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5G and the Future of Accounting

How is a cellphone network going to revolutionize tax preparation?

If you’ve regularly upgraded your cell phone over the past few years, you might remember the sales representative’s not-so-subtle enthusiasm for the then-brand new wireless network: 3G. As a former Verizon sales representative, I can assure you that, anecdotally, we were excited.

The promise of greater Internet speeds to match an increasing shift to mobile devices meant that people could reliably surf their favorite websites, receive email, and—with a not-insignificant wait for buffering—watch videos on the go: a proposition that now seems quaint.

Since 2015, we’ve been living in the fairly fast world of 4G LTE, and the mere sight of “3G” next to our signal-strength meter is enough to send some into paroxysms of rage. But what do those designations mean, and, especially if you came here wanting to read about the future of tax prep, how is it relevant?

First, the “G” simply means “generation.” 3G was the third generation of network technology used by cellular companies, and 4G is the fourth. Companies like Verizon consider 4G LTE—which stands for “long-term evolution”—to be the most current, advanced generation of cellular networks.

In fact, Verizon reports their 4G LTE network “is 10 times faster than 3G,” with download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. When compared to my local DSL provider (6 Mbps), that’s pretty fast, or at least it seemed that way until I read a CNet report on Verizon and Samsung representatives discussing the possibility of 5G networks.

How does a cellular network affect accounting?

It turns out that the bandwidth required for developing machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence is pretty substantial. 5G cellular networks are predicted to be anywhere from “10 to 100 times faster,” according to CNET. The increased speed promised by 5G led Ken Tysiac and Jeff Drew at the Journal of Accountancy to predict accounting firms might soon begin using machine learning and AI to perform audits and other complex tasks.

As JofA’s article points out, these advanced tools could allow accountants to take raw data sets and process them such that a lay person can understand the information while clients are in the room. Aside from being able to increasingly focus on providing expert advice, the JofA also contends that accountants will need to move away from the billable-hour model.

All this hype comes with the usual day-one caveats. After all,CNET’s coverage of 5G technology rightfully reminds readers about the hiccups the industry saw when 4G LTE was rolled out en masse, and it would be naïve to assume that implementing 5G will be any different. But once those kinks are worked out, we can expect big changes for a wide number of industries—accounting included.

Ryan Norton, Contributor

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