By Herman Schepers
Last week the Westminster eForum in the UK organised an event around spectrum policy and how it can help develop 5G. Much of the discussion was about the potential opportunities 5G could bring, what the industry thinks it needs and what the UK government and regulator OFCOM are doing to support a smooth transition to this new brave world. The expectations are high but most industry participants have a ‘wait and see’ approach. I was told again that the business case remains uncertain, governments need to facilitate research and development and put in place supportive planning policies that can more quickly give access to sites for 5G infrastructure (such as small cell deployment on lamp posts, road signs and bus stops).
I am used to hearing similar arguments at other 5G discussions across Europe or even in other regions of the world but something came up at the Westminster eForum that made me sit up and listen. When participants referred to the broader international picture it sounded like we were comparing apples with pears, and not really sure what we’re looking at. We know countries like Japan, Korea and the US are at an advanced stage in undertaking 5G trials and having roadmaps in place for the deployment of 5G networks but who is really ahead of the game? How do we recognise success from failure and what type of policies will ensure a smooth transition from 4G to 5G? None of these questions can be answered easily as long as we are still working to define what 5G should be.
And it is clear we have a way to go. When reading about the upcoming deployment of 5G I often wonder if I am looking at new marketing terms or if these are real ‘next generation’ wireless networks. To many, myself included, it must have become a confusing mix of terms – ‘5G evolution’, ‘XLTE’, ‘Gigabit LTE’. In my opinion, much of what will be on offer in the short term is simply about getting a better performance out of LTE networks. That makes complete business sense considering the large investments that have been made in 4G. It also means we need to give regulators and governments a clearer narrative so they can more easily navigate this complicated landscape. Ongoing confusion is not going to help in developing the right supportive policy and regulatory framework that the industry and consumers can benefit from.
No doubt there will be exciting use cases – remote surgery, smarter cities, precision technology in agriculture and driverless cars. At least we are all in agreement that 5G will provide faster speeds (in multi-gigabit per second – Gbps), more reliability and higher spectrum efficiency. This will accelerate new business opportunities based on the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) so that thermostats, cars, lights, refrigerators, and more appliances can all be connected intelligently. 5G is also expected to transform our online gaming experience. Personally I am eager to participate in virtual reality gaming where I will be able to play football alongside my favourite football player of all time, Johan Cruyff. Bring it on!
Herman Schepers is Founder and Director of Policy Impact Partners