The huge expected increases in the volumes of data sent via mobile over the next ten years will require a re-vamp of the way telecoms networks are structured, in order to reflect new digital communications services and uses. Brussels and Tokyo are vying with each other in this field.
According to the latest IDATE figures unveiled during the DigiWorld Summit which the think tank hosted in the southern French town of Montpellier on 18-20 November, telecom networks are seeing an explosion of data traffic due to video sharing and the trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. By 2020, 55% of data traffic will be carrying video, up from today’s figure of 45%. Given the increasing need for a high-performance mobile network, 4G will perhaps soon no longer be up to the job. With this in mind, ‘mobile’ industry players and policymakers are now giving a lot of airtime to 5G considerations.
The European Union (EU) and Japan are both working on finding the right protocol for the networks of tomorrow. Tokyo is hoping to see 5G rolled out by 2020, when the summer Olympic Games are due to take place in the capital, and meanwhile the European Commission is making EU R&D funds available for telecoms innovation, even getting together with South Korea in order to drive forward research. Moreover, both Japanese and EU officials are setting up partnerships with telecoms companies to speed up the process. Speaking at the IDATE-hosted DigiWorld Summit, Wassim Chourbaji, Vice President for Government Affairs at Qualcomm, told the audience that “operators and governments are very keen to work together on this.” Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted in first reading to strengthen a Commission-proposed new package of legislative measures designed to drive forward the development of the single EU telecoms market. Meanwhile influential commentators insist there is a need to alter the telecoms industry business model.
Most of the experts taking part in a round table session on the subject during the Summit agreed that the very nature of the telecoms network needs a rethink. “This is not just about a further step beyond 4G; it will mean changing the design of the actual network,” underlined Dany Nassif from IT and network solutions company NEC. Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes made the point that “the network is back on the agenda”. Now that we have seen non-stop innovation centred on devices, apps and use of the Cloud, we need a rethink of the network as well. Nor is this just about speed. Summit speakers pointed out the need for an adaptable, flexible network – a network which can “adapt and change according to users’ needs,” said Terje Tjelta, Senior Research Scientist at Telenor Research and Board member of the 5G Infrastructure Association. 5G will also have to take into account the advent of the Internet of Things, stressed the European Commission representative at the event.
One of the main arguments in favour of 5G is to be able to introduce new digital services. Speakers at the Montpellier Summit mentioned transport, medical care and emergency services among many other fields that could benefit enormously from 5G provision. However, while most players and commentators agree on the rather general goals of energy savings, speed and adaptability, speakers at the event remained rather vague on a number of basic points and as yet no international protocol for 5G has been agreed. This is therefore a field which merits careful watching.