Part 2 In A Conversation With Verizon’s Tami Erwin
This is the second article in a two-part series from a recent interview from the Forbes Futures in Focus podcast featuring Tami Erwin, the CEO of Verizon Business. Here she discusses 5G, 6G and their ubiquity in the next decade, as well as her views around an immersive digital future driving transformative outcomes.
Much like air and water, connectivity is becoming an essential part of living, and everybody should have equal access to it. It shouldn’t be something that’s privileged by geography or income or infrastructure. Everybody should have access to it, 24/7/365.
Tami Erwin: I completely agree. That’s why we’re so excited about the spectrum holdings that we’ve acquired. It allows for the ability to serve every customer, and to serve it in segments — like our TracFone segment, which has traditionally been a prepaid segment — to bring that segment up to the performance of our network. We can scale to serve high-end premium customers, and we have the ability to serve up and down the spectrum of customers and give them access. We think that’s a game changer for everybody. Consider some of the vertical applications. Think about a kid who now has the ability to get into metaverse and what that might look like. Think about being immersed while in your kitchen, receiving a history lesson where you’re standing in the Coliseum in a virtual classroom environment and your instructor is showcasing the different pieces of the Coliseum and teaching with real examples, right there, instead of a merely reading a textbook.
Immersive education can change the way kids learn. Imagine if every child could have access to that. Consider the possibilities, ten years in the future, for a medical student engaging with lessons via augmented reality. At Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, Dr. Michael Crow has done some spectacular work there. If you’re a Biology 101 student today, you can come in and work in a 5G environment with edge computing. You learn in an AR/VR environment where information is served up to you in highly engaging way, instead of via rote memorization. Technology can be used to unlock different kinds of patient and customer outcomes. I think education is on track to be radically disrupted by technology, from elementary learners all the way through university learners — and, quite frankly, business learners also, especially as things are changing so quickly around us.
Step ahead to the year 2030 or so. How much education do you think is going to be delivered this way, throughout the economic and social chain? Will it be a much more common experience for everybody?
Erwin: Yes, I believe it will become much more common by the time you get to 2030. As of early January, we now cover a hundred million people in the U.S. with 5G. We’ve announced that we’ll take that number up to closer to 160 million by the end of 2022, pulling forward our schedule and accelerating the deployment. The deployment of 5G key capability is quickly being rolled out across the country and around the world. We’re certainly leading the charge. We were first in the world to deliver 5G mobility, first in the world to deliver 5G fixed wireless access and first in the world to deliver edge compute. The U.S. is leading the way in how to use 5G in order to create great change.
It’s important to create a model that creates affordability for all. And it’s key to have the innovation of partners. We are extremely excited about the partnerships that we forged. We are still the only telecom in the world to have partnerships with all three of the big hyperscalers — AWS, Azure, Google. Think about having a million developers who now can develop applications and solutions, recognizing that you’ll have this ubiquitous coverage across the U.S by 2030. Consider the applications that everybody uses. Now envision creating applications and use cases that work in a private network using private edge compute, but then they are transferable and available to a public environment. This is happening as we speak.
By 2030, we’ll see driverless cars. Today in a 4G world, the clearance to the car in front of you is about four inches. In a 5G world that supports low-latency applications, you could be enabled for a four-foot clearance to the vehicle in front of you. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be in a driverless vehicle with four feet of clearance as a buffer.
The industry is advancing tremendously with 5G. Think about the possibilities when you really unlock the ecosystem and achieve nationwide coverage. Think about the developers who are innovating and the power of the devices we’re carrying. Let’s consider how businesses have responded to the COVID crisis. Everyone has come out of COVID reimagining. How do they conduct their work differently? How do they serve their customers differently? How do they build product capability differently? How do they unlock and tap into the potential of their employees using technology?
Unlocking new possibilities is exciting particularly for the medical sector. There are tens of millions of people who do not live close to a major hospital or medical facility. Consider those dealing with a rare disease without readily available access to a specialist. However, then imagine being able to connect and work with a specialized doctor with actual experience, regardless of their location. They could create diagnostic and prescriptive pathways in a way that was never previously available to someone in a rural area.
