Accenture’s Jefferson Wang On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives
An Interview With David Liu
5G Remote Surgery to Save Lives — Science Daily estimates that two thirds of the world’s population does not have access to safe and affordable surgery. Through 5G, can we help extend the expertise of surgeons using high-definition video for improved field of vision and ultra-low latency controls for precision? Surgeons can reach more patients, improve incision location accuracy, reduce blood loss, and enable faster recoveries.
5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?
In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jefferson Wang.
Jefferson Wang is a managing director — Technology Strategy & Advisory, 5G Strategy & Go-To Market Lead at Accenture. He is also an author of the best-selling book, “The Future Home in the 5G Era”.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up helping in my dad’s Chinese restaurant starting from the time I was five years old. It was a family business so my mom would finish her day job and pick up my sister and me after school. We’d all join my dad and work at the restaurant until close around 10:00pm.
Interestingly, I learned a lot about physics, fluid mechanics and the importance of process and structured thinking, which led me to mechanical engineering in college. I also was able to learn about customer needs, problem solving and the value of personal relationships, which led me to consulting. Growing up in the family restaurant, five things stuck with me:
- Hard Work & Grit — My dad did everything by hand. He hand-carved the radish garnishes in the shape of a flower and soaked them in water so they’d “blossom.” He hand-made dumpling wrappers and folded each one making sure to never “crowd the wok” during the pan-frying finish. He enjoyed the process, the hard work, the adversity — and it taught me attention to detail, work ethic and resolve.
- Understand Customer Needs Then Test & Iterate — When we had time, we’d dine at other restaurants and my dad was always learning, constantly looking for customer needs: parking situation, entrance greeting, menu layout, ordering process, time to get the first drink, ease of paying, whether we were thanked on the way out, etc. He would notice details at other customer tables like a simple iced tea refill. My dad once saw a waiter whisk by and top off a half-full iced tea, which seemed like a good proactive service. But then the customer had to stop drinking and re-add lemon and sugar to get the mixture back to “right” again. So, at my dad’s restaurant, he’d tell me to look for the squeezed lemons rinds on the table and opened sugar wrappers before the drink refill runs and if needed, bring a new glass and fresh lemons to pour the refill of iced tea in the new glass right next to half full glass.
- Importance Process & Constant Optimization — There were nights the dinner rush was so busy that he created a process to keep up. He’d look at the order ticket, pick out the meat and vegetables for the dish, place the ingredients in a takeout container and then put each container in a long line. He’d have 30–40 takeout containers lined up and run three woks in parallel to speed up cooking. Some containers were doubled up with ingredients so he could batch cook multiple orders of the same dish.
- Foundation of Physics & Fluid Mechanics — Even though my dad was constantly finding new ways to optimize the process, eventually I needed to learn how to cook. But there was a big problem for little me — I wasn’t strong enough at the time to lift the wok in the air to execute a proper “wok toss.” I first tried brute force to lift the wok with one hand the way my dad did but there wasn’t that much force coming from my skinny arm. Then, I tried using two hands but that would slow me down. I tried everything until I finally put the wok down onto the wok ring pedestal below and saw the food rocking back and force. And then that’s when the fluid mechanics hit me — I didn’t have to lift the entire wok and elegantly toss the food up like my dad did, I could use the wok ring below as a moment arm and rock the wok back and forth with the right amount of force to get the food airborne!
- Value of a Personal Relationship — The county health inspector always wore a white yacht hat with a black brim and yellow rope trim. He’d consistently come by with a checklist and give each restaurant a rating. Some restaurants used the high clean rating to attract more customers, so the night before each visit, we’d all stay up until 4:00am cleaning. I’d be falling asleep while wiping out any residue from the pink Sweet’N Low sugar caddie. My sister would be checking the rolled silverware, while mom would spot clean the floors and dad would use a long brush to scrub the industrial metal backsplash behind the three woks. What I noticed was my dad had a great relationship with the health inspector. Of course, it helped that my dad was neat in the restaurant, knew what the county guidelines were and made us all stay and clean. But the relationship really helped keep our rating high. One day, the county health inspector put his hat on me and told me to hold his clipboard while we went to inspect the 31 flavors of the ice cream store next door.
