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How CIOs are preparing for next-gen mobile.

 

With mobile network speeds expected to skyrocket as soon as 2020, the potential for yet another explosive digital transformation is palpable. Chief information officers across industries will find it essential to fully educate staff and customers about the opportunities and challenges ahead.

A requirement for any IT department preparing for the next-gen mobile era—whether part of a small or medium-sized business or a large government municipality—is to explore the array of possibilities affecting organizations, individuals and entire communities.

“Those use cases that came out of [the early days of the internet], we don’t know how we could live without them today,” said Ted Ross, CIO for the City of Los Angeles. “I think you’ll find the same when it comes to faster mobile. We’re only guessing at this point as to what we think we can do with ultra-high-speed, ultra-low latency connectivity. I absolutely believe that it will be transformational.”

Ross represents the CIO who must tap all resources available to ensure that new technologies succeed under his watch. It’s no wonder: He’s dealing with 48,000 government employees and over 4 million residents.

“Everything’s on a big scale here,” said Ross. “Mobility is a critical conversation in the private sector, but it’s also a fundamental platform to deliver smart city technology.” He explained that deploying next-gen networks can accomplish a lot of extraordinary things not possible on traditional mobile networks.

Consider how many IoT devices are already connected to the internet today: smartphones, cameras, sensors, refrigerators and everything else that comprises the smart home or smart city. As IoT progresses from Wi-Fi to cellular, there’s the potential for billions of connected devices and, in turn, an unprecedented volume of device traffic. While current mobile networks have limited capability to manage that increased traffic, the International Telecommunication Union’s list of performance requirements suggests that the next-gen network should be able to handle 10 times the number of devices in comparison.

While leveraging next-generation mobile network speeds may mean different things to different companies, for most enterprises it’s ultimately about improving productivity and saving time. Employees already use their smartphones at work, but imagine the exponential boost for those who rely heavily on mobile networks. And with next-gen networks, teams can harness technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality to accomplish tasks in the workplace.

“With higher speed and ultra-dense mobile networks, you can have real-time decision-making [on your device] with artificial intelligence,” said Ross. He foresees a scenario in which a smart city like Los Angeles develops an ecosystem enabling autonomous cars to interact with IoT traffic lights and AI-optimized GPS to improve traffic flow.

“This is the type of thing that [a next-gen network] enables. For us, it means that Angelenos get home from work faster, there could be safer streets and people can spend more quality time with family,” he said.

Once a CIO grasps the next-gen network’s transformational power, it’s time to address the obstacles ahead.

First, CIOs won’t get far on any new tech mandate without cooperation from other departments. In Los Angeles, for example, Ross aims to ensure that new technologies expedite across multiple departments. “With 42 departments, it’s extremely important that when opportunities become available which can have huge impacts for our residents, our businesses and our city operation, that we step out of these departmental traps and silos and really zero in on what the bigger focus is,” he said.

When it comes to any new technology, Ross advises that organizations watch out for the hype. Some platforms and technologies often don’t have the ROI to match the marketing. “I think it becomes important for them to understand their operations, their organization and what ultra-high-speed mobile connectivity can do for them,” he said. “Start with things like proof of concept and pilots to ensure the endeavor is producing before devoting large amounts of money.”

Even more critical for any CIO is cybersecurity. All of those devices now connected to the internet are communicating, and depending on their configuration, they may be transferring data in and out of your network. “If my smartphone can push out gigabits of data every second, if I’m not careful where my intellectual property is sitting, that information is as good as gone—and it’s over to a competitor,” said Ross.

These ultra-high-speed networks not only amplify the requirement for mobile device management, but also add new layers of complexity and responsibility for cybersecurity leaders.

As mobile networks reach unprecedented speeds, prepare for fascinating innovation. The next Uber, the next Airbnb, the next Snapchat—they’re right around the corner. Implementing and adapting to groundbreaking technologies, however, requires addressing ethical and human resources ramifications—a task that increasingly falls to the CIO.

“We must ensure that technology is benefiting people like vulnerable populations or employees, so we don’t have ethnic groups, gender groups or regions that are for some reason pushed out of the digital economy,” said Ross. “I think that’s an important conversation.”

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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