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The current generation of wireless technology ushered in a host of new smartphone applications
that helped put the mobile phone at the center of e-commerce, socializing and navigation.
The next wave of wireless—5G—will supercharge cellphones, but its real strength lies in its
potential to power the “Internet of Things,” a byword for everything electronic other than the
That includes factory production lines that get instructions over the air instead of through wires;
driverless cars that receive incredibly detailed information about road conditions in real time;
sports broadcasts that let viewers see the game from a dizzying number of angles, and get a host
of new statistics superimposed on the screen to reflect the action; and wearable devices that
monitor a patient’s physical condition and beam the information to doctors.
These are just some of the developments that may be in store as 5G networks evolve and as
carriers look for growth opportunities outside of the mature cellphone market in developed
countries. Here’s a rundown of how this new telecom technology could transform six industries,
how long those changes might take and what obstacles stand in the way.
Flexibility in the factory
Factories have relied on physical wires for more than a century—for good reason. A spotty
wireless connection can cause machinery to move too slowly or misfire, with expensive and
potentially dangerous consequences.
Wireless engineers say 5G’s emphasis on slashing latency—the amount of time that machines
take to respond to each other—could challenge that status quo. The network’s responsiveness
would allow robotic assembly lines to take instructions over the air or grab the latest
specifications for a product without lagging, so they could remain on the job all the time. Mobile
robots could also be on the move constantly without having to plug in.
“This is sort of the Holy Grail of factory automation,” says Gerhard Fettweis, a professor of
mobile communications at Germany’s TU Dresden. “There’s nothing nailed to the floor.”
In Germany, cellphone carrier Deutsche Telekom AG DTEGY +1.96% launched in 2018 a pilot
factory program designed to test what kinds of machines benefit from enhanced wireless service.
The program’s specially designed 4G networks will get a 5G upgrade once new wireless
spectrum is available for use, a spokesman says.
Telecom companies in Germany and China have so far shown the most interest in fostering 5G
manufacturing, according to Chetan Sharma, industry analyst for his eponymous consulting firm.
He predicts growing interest from manufacturers that might face sudden orders that their existing
workforce can’t fulfill.
Still, he doesn’t expect wireless networks to touch every part of the production process right
away. A slower-growing company that makes metal goods or paper products, for instance, isn’t
likely to spend precious capital on wireless technology. And he doesn’t think that factory owners
are likely to start cutting the cord on robotics soon.
Mr. Sharma says computer-chip makers must first develop specialized hardware for the sector
before factories will be willing to risk installing wireless 5G machinery, a process that will take
several years. “Redoing the manufacturing workflow demands certainty,” he says.
Cars get fueled up with data
Experts expect to see vehicles equipped with 5G modems in the coming years. Still, what the
next generation of connected cars will look like is an often-contentious question.
Some telecom-industry leaders paint a futuristic picture of driverless vehicles getting real-time
information about traffic and hazards as they move, and then reacting to them. It is a vision that
takes advantage of the strength of 5G networks—their ability to juggle swarms of simultaneous
connections, allowing sensors in cars and on streets to provide uninterrupted streams of precise
But skeptics say telecom companies are overselling the capabilities of 5G when it comes to
vehicles. The next generation of wireless networks, like its predecessors, will sometimes fail.
And it might take years for even urban areas to get 5G signals everywhere.
“Nobody in their right mind would make a driverless car dependent on the wireless network for
critical functions like braking and steering,” says Craig Moffett, analyst at research firm
MoffettNathanson. Any reliance on a 5G connection, he says, “would require ubiquitous
networks, which we won’t have in our lifetimes.”
Some companies are pitching more-limited uses for 5G transportation, at least to start. AT&T
Inc. T +1.32% executives have said that small, neighborhood-size 5G zones could be a good
place for public-transit riders and car passengers to keep themselves amused by downloading
video and games as they pass through the area.
“We think it’s going to pop up in zones centered around campuses” early on, John Donovan,
chief of AT&T’s telecom business, said in an interview last year.