Erwin: Yes. There can be breakthroughs in accessibility for diagnostics and treatment protocol. I grew up in a small rural community north of Seattle. My father was a physician. I remember going out and doing house calls with him. Consider a rural community that can have access to the world’s best oncology specialist. That can be enabled for a small rural community, like where I grew up. Imagine having access to physicians around world who are experts in their field, not just for the wealthy. This is exciting because the scenario is not imaginary.
I live in the East Coast. Someone close to me, who lives on the West Coast, recently had some heart issues, and I was able to be part of her visit with her physician via a virtual visit for both of us. It changed the outcome for her because of the availability of telehealth. This would not have been possible just a few years ago. Due to her advanced age, it was important that I be part of the discussion to help translate the details. I didn’t have to fly across the country to be present in order to help her.
I was speaking with the head of innovation for the Mayo Clinic recently, and he was talking about some of their innovations. He said, “Tami, I participated in three different consults in three different parts of the world, because we have expertise here that everybody wants to have access to. Technology gives us that kind of access. And we’re just getting started.”
This becomes a new sort of medical and educational construct. And now with the tragedies in Ukraine, the world is going through another crisis of a different dimension.
Erwin: The world is responding differently to what’s happening in Ukraine because we’re watching it in real time. Technology is also playing a big role in terms of communication within the region. It’s impacted what we know about the conflict. Technology is enabling the world to do that in an accelerated fashion.
I remain hopeful that we can use technology to solve some of the world’s biggest problems — to educate, to reform, to really resolve some of the issues that we might not otherwise be able to address quickly. It gives me a lot of hope that we can use technology to make the world a better place.
Without it, we have no capacity to lean into the future with confidence. The metaverse idea is a really interesting discussion. You’ve touched on it here around education and healthcare. Regarding this world of virtual interactive experience, what do you think it will look like by 2030?
Erwin: I think it looks pretty exciting. I remember when the internet was starting to become popular, and it was amazing to have access to all this information. Now think about being part of an immersive experience in a metaverse. The power of our network capability unlocks the potential of making that real. When you have the ability to take the compute that happens today on your smartphone and put it into the cloud, you can be in an immersive environment.
I’ve participated in it in some of the early testing, and it feels real. It feels like a world in which you can better imagine coming into a hybrid work environment, very different than the world of today.
We’re just getting started. We’re now building the platform and capabilities to have that kind of ubiquitous network capability that unlocks low latency, sensor densification and lower power consumptions. It’s a playground, it’s a sandbox for innovation. The innovation that will happen in augmented reality in a virtual environment, because of the ability to offload that compute capability into the cloud, will deliver incredible and radical transformation across every vertical that we operate in.
I am excited because it will give us more choice in how we live in our world. Do we live in our world in an analog way? Do we live it in a digital and immersive world?
Think about a world without the internet. You can’t imagine it. I think ten years from now, we’ll say, “Imagine a world without the metaverse,” because it will be that commonplace.
That’s interesting because people can immerse in various formats, but the ability to transverse what historically has been physical versus digital will open up perspectives that many of us can’t even calibrate right now.
Erwin: I think things that we can’t even yet imagine will be possible. And they’re probable because of the 21st-century technology infrastructure we’re building. Plumbing was cool 150 years ago — and, by the way, it’s still cool. But imagine now the 21st-century infrastructure, which includes mobility, broadband and cloud. As we tackle the complex problems that the world is trying to solve, when you have that kind of new infrastructure and people who can innovate on that in a technology sandbox, we’ll see transformational change and outcomes. You can afford to have the compute live in the cloud as opposed to having it live on hardware. It will change and drive radical transformation. I believe it will do so in a way that will be available for everyone, and that is super exciting.
Yes, being able to drive this transformation for everyone has been a challenge. If everyone, everywhere has the chance to be the best version of themselves using technology in an immersive way, we’re going to bring out remarkable things in human beings.
Erwin: I completely agree. Having access to information transformed the way we thought about the world. Being immersed and surrounded by a different environment, a digital environment, could give you the ability to not only hear it but to see it, to feel it and be part of it. It will really give us a different view of the world — and perhaps give us a more equitable view of the world as we begin to think about how we use technology to solve some of these problems and really innovate and deliver different kinds of outcomes.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.