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To kick off Mobile World Congress Americas 2017 in San Francisco this week, speakers at Tuesday morning’s keynote, Connecting the Americas,  got into a detailed discussion on the progress that has been made with mobile connectivity and what challenges lie ahead. Wireless connectivity has played an undeniable role in shaping our industries and societies. According to Director General of GSMA Mats Granryd, over 740 million unique individuals are already connected in the Americas alone. Smartphones have been instrumental in transforming every facet of our lives, from managing our daily routines and jobs, to organizing our finances, media outlets, and platforms.

“Smartphones have provided people tremendous access to the digital era,” Carlos Slim Domit, one of the keynote speakers and chairman of America Movil, said. “They’re becoming everything from our offices, wallets, and entertainment centers, to becoming pivotal outlets for improving healthcare and other services,”

In Latin America alone, smartphones represent half of the mobile market. America Movil single-handedly serves people across 25 countries, and has made significant progress in doing so for people in rural, isolated regions. According to Movil, this is just the beginning. He believes clouds will be utilized at full potential, while costs for coverage will continue to decline, and people will have access to greater content, applications.

These projections are just the tip of the iceberg, and go in conjunction with popular stats and predictions industry experts have for mobile connectivity. By 2020, it’s believed 1.4 billion mobile connections will form in the Americas by, 4G is projected to have 84 percent of all total connections by that same time, the mobile industry is expected to have 5.7 billion unique users, and the mobile economy is projected to exceed $1 trillion in value. 5G is going to play an integral role in aiding this growth, which is expected to have faster adoption than any of its predecessors.

To achieve these goals however, significant challenges still lie ahead. Domit predicted over 2 billion people still won’t have access to mobile connectivity by 2020, and cellular providers have a huge responsibility in making these aspirations a reality. Many providers are participating in the Global Goals Project, which aims to eliminate poverty, inequality, and substantially combat climate change by 2030. The project has over 190 world leaders in participation that hope to achieve 17 main global goals over the next 13 years.

“Technology, industry, and society are the three main places innovation is affecting,” Granryd commented. “The role mobile industry plays in driving growth and economic opportunities will be paramount to meeting these ambitious objectives set by the Global Goals Project.”

Mobile providers have already taken initiative in addressing these, and other challenges. Sprint has begun a project that has collected over 1 million free devices and services to over 1 million low-income high school students. Rogers Wireless has even launched a connected water solution to monitor water quality and establish faster safer situational protocols in Ottawa. AT&T and Verizon have invested hundreds of millions in smart city technologies that aim to make communities safer and more functional.

5G is going to be essential in making all of this happen. According to CTIA CEO Meredith Baker, one of the keynote speakers, it’s believed over 3 million jobs alone will be created when 5G launches (to put this in perspective, 2 million jobs were created in the United States last year). The implementation of 5G will add hundreds of billions of dollars in growth to the US economy, improve the quality of healthcare applications (which in turn will save patients an average of $8000 in savings), cut hospital admissions by 50 percent, save 100 billion hours in time when factoring into automated cars, and even provide students with interactive hands-on learning experiences in classrooms, using technologies like virtual reality.

I can safely say there are many challenges that lie ahead for the future of mobile connectivity. It’s going to be a collective effort from both governments and industry elites alike. While all of the tools and resources are available to make the goals mentioned above work, it’s ultimately up to us to make sure these innovative changes are implemented smoothly.

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