By racing to roll-out 5G networks for the sake of being cutting-edge, governments and telecom players are giving little to no consideration of its consequences.
By Trisha Ray
On April 3, 2019, two days ahead of its planned April 5th launch, South Korea became the first country in the world to roll-out a nationwide 5G network.
South Korea is one of the three telecom firms deploying Huawei’s
technology; the early launch was reportedly being a response to rumours
that U.S-based Verizon would plan a roll-out on April 4th.
Given these facts, it seems that the two powers figure prominently in
the cost calculus of most of the world’s aspiring technology leaders.
is making headlines all over the world over for its role in
intensifying the US-China strategic competition. In January, members of
the United States House of Representatives identified
Huawei as an “intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist
Party” and “a growing threat to American national security”. However,
with 40 5G contracts
already under its belt — none of which are in mainland China — the
Chinese telecom appears to be undeterred; it is making headway in both
established and emerging markets.
on the other side of the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Department of Telecom
announced that its 5G trials would begin by early 2020. Alongisde
India’s Airtel and Reliance Jio, Samsung and Huawei, are amongst the firms invited for these trials.
fight for 5G dominance is driven primarily by the exponential growth of
global network traffic. Between 2017 and 2022, global IP traffic is
expected to triple. In most of the developed West, this growth is
considered ‘fixed traffic’ – i.e it is meant for residential or
commercial connections and ISPs. For most of the developing world,
especially India and China, this growth
is driven by mobile connections. In other words, more and more people
are online; their demands for mobile content are mostly video. For
developing countries, therefore, the primary use case for 5G is Enhanced
Mobile Broadband (eMBB) which implies better network capacity,
coverage, and data rates.
is key for countries looking to capitalise on future technology. In the
case of India, high-speed, high-reliability, low-latency mobile
networks could improve the accessibility of services such as mobile
banking and healthcare, and enable exponential growth in opportunities
for unemployed or underemployed people to engage in fulfilling and
productive work. This is especially true in light of the impact of
automation on employment. As the National Digital Communications Policy
2018 states: “[T]he convergence of a cluster of revolutionary
technologies including 5G, the cloud, IOT and data analytics, along with
a growing start-up community, promise to accelerate and deepen its
digital engagement, opening up a new horizon of opportunities.” This is
an optimistic view.
5G is an enabler for critical Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)
technologies. For instance, the Internet of Things (IoT), which requires
ultra high-speed ultra low-latency networks, will need the capacities
enabled by 5G.
With these huge advantages
the network can offer, it is no surprise that 5G is embroiled in a
strategic competition rhetoric. However, the winner-takes-all narrative
is to our collective detriment. The biggest threats to our 5G future are
the roll-out of potentially immature technologies, fraudulent claims to
being “5G,” and a lack of understanding about the effects of the
hyper-connectivity enabled by this technology.
Two high-profile 5G rollouts — namely those in South Korea and the United States — are already plagued by complaints of unstable connections and reports that 5G connections are no faster than LTE networks. The case of AT&T
putting up a 5G logo on its LTE phones was another challenge. In
addition to these short term drawbacks, there is a bigger concern about
the vulnerability of 5G networks and the potential of a large scale
cyber attack. A recent piece by Robert Spalding in the New Yorker highlights
some of these concerns: “5G is not just for refrigerators. It’s farm
implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can
actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and
direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely
different threat that we’ve never experienced before”.
racing to roll-out 5G networks for the sake of being cutting-edge,
governments and telecom players are giving little to no consideration of
its consequences. These must be taken seriously to prevent potentially