In early 2020, the world was a very different place for entrepreneurs. At the time, innovators across Canada were developing products and services under the belief that business would proceed as usual over the next year. Then the coronavirus hit, and, suddenly, the only way to survive was to adapt.
Abdullah Snobar, executive director of influential Canadian tech incubator the DMZ, watched as ambitious and hardworking startups were forced to adjust to an abrupt lack of early-stage funding, and saw carefully crafted business models fall apart as the world changed overnight.
“Entrepreneurs worked around the clock to try and re-evaluate and pivot their models, and understand what would work better,” says Snobar.
For some companies, particularly those relying on in-person interaction, that meant doing a complete 180-degree turnaround. One example, notes Snobar, is Pheedloop, a company that began as a mobile event application. In March of 2020, it launched new virtual-event technology and is now finding success in the virtual events industry.
The key, according to Snobar, is flexible adaptation to a world that was already increasingly digital, and has been rapidly pushed further along that path by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah Prevette, a serial entrepreneur and investor who advises companies across Canada as they look to future-proof their businesses with 5G, believes the country is poised to be a leader in digital innovation — but only if one condition is met.
“The future relies on instant connection,” says Prevette.
“Our companies need to be able to leverage complex data to make evidence-based decisions and power new technology. If we don’t have the wireless infrastructure, we’re not going to be able to continue to innovate the way that other countries will, and we don’t want to be left behind.”
Instant connection fuels the future
In this new business landscape, digital technology is key, and wireless infrastructure is the facilitator that will define just how fast and far Canadian entrepreneurs are able to go. That’s why TELUS is strongly focused on rapidly deploying its 5G network infrastructure across Canada, with the service already available in 81 cities and communities, and active plans to cover rural areas as 5G tech evolves.
The benefits of delivering speeds faster than 1Gbps are already being felt by the millions of Canadians who began working remotely due to the pandemic, a shift that may stay in effect long after it’s safe to go back into the office.
“What we’ve seen, which is remarkable, is a massive increase in productivity,” says Prevette. “It’s meant that companies are rethinking whether they go back to a traditional office space.”
This newly remote workforce has put a strain on wireless networks in many countries, but Opensignal’s wireless speed report for the first quarter of 2020 showed Canada topping the list with the fastest download speeds, while countries like the U.K. and Australia dipped from their usual speeds in response to the additional pressure.
These download speeds bode well for Canada’s position as a global tech leader as the world enters the 5G era. Just as the previous decade was inextricably linked to the rise of smartphones and mobile applications facilitated by 4G technology, the next 10 years will be marked by innovations driven by 5G.
While it’s impossible to know specifically what the next big thing will be, Kundan Joshi, CEO of TheAppLabb, says it’s easy to identify the opportunities of 5G. TheAppLabb has built more than 600 apps in the last 14 years, making it a leader in the Canadian mobile space and giving Joshi a seasoned perspective on how wireless infrastructure leads to digital innovation.
Joshi points out that something as seemingly futuristic as artificial intelligence (AI) has actually existed for a long time, but its potential has been held back by two things: computational power (the ability to process data at high speeds) and wireless connectivity.
“Connectivity is a major part, because you can have all that speed on your computer, but you need to be able to access the AI while you’re out and about,” says Joshi.
Joshi provides the example of an application his team worked on for a pair of smart glasses that could provide an athlete (in this case a hockey player) with real-time coaching and training advice using body sensors and AI image analysis.
“When you’re creating that, all the technology is there, the biggest challenge was connectivity,” says Joshi. “I need a very fast computing speed and connectivity in order for the glasses to do image recognition, cross-reference the image, compare it with all the data sets we have to try and figure out what the other player is going to do, and then throw in a recommendation.”
5G opens up potential
Of course, this applies to other technologies currently deemed futuristic, like augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Much of the foundation for future technologies has already been laid — now it’s time for vastly increased data-processing power and ultra-low latency (the time between an action and resulting response) to bring these technologies into the mainstream in various sectors.
“We’re looking across all these growing industries like healthcare, advanced manufacturing, green energy—all of those sectors need to be empowered with the best-in-class technology infrastructure,” says Prevette.
Snobar echoes Prevette, highlighting digital health services as a sector to watch in the Canadian innovation space. He also identifies cybersecurity as a growing opportunity — due to companies moving services online — as well as e-learning platforms and e-commerce.
“We’re all going to be doing more online shopping and it’s more important than ever that small businesses and large enterprises alike move online and ship online,” says Snobar.
As 5G opens up potential for new products and services within these sectors that employ next-generation technologies like AI and AR/VR, Canada is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. Although this has been a dark year for many business owners, there is great potential for recovery.
“I think at this moment we’re starting to look ahead at what the new normal will be,” says Prevette.
“What fuels me is knowing that we have incredible entrepreneurs in this country who are continuing to see where the opportunities are, finding problems worth solving, and leveraging technology to pioneer new innovations that can impact millions.”