I took what I learned from my dad’s restaurant business and attended the University of Maryland to major in Mechanical Engineering and played NCAA Division I Tennis (when the University of Maryland was in the Atlantic Coast Conference), which was another incredible experience. During my senior year, Dr. Bala Balachandran asked me to start a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering which was really exciting. However, for family reasons I had to stop the Master’s program after one course to get a job and generate income. It’s something I regret to this day — not completing my Master’s degree in engineering.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting or ironic thing that happened since I began working would be my career boomerang. Initially, I led Accenture’s North American Wireless Practice and co-led the Global Wireless Practice. But in 2010, I took a chance to start IBB Consulting’s Wireless & Mobility Practice and focused the new business on 5G wireless and the new technologies that 5G would enable: edge compute, cellular-based Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual / Augmented reality (VR / AR). Fortunately, many of my previous Accenture team members joined me at IBB and we built a successful new IBB wireless business. Ultimately, with a mix of good timing, hard work and luck, in 2018 we decided to sell IBB to Accenture Strategy, thus completing the career boomerang.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I used to keep a book of quotes and wrote down how they affected me and where I read them. Here are my top five favorite quotes, but #5 is still a mystery — not for what it means, but rather the exact words:
“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers” — Maya Angelou.
My mom used to tell me to save some smiles and when I read this Maya Angelou quote it made much more sense. Often we give so much of ourselves to a world of strangers, to the point where it’s easy to have nothing left for those who work with us, who stand by us, who love us without condition. But that’s exactly when we have to find or create the energy to give one more smile.
Roughly translated it is, “An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can’t buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.” — Chinese Proverb.
As I approach the half-way point in life, it’s honestly terrifying. But what’s worse is this sense of urgency to find a final purpose because you know tomorrow isn’t promised.
“No one changes the world who isn’t obsessed.” — Billie Jean King
Build the courage to dream big, find initiative to start and have the humility to learn fast. Wait, maybe I just created a quote.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I used to worry about forgetting an important concept, so I wrote everything down, literally word for word. But then I figured out while these important lessons were not sinking in, I was too busy writing vs. understanding. So, once I read this quote, I found a way to control that fear of missing out on each and every word. I refocused my attention on understanding the concept, applying it at the right moment and teaching it to others. This may also explain why I didn’t write down the fifth quote exactly right.
I’ve been searching for the exact quote for over 10 years now and still cannot find it. So here is my slightly modified version of it, “Attack each day with an effort not known to humanity.” — Vernon Davis and one of his football coaches.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A year in consulting is like dog years; if you miss one year in consulting it’s like missing seven years of knowledge because the industry evolves so quickly past your experience. In 2014, my dad was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer and was in and out of hospital / acute rehab for two years with several complications. My dad immigrated to the U.S. and learned English but one of his complications was a stroke that left his speech impaired. If you’ve spent day and night in hospitals, you realize how hard each healthcare provider is working, but you also see how chaotic it is. Different doctors stop in during their rounds, x-rays and testing. Meanwhile, physical therapy works the big muscle groups and occupational therapy works the fine motor skills. Not to mention there’s speech therapy, breathing assistance, vitals every 4–6 hours, etc. It’s honestly amazing how many times in the middle of the night a patient is awakened for something. So, my decision was easy: stop work and stay with my dad in the hospital to meet with the doctors during morning rounds, help providers during the day, translate for each of the medical services and then sleep on the chair to give dad peace of mind during the nightly vitals.
