The nature of globalization is changing. In the past, “globalization” mainly meant the movements of goods and money across national boundaries. Examples included the manufacturing of smartphones, which might entail the manufacturing of components and their partial assembly in a range of different countries.

But a form of globalization that we are starting to see today—and could see much more of in the future—is profoundly different. Rather than being concerned with the movement of physical goods and capital, it involves global trade in information and human talent.

Flows of trade and capital—the traditional drivers of globalization—have slowed in the wake of the financial crisis. But flows of information and people have proved more resilient—and in some cases have even accelerated.

This points to the potential for a new form of globalization—one enabled by technology. Certainly, technology has changed the course of globalization in the past. It played a critical role in facilitating the period of hyper-globalization between 1990 and 2007. During that period, technological advances—chiefly through the Internet—allowed firms to establish global supply chains and facilitate international transfers of knowledge. This process had major implications for industrial workforces, with jobs transferred to emerging economies while the wage gap between developed and emerging markets declined.

Today, digital technologies promise service-sector firms a similar ability to coordinate complicated tasks across international borders. This offers them the opportunity to exploit lower costs by arbitraging wage differentials between countries at the points where those gaps are the largest.

There are already signs that the services work force is reorganizing along these lines. Tele-migration services—in the form of international freelancers or the “human cloud”—are creating a highly skilled and globally mobile workforce that could transform value chains within the services sector.

In recent months, high adoption rates and structural revenue growth have supported a string of initial public offerings (IPOs) related to the human cloud. Lyft and Uber, two of the three largest firms in the industry, have both listed this year. Meanwhile, two more of the five largest companies in the B2B human-capital segment, Upwork and Axiom, have filed for IPOs.

Importantly, this is a truly global phenomenon. Five of the world’s 10 leading human-cloud firms by revenue are based in emerging markets. The two largest presences in this area are the U.S. and China, but European and other Asia-Pacific countries are also well represented.

The rollout of 5G technology has the potential to greatly accelerate this shift. This upgrading of telecommunications infrastructure is expected to improve speeds a hundred-fold, dramatically reducing delays in the transfer of information. This should facilitate the fast and seamless flow of data and digital goods across borders. And beyond simply improving Internet speed, 5G is expected to lead to a plethora of technological innovations, from smart infrastructure to autonomous driving.

But this “new globalization” is not guaranteed. Recently, plans for the rollout of 5G have hit a major stumbling block as China’s Huawei, one of the world’s largest telecom-network firms, has been dragged into an increasingly bitter feud over data security. The politics here are complicated, but the impact on business is undoubted. According to Huawei, it has signed 40 contracts for 5G networks around the world. Exclusions on regulatory grounds are likely to cost billions and could delay the launch of 5G networks by years.

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