An AT&T spokesman says the company is also developing technology with partners to allow
cars to share information with each other and roadside service stations when they fall outside the
range of a cell tower. That could mean sharing information about things like road hazards, or
getting in touch with emergency services.
A new angle on sports
When South Korea’s KT Corp. KT +0.91% offered a version of its 5G technology at the Winter
Olympics in Pyeongchang last year, the telecom giant allowed visitors to fiddle with the angle
from which they viewed an event—such as seeing a game from the perspective of athletes.
That was a preview of how professional sports leagues are planning to reshape their content
using 5G connectivity. For instance, viewers can expect to have regular sports enhanced with the
same 5G boost as the Korean games. Technology under development will use a host of cameras
and sensors installed throughout sports venues to let fans choose among numerous angles for
viewing athletic contests.
“You can literally run around like LeBron James, ” says Roger Entner, chief of wireless-industry
research firm Recon Analytics Inc.
Other technology wouldn’t just offer new angles on the field of play, it would offer viewers more
information about the action.
Intel Corp. INTC +1.68% experimented with attaching sensors to players and pucks at the 2019
National Hockey League All-Star game in January. Viewers could pull up a host of new statistics
on their phones to see how fast shots went into the goal and how fast skaters moved down the
ice. The steps were a precursor to providing fans more real-time statistics on their phones or
customized on their television screens during games, once 5G is deployed.
More immersive movies and games
Hollywood studios and videogame companies are looking to leverage 5G’s speed and ultralow
latency to give viewers a much more immersive experience—whether they’re watching on a TV
or with a headset.
“More so than sitting back and watching TV, you’re going to be living life in a virtual world.
People could be anywhere, including imaginary worlds,” says Ron Yekutiel, chief executive of
video-platform provider Kaltura.
Studios have tested applications that give a taste of what the 5G future might bring. But they’re
still trying to figure out just what content and pricing will get the best response from viewers.
A $20 virtual-reality experience in 2016 tied to the release of Twentieth Century Fox’s film “The
Martian,”for example, received mixed reviews from audiences. The VR content allowed people
to move through a Mars-like environment like the movie’s hero, played by Matt Damon.
Robert Powers, executive director, global technology and business development for Fox
Innovation Lab, says $8 to $15 is a more palatable price range for consumers for VR
experiences. Fox is also working on augmented and mixed-reality experiences—where
computer-generated graphics are overlaid over real-world images—that 5G will help facilitate.
For example, last summer the lab worked on a mixed-reality experience in which a person
moved through a story using their mobile phone or wearable device in a public space like a
theme park. While walking, the player followed prompts and saw superimposed figures that
could move around and interact with the user.
A new doctor-patient relationship
In the coming years, 5G will make it possible for doctors to have more interactions with their
patients through new telemedicine avenues, such as high-quality videoconferencing and virtual
reality, says Sandra Rivera, general manager of Intel’s network-platforms group.
Boosters say the upgraded networks will make even bigger changes possible, such as having a
doctor in one corner of the world operating on a patient in another with remote-controlled
surgical machines. Less grand, but coming sooner, is a wave of changes bringing morepersonalized care.
A therapist remotely treating a child with autism, for example, could use a VR headset to see the
child’s facial and body cues more clearly than is possible on today’s video calls via mobile
phones. Columbia University researchers, meanwhile, are working on virtual physical therapy
helped by 5G’s low latency. A patient wears a virtual-reality headset and moves controllers to
manipulate digital versions of physical objects like a ball, mimicking motions in a traditional
New sensors and wearable devices connected to 5G networks that generate data will also help
flag abnormalities or adjust the dosage of medicine or therapeutic activities without in-person
visits. Patients could wear sensors that monitor their activity, stress levels and blood sugar, with
that data flowing to their physician, Ms. Rivera adds.