Two true leaders who helped me through those very difficult years were Imran Shah and Afzaal Akhtar. Imran and Afzaal continued to grow the overall consulting business as they always have, helped with the wireless & mobility practice and encouraged me to focus on dad. Unfortunately, my dad passed away from cancer on May 6, 2016, but we got to spend so much time together. I will never be able to thank Imran and Afzaal enough for the chance to be there with my dad, holding his hand as he stopped breathing, but his heart continued to beat for minutes after.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Drive and Passion — find the right purpose and then be willing to work harder than others to accomplish that goal.
- Connection and Relationships — learn about people to find ways you can relate, share things about yourself so others can identify with you. Create the moments that matters and memories that aren’t easily forgotten.
- Invest your energy in those who value your time. Do not expect to get paid back in full. Accept each person’s individual path.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on two in particular that I’m excited about and have the potential to impact society.
The first is working with an innovative client to design a 5G mmWave smart city. We’re currently planning the fiber, 5G small cell outdoor mounts, indoor connectivity options and edge compute data center locations. Also, we’re orchestrating an ecosystem of partners to create world class connectivity, autonomous vehicle delivery, augmented reality (AR) art installations, next-generation retail and the future home.
The second is working with a discreet manufacturing company on worker safety. There is a 5G Private Network deployed and Accenture brought in edge compute and built a worker safety solution using video analytics. The video analytics can determine if the worker is wearing the correct personal protective equipment; if not then the machine will not start. If the worker accidentally gets something spun up in the machine, the 5G and edge compute instantly shut off the power to the machine to avoid injury.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?
Roughly every ten years, the cellular wireless industry implements a new generation of technology. So, the “G” in 5G stands for the generation of cellular wireless technology. Here is a high-level background:
- 1980s — 1G or 1st generation of cellular wireless technology enabled mobile voice
- 1990s — 2G enabled text messaging
- 2000s — 3G enabled mobile data
- 2010s — 4G enabled mobile internet
- 2020s — brings us to 5G
Everyone needs to prepare for the continued roll out of 5G as it will be the next mobile technology in the progression. In 1G — 4G, there was one network built for many to use, however, 5G was designed from the ground up to be customizable, personalized. 5G will offer value propositions for organizations across all industries:
- Speed: 5G can deliver speeds up to 10–20 Gbps, 4G can deliver speeds up to 1Gbps.
- Latency: 5G’s latency can be <10 millisecond, a loaded 4G network’s latency can 50–100 milliseconds
- # of Devices Connected: 5G can connect 1,000,000 devices per sq. km, 4G can connect 100,000 devices per sq. km.
- 5G will also have energy efficiency benefits and shorter service deployment times.
Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.
Accenture is working with clients on several new 5G use case, pilots and solutions, across the Communications & Media industry to reach consumers, Automotive Industry, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Utilities, Energy, Retail, Mining, Life Sciences, Financial Services, Insurance, Aero Space and Defense. Here are four use cases that we are working with clients on to improve lives:
- 5G Future Home — In our recent book “The Future Home in the 5G Era,” we explore how 5G will enable and accelerate the transformation of today’s request-based connected home to tomorrow’s proactive Future Home. In the past year, we’ve spent more time than ever at home and our homes have become digital hubs. Many of us continue to work from home, interact with our friends and family from home, educate our kids from home, and even meet with doctors from home. Today, most home devices are connected to Wi-Fi so each time you buy a new device you have to download a new app, enter a complex Wi-Fi password and manually configure it to work with the rest of the home. Tomorrow, more internet of things (IoT) devices will connect to cellular 5G so all you have to do is just power on the device and the network will identify, active, provision, handoff and monitor the IoT device. In the Future Home, we will see more personalized devices and services for secure and dedicated remote work, virtual healthcare, holographic communications, immersive gaming, remote education and aging in place use cases. Because of this increase in 5G IoT devices and services, we will see more and more data generated at home and the home will become a data gold mine. So, if the smartphone was a must win in 4G, the home will be a must win in 5G.
