What is 5G?

One would be hard-pressed to name a technology at present that is getting as much attention as 5G.  5G stands for the fifth generation of mobile wireless connectivity, and it promises data transfer speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, with much lower communication latency (meaning reduced load times).  5G carries with it the potential to revolutionise our traditional idea of workplaces – from a centralised workforce in an office building to a largely remote, virtually-connected work population.  How can businesses prepare themselves for the upcoming wave of changes and navigate the brand new legal landscape of 5G? 

5G in Workplaces

With fast connection speeds come increased opportunities for flexible and remote working.  5G makes it possible for employees to work anytime, anywhere by providing designated virtual spaces where they can interact remotely with team members and clients.  Typically time-bound or geographically constrained interactions will become more ad-hoc and flexible through the power of 5G.

Legal Implications

Data Breaches

With virtual working spaces and meeting rooms becoming increasingly commonplace, the stage is set for much higher volumes of personal and confidential data being transferred through many more devices, which creates more entry-points for security threats to occur.  

Employers should ensure that robust security measures are in place before rolling out any 5G workplace plans, and to conduct regular security audits, as well as comprehensive training to employees on safety protocols and the appropriate use of digital devices.  

Device Control

Remote working invariably means less visibility and control over the activity of employees who will be working both from home and other remote locations.  Employers will need to consider how they mitigate potential risks associated with employees connecting to third-party network connections on their work devices.   

With many organisations opting for the convenience of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),  it will be important to consider the extent to which they have access to data on employee-owned hardware (particularly when an employee is exiting the company).  With 5G vastly increasing the types and amount of data stored on devices, there will be more grey areas regarding access and ownership.  

Comprehensive BYOD policies and agreements, which clearly outline the ownership and rights to access of data, will be necessary to pre-empt and address these scenarios.  

Employers' Liability

Flexible and remote working blurs the division between work and personal life.  A potential minefield for employers is the liability for employee actions while using their devices for work.  Are employers liable for employee accidents that occur during workings hours in a virtual office space, or when accidents occur during usage of employee-owned devices for work matters?  What happens if an employee loses their BYOD device on which confidential company or client data is stored?

Having clear, robust and well-communicated policies, agreements, and training on virtual workspace safety and the safeguarding of devices, together with effective escalation, investigation and disciplinary procedures will help businesses maintain a vigilant and disciplined workforce where such high-risk issues are concerned.

Be prepared

5G workplaces present a somewhat unexplored and challenging legal landscape for employers to navigate.  It is important for organisations to give careful thought to their plans and strategies for the rollout of a 5G workplace.  While risk appetite may be low, the opportunities of 5G are vast.  Employers wishing to stay ahead of the curve will therefore need to be prepared to embrace these opportunities while managing the risks.