Customising the digital economy

The one-size-fits-all network model is not dead yet. But it’s already starting to fall over. However it is defined, 5G is not going to operate in the same way in all cases: the various areas of bandwidth being reserved for it will see to that. High peak data rate and IoT (Internet of Things) capability, for example, each make very different demands on, and may use very different parts of, the radio spectrum.

For example, at parts of the spectrum above 30GHz early 5G users will take advantage of the high-capacity and high-speed mobile communications that such bandwidth allows. But these benefits won’t initially be matched by coverage. Thus a workable model here could be campus networks for businesses.

However, for IoT, what matters is range, battery life and cost, not throughput. Millions or billions of sensors sending out tiny pieces of information will offer data that can be used to enhance business practices and improve efficiency. This may imply different equipment, and will require different business models and network management systems from basic voice or mobile broadband.

For consumers it’s different again, though what they will want is hard to say just yet. Whatever 5G is used for, promoting the impression that it is one all-encompassing fast broadband network concept is not going to encourage innovation — or indeed be a reflection of reality.

Hence the much-discussed concept of 5G ‘leadership’ needs to be refined. 5G includes technologies that can and will mean different things to different sectors. Real leadership will involve not pushing 5G as broadband for all users everywhere but understanding and explaining what it can offer to specific sectors and users and how that can be tailored, delivered and marketed.

It will therefore be important to ensure that 5G consultation is held with all relevant sectors, and governments should facilitate prioritization of resources according to areas of economic impact. It will also be important to create the regulatory environment for key verticals to have access to optimized wireless networks, rather than assuming that one size fits all.

This way the improved service 5G will bring can benefit mass markets, while customised services enabled by 5G can be, as it were, made to measure for automotive, transportation, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and more. Each sector and service requires different levels of speed, security, reliability and latency. And each service model will have different attributes and benefits customised to need and budget.

This is also a technology play as well as an economic and regulatory one. 5G NORMA — Novel Radio Multiservice adaptive network Architecture — in which Real Wireless is playing a leading role — aims to develop a conceptually novel, adaptive and future-proof 5G mobile network architecture that will be able to offer network customizability, in particular using available infrastructure more efficiently to meet growing traffic volumes and growing demand for novel communication services.

So, yes, the decline of one-size-fits-all is a good thing when addressing different industry sectors. Driving the digital economy should be more than a nice, catchy slogan. The economic and social benefits of 5G differ by sector and should be examined, discussed and delivered accordingly.