‘Recalibrating regulation’ will make 5G ‘a backbone of economic recovery’ post-COVID-19, says the GSMA
As 2019 drew to a close, excitement surrounding 5G was beginning to soar. 2020, many said, was to be the ‘Year of 5G’, with mass adoption of the new technology set to revolutionise the telecoms world and beyond.
However, none could have foreseen the incredible disruption that was to come. 2020 brought with it the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the world to evolve dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Cities went into lockdown, events and travel were banned, and social distancing began in earnest. For many operators, their deployments of next-generation mobile technology were disrupted and delayed. The so-called ‘Year of 5G’, it seemed, had been cancelled.
But this is far from reality. In fact, with so much of our social and professional lives migrating online, the coronavirus has demonstrated the importance of digital connectivity more than ever before. In just a few months, the crisis has fostered digitalisation on a scale that was previously unthinkable, irreversibly changing the way we work and interact.
With work from home suddenly the norm, networks were put to the ultimate test and, thankfully, quickly demonstrated their resilience. For the most part, fixed-line networks absorbed the additional strain easily, helped at least in part by telcos’ conservative network planning and rapid response to the crisis. For mobile, large traffic spikes driven by video streaming and video conferencing were potentially more problematic, but again networks proved capable of taking the strain. The operators’ networks had proven themselves on the largest stage and now 5G could be ready to do the same.
While it is too early to truly understand the economic impact of the pandemic, it is widely understood that we are to expect a global economic downturn. Many major sectors have been financially decimated and will take years to recover. The telecoms industry itself has not gone unscathed, but its remarkable resilience has left it positioned as a key industry for global economic recovery, with 5G itself being called ‘one of the most critical building blocks of our digital economy and society in the next decade’ by the European Commission.
Set to revolutionise industry, as well as facilitating new technologies like AI and the IoT, the potential value of 5G to economies around the world is enormous. Prior to the health crisis, the GSMA predicted that 5G would add $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years and, despite pandemic-related disruption, estimates of 5G’s economic value continue to impress. Just last month, a study by Vodafone estimated its value to the UK economy over the next 10 years at around £150 billion. Even with more conservative estimates, it is clear that 5G has the potential to play a major role in revitalising economies.
“As countries work to re-ignite their economies and recover from the economic damage, their digital ambitions are more pressing than ever,” explained John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer for the GSMA, speaking at Huawei’s Better World Summit 2020. “5G must remain at the forefront of recovery plans, as this technology will stimulate digital growth and innovation and new levels of efficiency across industries.”
However, there are numerous barriers to delivering 5G that need to be overcome. Even beyond the obvious delays in deploying 5G during the pandemic, many operators have also had to focus their efforts (and funds) on fortifying their existing networks to deal with the increased traffic.
As a result, in many cases governments are becoming the gatekeepers for an operator’s ability to deliver 5G. Detrimental regulation and sector-specific taxation will hamstring 5G development, stifling competition and investment. Instead, Giusti argues, governments need to work directly with the operators to overcome these complex challenges and foster further investment.
“The way forward, in my view, is to attract investment that builds national economic competitiveness in digital infrastructure, digital skills and digital adoption across industry and society,” he said.
At its heart, the issue here is that the private and public sectors must present a united front when it comes to 5G. With mutual support, 5G can truly deliver for economies around the world, but only if all stakeholders, including governments and international organisations, coordinate their efforts to rollout 5G as quickly as possible.
“I would encourage policymakers to be motivated by this crisis to recalibrate regulations to support sustained investment in digital networks. 5G will be a backbone of economic recovery, and there is a new urgency to move further and faster towards the digital future,” said Giusti.
It is not too late – 2020 still can be the year of 5G. In fact, for the sake of national economies around the world, it has to be.
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