It may not seem like it’s been very long since the industry was abuzz about 4G or even 3G and the benefits for M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT (Internet of Things) applications, but now it’s all about 5G, the fifth generation of wireless broadband networks. In verticals like agriculture, smart cities, utilities, manufacturing, healthcare, and beyond, the 5G commercial rollout expected during the next several years promises to open doors to new opportunities for exciting IoT solutions that bring new efficiencies, reduced latencies, and improved network performance.

According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, there will be 3.5 billion IoT cellular connections by 2023, mobile data traffic will reach close to 107 exabytes per month, and 20% of global mobile data traffic will be on 5G networks. Interestingly, Ericsson says the prediction for the number of cellular IoT connections has nearly doubled since November 2017, demonstrating just how explosive the market can be.

Some major 5G deployments across the globe will be responsible for driving the space forward, starting this year and next with major U.S. operators rolling out their 5G networks. Ericsson says almost half of all mobile subscriptions in North America are forecast to be for 5G by the end of 2023, and more than 20% of the global mobile data traffic is expected to be carried by 5G networks by that year.

5G will be transformative in two big verticals: smart cities and healthcare. As one instance, the city of San Jose, Calif., and AT&T are teaming up in a public-private partnership. The city will deploy a network of small cells to enhance existing voice and data capacity, laying the foundation for standards-based, mobile 5G services. Together, they will pilot a trial of solutions that will include smart lighting, public Wi-Fi, digital infrastructure, and more.

In smart cities, 5G technology can provide ultra-fast Internet, which will ultimately help create a safer and more sustainable community. Public-private partnerships will help deliver these digital advancements that will enhance work for the cities and quality of life for the citizens living in them.

As another example, 5G will impact healthcare, which increasingly relies on realtime data collected by wireless cellular-connected devices to deliver just-in-time, decision-enhancing information to patients and clinicians alike. In one example, a company called Imaginalis, which develops and produces robotic imaging medical devices, is working to leverage 5G to advance remote diagnosis capabilities and even remote, robot-assisted surgery. In another example, the BioRobotics Institute is looking for ways to leverage next-gen 5G connections and healthcare robots to provide complex healthcare services, including providing health support for elderly people.

Telemedicine, defined as the remote diagnosis and/or treatment of patients via telecommunications technology, will be an important part of the next generation of healthcare in a connected world. 5G is expected to help enable telemedicine, including remote care, by facilitating speedier connections and higher bandwidths. At Verizon’s 5G-enabled Open Innovation lab in New York’s Silicon Alley, Columbia University’s Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Laboratory is moving the needle on this by trialing VR (virtual reality) and 5G and experimenting with how these technologies could be used in combination to enable virtual healthcare solutions.

With fast network speeds like those enabled by 5G networks, professionals across all verticals may be able to communicate better, i.e., faster and more reliably. This year could end up being a critical year for 5G, in which a crucial foundation will be laid for an explosion of 5G-enabled devices and solutions.