Regulatory planning for 5G continues apace amid industry concern about its commercial prospects, particularly in the mmWave bands.
In an interview, Andreas Geiss from the European Commission told PolicyTracker that 5G’s promise lies in adding new groups of business customers.
5G’s technological prospects are unprecedented, but so is the industry nervousness surrounding it: unlike anything we saw for 3G or 4G.
The gigabit per second speeds being demonstrated by Verizon in the US were commercially unimaginable a few years ago, but equally unprecedented is the skepticism among senior industry figures:
- There is no current business model for mmWave, said Deutsche Telecom;
- An EU study predicts no aggressive roll out of mmWave;
- A book by a former Chief Technology Officer for UK’s Ofcom argues that the economics do not stack up.
On the other hand, modelling by Ericsson suggests we may be too pessimistic about propagation at higher frequency bands.
In 5G it’s a new technology and a new business case: doing business with B2B
With so much ambivalence, how should policy-makers respond? Andreas Geiss, head of the European Commission’s Spectrum Policy Unit, will be explaining their approach to 5G at the European Spectrum Management Conference on 19-20 June.
He told PolicyTracker that regarding 5G as a technology with uncertain prospects was the wrong way to look at it.
AG: I’m not sure I would agree in the sense that the prospects are uncertain. I would say that actually the prospects are widened compared to 3G or 4G because when we were doing 3G to 4G it was with new technology but the same business case. In 5G it’s a new technology and a new business case: doing business with B2B. In the sense that 3G and 4G were basically B2C now we have verticals, as we call them, and that is opening up this new B2B [business case]. it’s more an opportunity than an uncertainty in my view.
PT: With 5G you’ve got to build a lot more base stations if you want to use mmWave, doesn’t that add an extra uncertainty?
…we are technology neutral in this. Mobile operators will take the decisions as to how they roll out these services…
AG: Well, there’s a need to have more capacity. That’s correct. That also means where this capacity is needed you it probably not be sufficient to have just the spectrum, but you need to build more base stations. That’s an investment which is important and also this investment is the thing that we are trying to facilitate through other elements.
We have very soon hopefully a political agreement on [the new EU Communications] Code, which is to facilitate and assist in the roll out of 5G networks. We also have a way of working with industry in order to show how important it is to make investments. We were having trials for cross border corridors and similar things. These are all things where we hope that they will trigger investments.
Also, under the Code, article 56 deals with small cells. The idea is that permits are not needed if the small cell is below a certain threshold.
A lot of the cost today [of installing] smaller cells is getting the permits. There’s a lot of administrative work when you have to go to the local authority and do that. We hope to put all of that aside through the adoption of Code and as part of this article 56, the Commission still needs to come afterwards with a measure which would set the threshold under which permits are not necessary for small cells.
PT: Is it better focus energies on improving coverage at 4G rather than trying to encourage 5G? If you could vastly improve rural coverage for example, just at reasonable 4G mobile broadband speeds, the argument is that the economic benefits of that could be far greater than focusing on delivering the much higher speeds associated with 5G?
AG: 4G coverage is something which we see has already progressed quite rapidly recently, in recent years. This is good news in the sense that when 5G technology comes along there will already be let’s say a good number of base stations available. Also we have made different frequencies available for 5G or 4G.
We have to be clear that we are technology neutral in this. Mobile operators will take the decisions as to how they roll out these services, but they, I think, also see a benefit in 5G because this could attract new business cases.
This will in the end be a market decision because we are making the rules that we have for spectrum for example, for the technical conditions related to the use of the spectrum, they fit for 3G, 4G, and 5G as well. There will be a market decision here to take.
I think that there is an interest that we see from the industry in having 5G because there are new elements that you don’t have in 4G. I would just mention network slicing as one of the elements and also this element of a low latency. If you bring together network slicing and low latency you have a possibility to have more reliable services and this could attract new business cases.
I would not say that our support for 5G means we are neglecting other opportunities
We were talking about the verticals earlier: these business to business models, which are looking for better quality, they could find 5G services more attractive.
PT: By focusing on 5G aren’t you picking winners? For example, in the IoT space there are solutions like Sigfox who are doing very well without regulatory support. By focusing on 5G, aren’t you damaging other technological solutions?
AG: I would not say that our support for 5G means we are neglecting other opportunities. You mentioned Sigfox. I would just draw your attention to the fact that we have recently updated our so-called short range devices Decision, which allows under general authorization access to many frequency bands and a number of those frequency bands will be quite interesting for IoT applications. These are unlicensed bands and they are of interest to a number of these new technologies.
Also, we are preparing a new Decision also related to short-range devices which we hope to have adopted in the summertime. This is related to the 870 and 915 MHz band. Here we think that these bands will also be of high interest to the IoT networks, like Sigfox, LoRa because here we are going for network short-range devices, [those sort] of solutions which could provide smart metering and other types of IoT networks.
Also, these new frequencies would be quite useful for RFID solution for logistics and retail business. We are having that discussion with the member states. We still need to get the positive opinion from the member states but that is something that we certainly are supportive of in order to make this band available together with other existing users which use these bands so that these new opportunities can also be supported.
PT: When you speak at the Spectrum Management Conference, what will be your main messages?
AG: Well, I’m hopeful that by that point in time we can say that our Code discussion – the discussions in the electronic communication code will have come to a political agreement and that means that it’s quite clear as to what the possibilities will be there in terms of supporting investment. I think that’s one important element.
We will also touch on some of the important elements that we are working on, specifically in support of 5G. We have about eight cross-border corridors, basically large scale trials for all the technologies needed around connected and automated driving.
Between now and 2020 we have set aside €50 million of specific funding for 5G tests that we are doing in this context. There’s quite a bit of support here and work that we’re doing in supporting both the telecoms and the car industry in order to work together so that we move forward with this new interesting business case.•