International Professional Fora:

A study of civil society organisation participation in internet governance

International Professional Fora:

A study of civil society organisation participation in internet governance

The future of 5G

Following the announcement of a programme on International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) for 2020 and beyond, in May 2015, the ITU created a Focus Group to lay the foundations for the future development of network specifications for 5G mobile communications.

The aim is to develop standards that “will enable wireless communications to match the speed and reliability achieved by fiber-optic infrastructure.” According to the head of the Head of Huawei’s 5G Research and Development, Wen Tong: “5G will power a wide range of new user experiences, but the bottleneck remains the speed of the network.” In this respect, the 5G Technical Subcommittee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has started its research seeking solutions for 1000 times higher mobile data volume per geographical area, in order to meet the growing demand for wireless spectrum for Internet of Things, machine-to-machine (M2M), cloud and ultra-high definition video services.

In the UK, Ofcom called a consulation on ‘Spectrum above 6 GHz for future mobile communications’ in January 2015, following the release of a similar consultation by the US regulator FCC inquiring about the “Use of Spectrum bands above 24 GHz for Mobile Radio Services’ in October 2014 (Marcus, 2015). Respondents to the consultation included, among others, the BBC and the representatives of the amateur broadcasting sector (RSGB), satellite operators and their associations (SES, ViaSat UK, Inmersat, ESOA), mobile communication companies and carriers (EE, Vodafone, Telefónica UK, BT), consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment companies (Ericsson, Samsung Electronics, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Nokia) and state and public institutions (MOD, Met Office, UK Space Agency, University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory) and companies providing products, services and infrastructure for data transmission over wireless networks (Straight Path Spectrum, Qualcomm, Angie Communications). Demands are varied. Although RSGB, the BBC and the Jodrell Bank Observatory have acknowledged the social and economic contributions of the wireless broadband, they express concerns about how the uncertainty over the growing demand for spectrum for mobile communications will affect their operations below and above 6 GHz. At stake for the BBC is its international satellite news broadcasting; UK direct-to-home (DTH) satellite broadcasting and wireless camera programme making and special event (PMSE) services. Taking into consideration ongoing international research, BT has refrained from a definitive statement, arguing that “[a]t this stage we do not single out any particular frequency range or specific frequency band that BT would prefer to be identified as a global band above 6GHz for 5G mobile.” In contrast, Angie Communications has requested greater urgency in decision-making over the future of the spectrum above 6 GHz, without “wait[ing] for technical specifications and standardisation with regards to whatever 5G may be.” Recently, Ofcom has confirmed its intentions to auction initially spectrum below 6 GHz (2.3 and 3.4 GHz) bands to “pave the way for 5G.”

Internationally, developments have progressed with different pace. Asia Pacific countries, including Japan, South Korea and China, have expressed determination to operationalise the 5G technology by 2020 (Marcus, 2015).  It is expected that this “will put a lot of pressure on ITU planning and may result in some implementations that need to be back fitted to the final standard after they are initially deployed” (Marcus, 2015).