Digital transformation is a fundamental lever to change the workings of government. Government priorities, including higher citizen engagement, improved productivity, and stronger economic growth, increasingly depend on digital technology.

In the near term, most governments will experience constrained post-Covid 19 budgetary conditions. 5G investments might not be a top priority. However, in the medium and longer term, 5G will emerge as a fundamental technology infrastructure on a national and governmental level.

Although the public sector remains less certain about the benefits that 5G can deliver than other sectors (see figure below), there are positive signs that governments are starting to invest in the technology.

In OECD countries, public spending as a percentage of GDP ranges from 35 per cent to 50 per cent. An increasing percentage of the government technology budget is channeled to 5G infrastructure investments through initiatives such as the EU’s 5G Action Plan for Europe or the 5G Fund for Rural America in the US.

Moreover, most Covid-19 stimulus packages have allocated 5G investments, such as China’s US$25 billion new infrastructure spending on 5G. These initiatives recognize the contribution that 5G-enabled innovations can make to economic growth. The Australian Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research has estimated that 5G will increase GDP by US$1,300 to US$2,000 for each Australian citizen after the first decade of the rollout.

An increasing number of governments are exploring potential 5G use cases in the public sector. The overarching goal of deploying 5G in the public sector centers on use cases that drive cost savings, improved citizen engagement, and the development of new services. Examples include:

  • Improved monitoring solutions. 5G transmits large volumes of sensor data. Municipalities will use such insights for more effective crowd flow; fleet, energy, water, and waste systems management; and garbage collection. Real-time traffic data monitoring helps rapidly reroute traffic in accident situations. In China, the city of Hangzhou has 5G-connected traffic lights that change signals to speed up connected police or ambulance vehicles to reach an emergency location faster.

 

  • New government employee training and schooling opportunities. 5G empowers video streaming and virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. It also transforms education and learning by opening possibilities for remote and location-independent learning. In South Korea, the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education uses 5G to provide two-way interactive remote classrooms to 200,000 students.

 

  • Improved public transport infrastructure. 5G will help with the generation, transport, and analysis of large data volumes that smarter city initiatives depend on. 5G sensors in public buildings and on roads boost the efficiency of public infrastructure, including reducing energy costs through smart street lighting that can be dimmed or brightened remotely as required. In Zhengzhou, China, the city government’s Yutong public bus company is trialing 5G-powered autopilot buses. The system uses a cloud control platform for features such as autoparking, autocharging, and an intelligent “call to alert” to send a robo-bus to a passenger’s location for pickup.

 

  • More effective delivery of critical public health services and social care. 5G improves telehealth video conferencing and real-time remote health monitoring, helping free up time for doctors, nurses, and caregivers dealing with elderly patients who live alone and require house visits. It also boosts the potential for telesurgery. Japanese and Chinese health authorities are experimenting with 5G-enabled telesurgery for remote areas. Connected telerobots empower physicians to perform remote medical procedures and surgeries, expanding healthcare to remote areas. First responders benefit from 5G, especially when it’s combined with multiaccess edge computing. Some ambulances in Bangkok have closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras for livestreaming inside the vehicles. Ambulance staff wear augmented reality glasses to transmit images in real time to doctors at a hospital. This empowers the doctors to observe patients’ symptoms and to prepare medical equipment before the patient arrives at the emergency room.

 

  • Greater public safety and security. 5G supports wireless and mobile surveillance systems for improved public safety. A prison in Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan is utilizing 5G-connected drones equipped with cameras to patrol the premises, using GPS to fly designated routes. This combination of 4K video, AI, and 5G forms the backbone of the prison’s security and surveillance technology.

 

  • More efficient public sector project management. 5G enhances sensor-based monitoring efforts. In developed economies, the public sector accounts for 25% to 40% of construction spending, which means that governments have an interest in making construction projects more efficient. Building information modeling (BIM) helps architecture, engineering, and construction professionals design, build, and operate in a collaborative fashion on construction sites. 5G allows all participants, including government departments, to maintain an up-to-date picture of projects. Moreover, 5G enables remote-controlled construction machines. For instance, Volvo CE is developing a 5G-connected remote-controlled wheel loader.

5G will play a major role for government technology transformation

While 5G rollouts in the public sector are lagging other sectors, its impact on the economy and society will be multiplied as the public sector accelerates its adoption of the technology.

5G, often in combination with mobile edge computing, enables enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type internet-of-things communications, and ultrareliable low-latency communications. It is a general-purpose technology that is suited for a broad range of government solutions.

Rolling out 5G networks is just a first step. Ecosystems partnerships between the public sector, tech vendors, regulators, academic institutions, and international institutions will further drive 5G use cases in the public sector context.