Big data and its impact on our privacy is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

With the advent of 5G and its impressive capabilities, let's explore what effects this next generation of networking will have on big data, the development of smart cities, and above all, our online security.

5G — What Is It?

Some call 5G the cause of cancer or an instrument to spread the coronavirus. Fortunately, the truth is much more mundane: 5G is the fifth generation wireless mobile network, and its main purpose is connecting individuals, devices and machines. (Also read: 5 Industries Facing Game-Changing 5G Transformation.)

5G’s key selling point is its performance — it has an average speed of 50Mbps and is capable of up to 10 Gbps. With speeds this high you’d be able to download a two hour movie in seconds instead of minutes.

However, 5G is about much more than great speeds. For one thing, unlike its predecessor 4G, 5G has the network slicing feature. Simply put, this allows the division of one physical network into multiple virtual ones, providing optimal settings for diverse use cases.

Also, 5G offers a lower average latency rate (1 ms compared to 50 ms with 4G), ensuring shorter delays when transferring data.

For us, 5G means a mobile internet connection that’s just as good as the one at home, no issues using the internet in very crowded places like arenas and stadiums. Yet the implications are far wider-reaching — the increased number of possible connections paves the way for the next level in IoT development, eventually leading to smart cities.

Drastically improved latency offers new opportunities for the remote control of machinery, which could have great consequences for medicine, industry, and much more.

Naturally, 5G will also have a great effect on entertainment. It will let broadcasters of concerts and sports events produce highly-immersive experiences via VR and other technology. You won’t need to leave your home to get the full experience of a concert or a sports game.

For example, Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium is set to be the first to introduce dedicated 5G coverage, offering spectators a game-changing experience — from getting deep performance statistics of their favorite players to the ability to watch the game from different spots within the stadium itself — including the team bench.

Clearly, in terms of entertainment, 5G seems to offer the best possible experience.

But let’s look at what effect it may have on yet another sphere of technology and business — big data.

5G to Strengthen Big Data's Role

As big data deals with extremely large data sets, making connections much faster and more reliable will increase capabilities enormously.

Most of us are already contributing to data generation on a daily basis by using IoT devices. Last year, the global IoT market value was $690 billion, and it is estimated that by 2025 the market will grow to approx. $1,300 billion.

Currently, speed and latency limitations mean that IoT devices have to rely on their own processors and internal memory. With 5G, it will be possible to do much of the computing in the cloud, making IoT devices cheaper and empowering big data to an unprecedented degree.

This is just one aspect — data collection capabilities would improve not merely due to an increase in smart devices, but also, the increased speeds would allow the collection of more data and under more diverse circumstances.

If downloading large media files will take seconds with 5G, imagine how big of a boom big data agencies would notice due to the ability to download certain data sets ten if not hundred times faster than before.

Smart Cities — An Intersection Between IoT, Big Data and 5G

When we talk about big data and 5G, we have to talk about smart cities. In fact, the development of smart cities is one of the most discussed aspects of the big data-IoT-5G intersection — put plainly, smart cities are impossible without 5G.

The 5G-led developments in IoT tech will turn our cities into networks, collecting huge amounts of data and bringing significant changes to our daily lives.

Starting from automatically regulated traffic flows to improved emergency response (e.g. getting in a car accident will be less dangerous in the smart cities), 5G would make cities much more comfortable for residents.

What Does It All Mean to Our Privacy?

With all that said, living among smart devices that gather our data 24/7 has a rather clear downside — less privacy.

Singapore, which is fast becoming a smart city, is full of sensors, GPS devices, and CCTV cameras in public transportation, and on the streets. Moreover, the city-state’s data-protection laws are crafted to benefit data collection instead of protecting its citizens’ privacy, as there’s hardly any limit on how agencies can collect and share data.

One may believe that such overreach is impossible in a Western democracy, but the technology implies limits to our privacy, and we’re already seeing technologies like facial recognition being implemented by law enforcement in the US and elsewhere.

Ultimately, smart cities will leave us fewer and fewer places to be invisible.

We’re already worried about the collection of our data and data breaches, so 5G should only give us more to worry about. Data will be gathered faster and on a greater scale, no matter whether it’s our smart devices or those of the wider Internet of Things.

In short, we can certainly expect to hear about more data breaches in years to come.

Final Thoughts

So what is there to do or hope for? The fact of the matter is, we can’t stop progress — 5G and big data are here to stay. Their grip on our lives will only tighten as tech developments get rolled out onto the market.

We are sorely underprepared for our imminent future, but there is one thing we can and should be doing — preparing a legal base. We must demand sensible legislation to meet these new challenges and make sure that privacy is not a thing of the ancient past.

Otherwise, the smart city may become a comfortable, shiny prison.