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The case for an open access 5G network

5G might not live up to the hype but perhaps we need to reset our expectations, says Chris Cooper, KnowNow Information.


The hype surrounding 5G is growing out of all proportion – 5G will not solve the world’s problems nor make us any smarter than we already are. To realise the true benefits, we need to change our approach. Unfortunately, this is the element that is being left behind in the rush for 5G.


So, where did the 5G hype go awry?


5G is just the latest example of the tech industry getting more excited than it probably should. It is part of the industry’s standard marketing journey.


It’s time to reset the expectations and focus around 5G. A good place to start is by looking at the history.


“The best way to predict the future is to study the past...“ Robert Kiyosaki


The way we are approaching 5G today is wholly focused on the infrastructure, and the real debate about how to exploit this new infrastructure is muted. Use cases are being touted with fantastic benefits which are all dependent on 5G for their success. These use cases will still fail if we use today’s organisational structures.


Further, I would argue that many of these use cases could be realised today with the existing technology infrastructure that’s already out there. The data is where the value and ROI is. The data is where the operational efficiencies and new value materialises.


My prediction is that the fanfare surrounding 5G will lead to disappointment and frustration for investors and early adopters.


Is 5G set to fail?


The return on 5G investment will not happen at the level or in the timeframe expected. This will see 5G pegged – unfairly, in my view as a failed digital infrastructure investment.


I believe we need to recognise that our digital networks are just as important as our road and rail networks. They need to be carefully managed and we need to invest now to reap the benefits later.


We need to recognise that our digital networks are just as important as our road and rail networks.


This means we need to do two things: first, re-set our expectations. Second, get on with the data initiatives that will exploit both the existing (4G & LoRaWAN) and the new (5G) tech infrastructure.



Hit re-set


We need to urgently re-set the expectation that having 5G will solve the world’s ills. The first step is to change the way we view 5G infrastructure.


I believe we should have an open access 5G network. In essence, treat the 5G infrastructure like a road. This means making upfront public investment for the good of society and deploying a resilient, interoperable, secure industry-managed infrastructure. To do this, we would need to create a new arms-length public corporation to rapidly deliver a pervasive, countrywide, world-class 5G infrastructure.


To enable investment recovery for establishing this 5G network, the public purse would need to levy a charge on the data that has given the benefit.


To enable investment recovery for establishing this 5G network, the public purse would need to levy a charge on the data that has given the benefit. A model for this would be an ‘information marketplace’ (as enshrined in ISO37016). This would also mean that places and datasets which struggle to have value could still be served.


A number of positive benefits accrue with this model. Investment funds would be available for the innovators to focus on the use cases that will truly benefit society, and these innovators would take on some of the risk of delivering services.


Publicly funded 5G infrastructure could bring further opportunities for engagement too. For example, a percentage of the revenue collected could – in parallel with citizen engagement and participatory budgeting – be decided upon locally. Local communities could use new revenue streams to tap the data and insights from both legacy IoT networks and 5G.


Self-driving cars


One 5G use case in particular is very exciting. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) provide a very compelling reason to support 5G deployment today.


They need instant and pervasive awareness of their own location as well as that of any other related AVs and street assets. This all-knowing location data requires a fast, high -volume, low-latency digital infrastructure. 5G fits the bill!


Plus, the AV is a big battery and antenna. Finally, in an urban setting, the 5G infrastructure will easily co-exist with existing street furniture (e.g. lampposts).


For elected leaders, supporting 5G can realise a positive return on the investment, as well as helping to reduce air pollution (use electric AVs) and improving urban mobility too. All vote-winners.


We could see AVs generating lots of data and fulfilling journeys that are paid for, all pushed through the new information marketplace which charges a levy for making that journey happen. This allows additional benefits that can unleash new innovation and unlock future economic growth.


Exploiting what we already have


Still, we do not need to wait for 5G and AVs to be on our streets. We can start harnessing the value of data today. Our societies are not organised to deal with information that cuts across operational boundaries. We need to be open, interoperable and collaborative.


We need to be open, interoperable and collaborative.


Our default is still to have totems of power and responsible officers. This was great in the Victorian age but isn’t fit for purpose for today’s era. We tend to use the data sourced from the digital infrastructure to provide evidence of a job well done.


To that end, we need to embrace the creation and exploitation of existing IoT datasets. We also need to act upon the data analysis and new approaches to delivering services these datasets now allow.


Call to action


  • Enable industry then collaborate to deliver a new 5G infrastructure. Start in the urban realm and expand country-wide.
  • At the same time, drive a renewed focus on changing our approach to using the data already being created by sensors and things.
  • Establish the information marketplaces, remove the silos and embrace evidence-based decision-making.
  • Work collaboratively across public, private and third sectors to deliver the new services that rely on great data. These services will change our approach and appreciation of what ‘good’ looks like.


All this will mean we can better exploit the 5G-originated datasets when they do finally materialise.


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