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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

The 5G skills gap: What does government need?

Many articles have been written about the ongoing 5G revolution and government’s role in the deployment of new technologies.  Many focus on the regulatory aspects of 5G and government mandates on streamlining, rollout and standards, including a September 2018 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that gives the federal government broad control of 5G rollout and limits the authority of state and local governments.  That being said, there are very few articles that focus on the critical skills needed to actually make meaningful use of 5G once it is established.

Already, ever-present voice and data connectivity have made possible mobile apps that leverage the cloud, big data and e-commerce  through services like Lyft and social networking platforms like LinkedIn.  Without wireless networks, we might still have these services, but access would be at home through a desktop or at internet cafés with Wi-Fi connectivity. 

Even with that explosion of capability at our fingertips, 5G is much different.  5G has the potential to bring a revolution to government and its citizens.  First of all, it is extremely fast -- up to 1,000 times faster than 4G. Second, because it is higher frequency, it will be much more reliable than 4G.  Third, 5G has a micro-cell framework that will allow connections of billions of devices at the edge, enabling government-specific capabilities such as smart cities, service to the citizen and military situational awareness.  Finally, 5G uses less energy at the expense of many more base stations and localized antennas.

Given all that, what does 5G mean to government and its partners?  Already agencies struggle to attract and retain staff with hard-to-find skills (cybersecurity and the cloud spring to mind), and 5G will make that task even more difficult.  5G will substantially increase the demand for four key skill areas in the government arena – with many additional skills becoming evident once applications start to evolve.  As the technology matures, governments at all levels will need to find new sources and capabilities by increasing the skillsets of their own staff as well as demanding new skills of their providers.

First and foremost, the proliferation of new use cases will put new demands on the government to find business process experts to help refine new use cases.  We have already talked about the “smart cities” that are at the core of what many believe local governments will provide.  That just touches the surface. As new technologies emerge, even more compelling use cases will surface as well; military, citizen services, artificial intelligence and smart infrastructure all have the potential to put a tremendous drain on already scarce business process resources.

Second, 5G will require wide-ranging cloud, privacy, safety and security capabilities – also stretching limited resources.  Each new 5G connection represents a larger drain on compute resources and the opportunity for exploitation, and securing this new high-speed network will be the key to adoption as the technology becomes pervasive.  Because of the billions of devices that will be connected through the micro cellular network, security at the edge will be paramount, with privacy issues not far behind. Additionally, citizens will become more concerned with the safety of being immersed in radio frequency fields every day where they live, work and play.

Third, 5G will drive a very different type of supply and demand. It will become increasingly difficult for the government to “specify” the details of the technologies behind solutions. Instead, the government will need to understand the technology and how it can be used to solve uniquely governmental problems.  As more and more 5G devices are deployed into cities, factories and mobile platforms (tanks, planes, trains), the way in which the government buys, maintains and disposes of these capabilities will be very different from how the government currently buys goods and services. Today, privacy and security concerns dominate how we use and dispose of our IT equipment … in the future they will dominate how we use and dispose of light poles, street signs, overcoats, helmets and our IT!

Fourth, 5G will require state-of-the-art skills in RF technologies, mobile apps and platform programming to take advantage of the capability of 5G, which is also the major driver of the internet of things.  As such, technology evolution and the need for skilled workers will have a massive effect on smart cities or smart transportation as the government  struggles to find and afford highly skilled STEM professionals.

The emergence of 5G will lead to an entirely new way of interacting with citizens, partners and other governments, enabled by billions of small devices connected to a global web of new services.  At the same time, the demands for skills -- cloud, security, miniaturization, data and supply chain -- will force governments to adapt to new ways of finding and retaining these key players.

About the Author

James (JJ) Foster is the vice president of transformation at Digital Intelligence Systems LLC.

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