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Vodafone’s David Joosten On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

An Interview With David Liu

Listen more than you speak. I truly believe it’s the only way to learn. Listening carefully and being open to new ideas, without being too excited about your own ideas, is a sign of great leadership. In addition to listening, think twice before you speak and make sure what you’re saying is important and impactful.

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 David Joosten, President and CEO, Vodafone US Inc.

David Joosten is the President and CEO for Vodafone US Inc. In this role he leads Vodafone Business commercial operations throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America, in addition to Vodafone partner markets including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, the Nordics and Vodafone’s international public sector customers. With more than twenty years in international IT, telecoms and sales, David brings a wealth of experience to the role.

David joined Vodafone in 2007 and has held many international roles over the years, including most recently Head of International Sales, a position he held from 2016–2019.

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?

My career spans all the aspects of telecommunications — from internet, mobile and data centers across consumer, business, local and international over more than 20 years. My very first student job was selling cell phones to consumers in a retail store in Antwerp. I managed the store for a while, right as the mobile phone industry took off. Since then, I’ve worked across a range of telecommunication businesses, everything from fiber networks to cable and wireless and then back to mobile telephony.

I’ve spent the last 14 years at Vodafone and have seen the industry grow from 2G, 3G, 4G now to 5G. It’s been fascinating to see the advancement of technology throughout my career and see firsthand how businesses can leverage these advancements for their own growth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Listen more than you speak. I truly believe it’s the only way to learn. Listening carefully and being open to new ideas, without being too excited about your own ideas, is a sign of great leadership. In addition to listening, think twice before you speak and make sure what you’re saying is important and impactful.

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?

  • Self-awareness — Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is key to growth. Without a level of self-awareness, you may repeat mistakes without any understanding. Self-awareness can help you focus on the areas you need to work on.
  • Creativity — While business may be numbers and statistics, creative thinking plays a huge role in overall business success. Coming up with creative solutions to problems or new ways of improving a business is vital to long term success.
  • Tenacity — This may be the most important trait of the three. I can attribute a huge part of my career success to pure tenacity. I always look for new solutions and go the ‘extra mile’ to deliver the best results for my teams or clients.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

We are equipping businesses with the tools they need to be successful in this new world of remote work. We are constantly adapting our portfolio of services based on customer feedback. The pandemic taught us we needed a new suite of services, particularly for global customers, to support remote work. As companies are determining the future of the office and the new interest in hybrid work, we’re finding ways to support our customers through new features, tools and services.

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?

  • Put simply, 5G is the latest and fastest mobile network generation. For smartphone and smart devices users, 5G enables improved performance — no lag, no patch connectivity and superfast, stable downloads on the move. 5G is about 100 times faster than 4G. You can think of 5G as the next evolution of connectivity.
  • 5G will also support the growth and development of Internet of Things (IoT) technology — millions of devices seamlessly connected and sharing data through a single super-fast network.
  • 5G will power the digital future, helping us build inclusive and sustainable digital societies around the world. 5G is not just about super-fast speeds. Next generation networks will create a ripple of developments that will change daily life.

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

  • Most of us know that 5G means faster speed and increased productivity, however, the true power of 5G comes from its role as an enabler: a tool to make those more imaginative digital projects a reality. It will underpin growth and power change for businesses in the years to come. Here are a few use cases:
  • 5G enabled Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will transform the education industry. Virtual, mixed and augmented reality require high bandwidth and low latency to perform well. 5G can enable a smooth, seamless VR or AR experience and when applied to complex subjects like engineering, architecture or medicine, the possibilities for new ways of teaching and engaging with subject matter are endless. Vodafone is already working with a university in the UK to power immersive, real-time AR and VR tours of the human body for medical students. 5G makes lectures much more flexible and interactive and boosts retention outside the classroom.
  • Autonomous or self-driving cars will become reality thanks to 5G. Self driving cars require an array of sensors — such as laser scanners, cameras, and GPS mapping — to help them ‘see’ and navigate safely. These sensors generate a lot of data that has to be transferred across the communications network in real time, either to other cars or to smart city traffic management centers. That’s why 5G’s advanced low latency and high bandwidth will be so important in creating truly autonomous vehicle systems.
  • The future of healthcare will be powered by 5G. The possibilities unleashed by 5G and IoT touch almost every part of the healthcare system, from the visible — think of remotely assisted surgery, or drones carrying transplant organs and drugs between hospitals — to the unseen but vital — think of IoT-enabled hospital equipment management systems using sensors to monitor stock levels automatically.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?

  • People are naturally resistant to change and skeptical of new technology. We’re also starting to see people’s attitudes towards tech change. We’re looking for new technologies to be purpose-led and make a genuine and positive contribution to society. Not simply innovation for its own sake or to benefit just a few.
  • The roll out of 5G technology is an evolution from the past networks — 4G, 3G and so on. I believe the biggest drawback to 5G would be taking a “wait and see” approach rather than embracing the technology and the massive opportunities for innovation it brings. At Vodafone, our aim is to inspire business leaders with our use cases and make a positive change in the perception of 5G. We want to help businesses make changes that’ll help them overcome the challenges of both today and tomorrow — and we do so by delivering powerful examples of how it can really make a real difference.

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?

  • The digital divide is a huge cause for concern, as the need for connectivity has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. The need for equal access to wireless internet and technology was brought into sharp focus as children were sent home from school and people around the world began working remotely. While the need for connectivity is universal — access is not. 5G can help close the digital divide that was so harshly exposed over the last year.
  • 5G not only offers faster connection speeds but provides a cost-effective way to deliver those faster speeds wirelessly to homes, schools and businesses in rural areas where laying fiber optic cable is not feasible. Vodafone is already doing this work in parts of Europe. Last year, we expanded 5G availability in rural Germany using dynamic spectrum sharing.
  • Overall, businesses and governments must work together and start to think about a broader digital strategy which encompasses our future needs as a society.

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.)

  • My advice applies to any industry, not just telecommunications. Firstly, if you want to have a successful career, you have to believe in yourself and your capabilities.
  • After that, it really is all about people and building strong relationships. Businesses are made up of people and you want to find the right ones to hire, motivate and perform for your team or business.
  • Open, honest, direct and clear communication is the next key trait for a successful career. Communicating clearly helps you avoid misunderstandings and only strengthens relationships.
  • Being a good leader also requires flexibility. We saw this in the last year as many companies had to pivot their business models to survive and quickly adapt to the massive disruption caused by the pandemic. From supply chain challenges to transitioning to a remote workforce, leaders had to be flexible and make decisions quickly.

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. :-)

  • What a tough question! Given my background in telecommunications, I’d have to say the continued evolution of digital technology to bring new opportunities across all sectors — from education, housing, business, and more — to people all over the world. I’d love to see the evolution of digital technology be used for good, like we see in the work we do with the Vodafone Americas Foundation.
  • The Vodafone Americas Foundation supports organizations that use technology to improve lives, stimulate innovation, and advance the global development sector. While technology has been used for good in many scenarios, it’s clear that people who do not have access to it will be left behind. As a result of the pandemic as well as societal gender issues, those in jeopardy are increasingly women and girls.
  • As we come out of the pandemic, we must double down on investments that champion women and girls and give them an opportunity to reshape their future and, as a result, our economy. By investing in the combination of women and technology, we are investing in change and the ability to make a meaningful social impact globally as well as in our local communities.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out my LinkedIn! I also write for our Vodafone Gigabit Thinking Blog from time to time and invite you to sign up.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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David Liu

David Liu

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David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication