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5G connectivity offers opportunities for business innovation, but coverage gaps and security concerns remain.Getty Images

Across industries, greater connectivity is opening up new opportunities for businesses, from better co-ordination between robotic technology to real-time virtual mapping of the location of goods. Advances like these hinge on fifth generation (5G) mobile technology.

With the speed and reliability of 5G, and the availability of private networks, businesses are just starting to delve into its potential.

“It really involves helping people achieve greater efficiencies or more productivity,” said Matthew Gerber, chief executive officer at TeraGo, a technology company that recently installed a private network at McMaster University’s Manufacturing Research Institute in Hamilton.

Mr. Gerber was part of an expert panel hosted at The Globe and Mail’s April 27 webcast on 5G Transformation. The panel shared how their organizations are leveraging 5G, and discussed strategies to support innovation, growth and data security in a connected world.

To implement a world-class 5G ecosystem, Canada has to address a “significant geographical challenge,” said Jeanette Irekvist, president, Ericsson Canada.

She said around 80 per cent of Canadians are covered by a 5G network, mainly in and around the country’s urban centres. Laying the groundwork for a national network, particularly in very rural or remote places like Canada’s north, requires big spending and infrastructure efforts.

The country’s main carriers have been investing heavily in establishing these networks, with Ms. Irekvist noting the almost $9-billion Canada has put into capital investment for 5G.

“These operators have firm plans on how to go beyond that 80 per cent and bridge the digital divide as part of that journey,” she said.

Options for private networks in sectors such as manufacturing and mining is a promising aspect of the technology, as stand-alone 5G networks can be created for use by a single organization, explained Jodi Baxter, vice-president, 5G and IoT, Telus.

“When we think about industries like energy, coverage is a significant gap in their ability to move forward with 5G capabilities,” Ms. Baxter said. “With a private wireless network we can create that coverage, but we can also offer security, reliability and protection against environmental and outage issues.”

She added that increasing coverage with a private network enables energy customers to access worker safety applications, from detecting falls to understanding who is on the site at a certain time.

As businesses look to take advantage of 5G opportunities, flexibility is another plus. “One of the neat things about 5G technologies is that it allows you to scale down as well as scale up,” said Mr. Gerber.

While 5G opportunities abound, they also change the cybersecurity threat landscape. There are already concerns that current security policies aren’t robust enough to respond to the risks that 5G presents, said Carlos Perez Chalico, private cybersecurity and privacy leader at EY Canada. “We are going to be getting remarkable results and remarkable outcomes [from 5G], but at the same time we are going to be opening new risks.”

He urged businesses to take a pro-active approach by understanding the data they’re collecting and how it’s being used, and developing new strategies to respond to the increase in devices using 5G technology and the rise of cyberattacks.

The panelists acknowledged the need for caution as Canada continues to enhance its 5G capabilities. But there was an air of optimism about what this kind of technology could do for business and the economy.

”The excitement is worldwide, but we’re just starting,” said Ms. Irekvist.