Later on, 5G’s faster speed, lower latency and higher bandwidth could facilitate larger changes
such as paramedics getting real-time instructions in an ambulance from a trained physician using
high-definition cameras and virtual reality.
Making surveillance more precise
Cameras and sensors already blanket the busier corners of the world without the help of 5G
technology. But an experiment that Verizon Communications Inc. VZ +0.83% recently ran at a
Houston testing center offered a peek at what the world could look like when faster wireless
service becomes commonplace.
Early experiments suggest cameras and sensors with 5G enhancements could allow police
departments to scan public places more quickly for suspects in their databases. It could also
allow stores to track their customers’ movements with more precision, perhaps allowing them to
tailor marketing to them based on their behavior.
Engineers at the wireless carrier developed customized software that allows computers to process
images near a cell tower rather than in a data center hundreds of miles away.
The test took advantage of two 5G benefits. Enhanced bandwidth allows cameras to pass dataheavy images over the air without degrading their quality. Lower latency also lets computers
process images close to where they are captured, allowing them to quickly identify people and
objects. Verizon says the on-site processing led its systems to find matching images twice as fast
as they could using conventional methods.
Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s senior vice president for network planning, says public-safety groups
often ask for the ability to make better use of surveillance data. Similar technology could also be
used by retailers to track foot traffic.
“This type of technology is not new,” he says. “The question is, how do you deploy it in a mobile
Mr. FitzGerald is a Wall Street Journal reporter in Washington, and Ms. Krouse is a Wall Street
Journal reporter in New York. Email [email protected] and [email protected]
1. (Introductory) What is 5G technology? What are some of its potential uses?
2. (Introductory) How could 5G impact manufacturing? What benefits will it have?
3. (Introductory) What challenges will manufacturers have implementing 5G
4. (Advanced) How could your company utilize 5G technology in your operation? What
would be the benefits? What are the challenges?
5. (Advanced) How do you currently update machine capabilities? How could you
streamline this process? What would be the costs?
Some of the world’s largest miners said they would create a global standard for managing waste
dams that will likely include a system for independent reviews of the structures, after one
collapsed in Brazil killing at least 179 people.
The International Council on Mining & Metals, which represents 27 large mining companies,
said it would establish an independent panel of experts to develop international guidelines, based
on current best practices, for its member companies to follow in building and maintaining socalled tailings dams.
The plan so far includes little detail about how such standards would be enforced.
Since several global benchmarks already exist, miners will have to convince the industry’s critics
that such standards would improve safety and that those monitoring the risks will have some
form of enforcement power.
“They are only a lobbyist for a specific group of miners. They are not a global regulatory body,”
Lindsay Newland Bowker, an environmental risk manager in Maine who studies accidents at
mining dams, said of ICMM.
The ICMM said that, following the panel’s review, its standards could include a system for
independent reviews of tailings facilities.
The Wall Street Journal first reported close ties between the owner of the collapsed Brazilian
dam, Vale SA, and its inspector, Germany-based TÜV SÜD. A Journal investigation found Vale
and its inspectors were aware of dangerous conditions at the mine-waste dam months before it
collapsed last month but that inspectors, worried about losing Vale contracts, certified the dam as
TÜV SÜD couldn’t immediately be reached for comment and has previously declined to directly
address questions of conflict of interest but said there was “heightened uncertainty” about
whether the system of safety audits in Brazil provided a reliable declaration of the stability of a
Vale wasn’t immediately available for comment.
A Vale spokeswoman has said previously that TÜV SÜD is an external auditor for the Brazilian
company. She didn’t directly address whether the company’s dual consulting-inspecting role
presented any conflict of interest.
She said the Brumadinho dam was repeatedly inspected and monitored not only by TÜV SÜD
but by other external companies and Vale itself.
“The standard will become the baseline for best practice with the goal for eliminating accidents,”
Donald Lindsay, who is chairman of the ICMM and the chief executive of Teck Resources Ltd, a
Canadian miner, said on a conference call. There “will be a requirement for every company in
the ICMM to follow these standards,” he said.
