced by an even more intense focus on whether we should be spending so much time on the internet anyway.

COSM, A National Technology Summit: AI, Blockchain, Crypto, and Life After Google October 23–25, 2019 is sponsored by the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence and hosted by technology futurist George Gilder. 

Denyse O’Leary reporting live from the COSM Technology Summit.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Immortal Mind: A Neurosurgeon’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Your smartphone will disappear, says AT&T CTO