- 5G Autonomous Driving to Reduce Accidents — According to the World Health Organization, each year 1.35M people are killed in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. Could the low latency of 5G Autonomous Vehicles use edge compute and advanced analytics one day save these 1.35M lives each year? Also, autonomous vehicles will start to explore cellular-vehicle to anything (C-V2X) and begin to communicate with infrastructure, buildings and other cars, which is also very exciting.
- 5G Remote Surgery to Save Lives — Science Daily estimates that two thirds of the world’s population does not have access to safe and affordable surgery. Through 5G, can we help extend the expertise of surgeons using high-definition video for improved field of vision and ultra-low latency controls for precision? Surgeons can reach more patients, improve incision location accuracy, reduce blood loss, and enable faster recoveries.
- 5G Virtual Reality (VR) Training Effectiveness — VR training is an immersive digital simulation, but can be personalized to show the exact environment or background that the participant will enter. We worked with a client to create a simulation that trains new employee participants on a piece of machinery in the exact work site the users were about to travel to, which increased realism and learning. But delivering VR Training on a high-performance head mounted display (hmd) that was tethered to a gaming PC reduced the number participants we could reach because we could not bring the VR training to the user. Then, we tried to port the VR Training solution to a wireless hmd to increase mobility using Wi-Fi, but users reported motion sickness because of the Wi-Fi network latency. So, can 5G VR Training untether the solution for maximum reach and leverage the low latency to solve this motion sickness? VR Training has great benefits, such as increasing the effectiveness of training over a generic classroom or compute-based training program. Ultimately, VR Training reduces the time spent in training and gets participant on-the-job faster.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?
While 5G certainly has benefits, there are challenges organizations face when adopting 5G solutions applications and technology, such as a lack of 5G strategic understanding (including which use cases are most effective on 5G, 5G vs. Wi-Fi network performance differences, differences between a Private Network vs. 5G Network Slice), internal execution skill gaps and upfront costs. We’re also keeping a close eye on the privacy concerns related to 5G given the increase in number of connected devices, service access and supply chain impacts. That said, Accenture’s recent research on 5G found that 68% of businesses believe 5G will make their business more secure since cellular can be better protected than Wi-Fi. It’s important to remember that 5G adoption is still in early stages across industries, and none of these challenges are unsolvable, especially when we invest in innovative technologies with the right ecosystem partners.
Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?
This is a critical moment for 5G adoption because the technology’s potential will only be unlocked if it’s accessible for everyone at scale. 5G will enable new technologies such as edge compute, IoT, AI and VR / Augmented Reality (AR), which will combine to generate huge waves of new data and growth across industries. But, in order to make 5G more widely available, there needs to be greater investments in our infrastructures. Democratizing 5G means prioritizing high-quality network deployment feasibility and spectrum access on a truly global scale. Additionally, 5G can unlock Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), a use case that can actually close the digital divide. Digging up our streets and land to lay fiber for 5G backhaul is 100% necessary. However, digging up land to lay fiber for the last mile to every home in a country as widespread as the United States is uneconomical. Therefore, 5G FWA can be a lower cost solution to deliver broadband to certain parts of the country.
Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Foundational Passion for Communications, infrastructure it takes to deliver and potential the industry continues to unlock
- Humility to work with a large and complex ecosystem so everyone can run farther together
- Creative Thinking to solve old problems in new ways and storytelling to convince others
- Continuous Learning to keep up with the ever-changing technologies and value chains
- Focus to cut through the noise; agility to be able to pivot
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
These are my words of advice. Start with love and compassion. Always seek to understand with an open mind and realize healthy disagreement gives everyone an opportunity. Respect each other and love each other even if we don’t agree. Give each other the grace and allow people to make mistakes. Find a way to relate, look for common ground and be willing to compromise.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Also, please visit https://www.accenture.com/us-en/services/communications-media/5gacceleration to follow our latest thinking and content on 5G topics.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.