5G and the global power equation
TECHNOLOGICAL advancement in 5G is already powering breakthroughs such as driverless cars and will underpin life-changing advances in futuristic smart cities over the next decade. This has led to fierce competition between countries to determine the direction of 5G mobile internet standards.
5G is poised to become the most influential technology in the history of mankind. Not only will it allow people to download huge amounts of data at high speeds, but also it will enable thousands of devices to connect to one another so efficiently that online work can easily take place anytime and anywhere.
Manufacturing is about to undergo a huge transformation. Within the next five years, traditional factories will be modified into automated ones. Here, 5G will play a key role in controlling robots and sensors, with rapid real-time data analysis helping to optimise production.
Disruption will take place across every industry, affecting those who were previously trained for traditional work. Countries will need to accelerate the reskilling of their workforces within this decade. Here are some of the major changes we will see:
Industrial transformation; 5G is enabling the connection of virtual reality and augmented reality devices to the cloud, with latency so low that problems with lag will simply cease to exist, enabling real-time control and command. This will broaden our horizons in terms of game play, education and training in general.
Autonomous driving; 5G will become a cornerstone of the automotive industry by enabling a multitude of efficient connections: to the cloud, car to car, car to object, car to human, and human to object. This will increase the ability of a car to sense other cars and objects. The industry envisions a system of Vehicle to Anything (V-to-X) connections that will underpin the transport networks of smart cities by 2035.
Remote robotic surgery; 5G will enhance medical and public health standards through the emergence of telehealth services. We are already seeing long-distance surgery in which doctors in different countries consult with one another. The emergence of a variety of connected medical devices will give people from all walks of life access to medical care and enhance living standards; no matter what the distance, specialists and patients will be connected.
Production-line robotics; 5G is capable of allowing sensor data and robotic arms to work together through real-time data transfer and analysis. As a consequence, organisations will be able to improve their workflow as well as supply chains. That will make 5G a game-changer in various industries in the near future.
Advanced and virtual reality go mainstream – AR and VR are about to experience leapfrog growth in quality because very low latency will reduce problems with lag when playing games. The fast-growing e-sports industry will also fuel demand for head-worn VR and AR devices in a huge way. The quality of such devices will increase and prices will continue to drop.
The drive to develop 5G networks has led to spectrum auctions being conducted all around the world, using various approaches. Below are two examples.
In Britain, an auction took place in March last year of 5G spectrum in the 2.3GHz range in Britain. O2 was the winner and it allocated spectrum in the 3.4-3.6GHz bands to four operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. It is expected that spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz and 700MHz bands will be auctioned by next year.
In South Korea in June last year, regulators allocated 280MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band and 2,400MHz in the 28GHz band. Applicants including SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ paid 3.32 trillion won ($2.96 billion) in the auction, which was 340 billion won higher than the starting price. 5G services are expected to begin in March this year.
Technology companies from many countries are now competing to showcase their 5G offerings to cus- tomers all over the world as network build-outs begin to take shape. The financial stakes are huge, and so too are the security implications in the view of some analysts.
It is not surprising that 5G is seen as having the potential to cause conflicts among nations. While US President Donald Trump vows to “make America great again”, China continues to declare that it will be the clear leader of AI innovation by 2030. It is also aggressively championing its tech companies in the 5G field.
Competition in the electronics industry is heating up day by day. Chinese companies such as ZTE and Huawei, as well as European peers Nokia and Ericsson, are desperately trying to occupy the 5G market, whereas US world-class microchip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Intel are competing in the market as well.
Huawei projects that 5G will enable the interconnection of over 100 billion devices by 2025, with each of the world’s 2.5 billion mobile phone users engaged in the transfer of at least 1GB of data monthly.
Companies in the telecommunications industry have been working tirelessly to become the ones that determine the standards for 5G technology and related devices. Any company that achieves this ambition can expect to be hugely successful.
This includes battery technology, which is seeing leapfrog development and has become so miniaturised that cars and electronic devices of all kinds are able to exchange data and do analyses automatically. 5G has become the deep blue ocean of the cyber domain, with a major impact on the entire digital economy.
However, the availability of online intelligence on a huge scale is a threat to great powers like the US and other economically influential countries in Europe. Some fear that if China continues its rapid development of modern, low-cost devices, many countries will face the increased risk of virtual occupation or even violent cyber attacks.
The 5G trade war will continue to increase in severity as a result. Based on an IHS Markit forecast, the value of 5G in the world economic system will reach $12.3 trillion by 2035.
In South Korea, Samsung’s investment plan for the next three years calls for $22 billion to be committed to technologies like AI, 5G, and mobile and medical devices. The company also plans to hire 1,000 more AI researchers. It is ramping up to manufacture mobile devices and microchips for a wide variety of industries as a consequence of the huge impact of 5G.
One of the reasons that the US is so worried about Chinese technology is that it is currently behind in terms of its 5G infrastructure. This is because the system there relies on allocation of spectrum held by independent agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission. This results in extremely high prices for spectrum, which might force firms to delay infrastructure equipment acquisition and expansion.
However, spectrum management in China differs from the US model. The government can limit allocation to three major state-run operators. Thus, infrastructure can be traded at a fast pace, without having to deal with spectrum auctions. This works to their advantage, since drawn-out auctions can cause problems for infrastructure investment.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that Trump is said to be leaning towards the concept of using a common spectrum to solve the problems resulting from the auction system, which is no longer useful or efficient in the 5G era.
This is because a spectrum of at least 100MHz is required for a single operator, so the traditional auction might push prices up to the point that winners could not afford to actually build their networks. If the US cannot solve the problem, it risks missing out on the huge economic opportunities 5G represents.
While the US is seeking ways to disrupt and counter Chinese technological breakthroughs, China continues to lead the way through distribution of technological products to various countries. An example can be seen in Portugal, where Altice, the local telecom operator, has teamed up with Huawei to establish a 5G system.
It is also reported that a 5G system will be set up, with a large number of base stations, in every corner of Germany by December this year.
Based on data from the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Huawei and ZTE have become the world’s largest patent applicants for technology.
It is therefore no surprise that Chinese telecom operators running businesses in the US are being pressured by Washington. Numerous regulations have been introduced to hinder the set-up of Huawei’s and ZTE’s networks in the country. As well, many services related to China Mobile have been shut down due to security concerns.
Similar concerns about national security have spread to other nations, including Australia, Canada, Britain and Japan. Australia has banned Huawei from taking part in the development of its 5G network, and Japan says it will stop purchasing Huawei technologies for government and military purposes.
But China is still on course to become the world’s leading 5G developer, and its success seems assured at this point. Beijing has made clear that the country expects to have a prominent voice in determining 5G standards at the international level.
The country that first determines these standards will become highly influential in the world economic system. It is therefore clear that trade wars around the world are only set to grow fiercer. This is especially true of the 5G microelectronics industry.
Col Settapong Malisuwan is a former vice-chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.
Advanced Info Service in November began the first 5G demonstration testing on the 2.6GHz spectrum, setting up a booth at The Emporium in Bangkok in collaboration with telecom equipment maker Nokia.