The ICMM offered few details on how the standards would be policed or how key issues such as
independence would be ensured. Some miners said they would need assurances that companies
would follow the standards. In a later email, Tom Butler, the ICMM chief executive raised the
possibility that members who don’t follow the standards could be thrown out of the group.
The industry group didn’t rule out establishing an independent body to oversee tailings dams
globally, although Mr. Butler said it wouldn’t second-guess the review’s outcome. “The aim will
be to come up with something credible that is sufficiently independent to close the trust gap that
we are facing,” he said.
Last month’s accident in Brazil has raised questions about whether safety auditors, like the one
the dam’s owner Vale SA employed, can be independent when they also compete for consulting
fees from the same company.
The dam’s collapse unleashed a torrent of sludge that swallowed an employee cafeteria, offices
and nearby homes. Around 131 people are still unaccounted for.
In Brazil, the government has already clamped down on the type of upstream structure that
The ICMM includes BHP Group Ltd. , Anglo American PLC and Glencore PLC, whose chief
executives recently said they would back an independent body to oversee dams. It also includes
Some global bodies, including the Mining Association of Canada and the World Bank, already
have standards for tailings dams, and the ICMM itself has an existing set of guidelines.
BHP, the world’s largest mining company, earlier said it currently follows standards
recommended by the Canadian Dam Association. The company said these are widely regarded as
the most rigorous in the industry.
1. (Introductory) To what lengths should companies pursue safety for their employees?
For customers? For the environment? As a manager of such a company, what
probability of death is acceptable (realizing that 0% probability is impossible)? What
probability of minor/major injury is acceptable? Debate this issue with your classmates.
2. (Introductory) Why might mining operators be opposed to governmental regulation
of mine safety standards? Why might mining operators support such regulation? What
is your opinion about the role of government in developing standards for mining
3. (Introductory) As a manager, how do you determine the “break-even” point for
safety versus profits? How safe is “safe enough”? When the operations task is
inherently hazardous, how does this change your decision? For these hazardous tasks
(such as fire-fighting, hazardous waste removal, etc.) what role does compensation
and employee benefits play?
4. (Advanced) Discuss the importance of developing contingency plans for process failures, especially
when dealing with new products or processes. What are the additional costs involved in developing such
plans? What are the potential benefits? What training activities are necessary to ensure that contingency
and emergency plans are followed?
5. (Advanced) The article provides an opportunity to discuss the often opposing forces of quality/safety
and productivity. Evaluate your company’s quality and safety practices. How are these balanced against
productivity? If quality and safety practices were diminished, would productivity increase? Cite how you
would use operations management tools to increase quality and safety within your operation, while
maintaining or increasing productivity.
6. (Advanced) Discuss your own company’s emergency procedures. What disasters does your company
anticipate are possible? What procedures are to be followed in such circumstances? How will these
procedures enable employees to handle the emergency if problems escalate quickly? How would you
revise the procedures or training to be better prepared?
Keeping up with customer-service expectations in the digital age takes more than tech knowhow. Especially when the customers are young, tech-savvy “sneakerheads” who want
tomorrow’s shoes today—or even yesterday.
To meet that challenge, Foot Locker Inc. FL -0.62% is focused on analyzing huge amounts of
data, innovative digital marketing—and speed.
Across the entire company—some 3,270 locations and websites spread across 27 countries—the
corporate culture has had to change, says Pawan Verma, chief information and customer
connectivity officer at the New York-based sports footwear retailer.
Mr. Verma, a former Target Corp. vice president, is driving these changes in a role that has
expanded since he joined the company as CIO four years ago. Now, in addition to overseeing
global technology systems, he is in charge of digital marketing, supply chain and customerloyalty efforts world-wide, from Foot Locker stores in the U.S. to Eastbay, Lady Foot Locker,
Kids Foot Locker and Champs Sports, among other retail outlets.
Spurred by growing market pressure to …
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