Barcelona, Mobile World Congress, February 2017. Amidst a slew of announcements related to 5G, Nokia just revealed the launch of a new 5G Community under the ng Connect Program. Nokia is the founding member of ng Connect, and continues to actively support the ecosystem with staff, lab equipment and global infrastructure.
The 5G Community, just like its IoT Community counterpart for Internet of Things, brings together leading companies and innovators seeking to realize the benefits promised by the 5G technology. 5G Community members will collaborate to design solutions, services and business models that apply 5G to different aspects of our lives including education, health and wellness, entertainment, retail, transportation or public services to name a few.
The 5G Community is launched with no less than 35 member companies, a clear sign of the traction exerted by 5G across the industry. Chipmakers Intel and ST, communication service providers Sprint and Deutsche Telekom, corporations Dell, NEC, Hertz and Nokia, entertainment companies NBC Universal and Super Evil Megacorp, and the cities of Fresno and Merced in California all opted in to collaborate and accelerate the availability of 5G solutions.
Why is this significant?
If you are following the telecom industry and/or the Mobile World Congress, or are even vaguely interested, chances are you are about to, or have already overdosed on news and product launches linked to the 5G technology. You probably know all about how this is the latest, and arguably the biggest wave of the mobile communications tsunami. To think that 25 years ago I did not own a mobile phone, nor did I know anyone who had one and now, when I walk around with my iPhone 5, I feel like I’m driving a Ford Model T! You probably know how 5G networks will: offer even more bandwidth than LTE (allowing downloads of 4k movies in a few seconds); support higher densities and capacities in urban environments; accommodate billions of Internet of Things devices; or offer lilliputian latency times for the driverless cars and drones of a future not at all too far. You probably know all that; there are many articles, including on mainstream media, that introduce the technology to a broad audience.
I was perusing one of them a few days ago and I found myself drifting down to the reader comments. I wanted to gauge the enthusiasm of people, and read how they would express the optimism I feel about the world that 5G networks could help us build for ourselves and our children. What I discovered completely caught me off guard: a vast majority of people were vocal indeed, yet overtly and emphatically defiant about 5G.
Among the arguments advanced against 5G were:
- higher energy consumption
- despite the fact that 5G networks will be optimized for less energy consumption and also to extend battery life, people doubted the end result would be a net drop of energy (instead this would contribute to depleting the earth’s energy resources more rapidly)
- price hikes for device manufacturers
- this is another pretext to be used by device manufacturers to ‘force’ consumers to replace their costly smartphones and tablets with even costlier devices
- programmed obsolescence of networks
- communication service providers ‘force’ industry customers to upgrade to more expensive solutions and raise their prices for consumers
- health hazard
- the multiplication of cell towers and powerful signals could cause a direct threat to human health as described in this L.A. Times article
- government subsidies
- the deployment is done using a large part of public money and thus ‘we’re paying for something we don’t really want’
- digital divide
- 5G deployment will increase the digital divide between cities and the rest of the country, accelerating urbanization and inequalities
- increased hacking
- while the Internet brought new plagues like identify theft, online fraud or even more recently fake news, 5G will move this to an entirely new level with exploiters taking control over cars, homes, wearables, devices
- questionable benefits
- is this really worth all the risks exposed above? Will the added benefits really make us happier?
Wow. As I said before, this was not the reaction I expected.
Yes, some of these arguments can be effectively countered with technical data or architecture designs (energy, coverage, security), but that will likely not be sufficient to change an overall climate of defiance towards new technologies. This perception is fueled by and feeding off social media, and echoes the distrust we’re seeing elsewhere in our societies.
In this context then, why is the launch of the 5G Community significant?
Mostly because the 5G Community is not just another ecosystem or industry partnership as many were announced in recent days. No, it is an O.T.H.E.R. community of the ng Connect Program, as in Open, Trustworthy, Health-oriented, Environment-friendly, and Real!
The 5G Community is Open. It is accessible to any company that desires to collaborate and participate in building a 5G society. There are no fees or hidden obligation, members are free to attend meetings, activities or join projects they’re interested in. It is a meshed network of people and companies, allowing members to engage with each other as they please. And last but not least, the Community information, membership and portfolio of concepts are made public on www.5gcommunity.com.
The 5G Community is Trustworthy. First, it establishes trust between members, allowing them to share information and collaborate freely. Second, for the general public, the Program itself is not for profit: it stays away from secret technology development and intellectual property generation; it also stays away from pricing and go-to-market arrangements. This is not denying that member companies are (rightfully) seeking a business gain from their participation and contribution to the ecosystem. But they do so by building use cases and solutions that make sense, creating value for end-users, and duly rewarding actors of the value chain through sound business models.
The 5G Community is Health-oriented. Is this under the impulsion of founding-member Nokia and its push into the health and wellness sector with Withings and other initiatives? Or does it stem from the history of the ng Connect Program and the numerous solutions it designed in the past to improve healthcare? Just as you read this, two market trials by ng Connect are under way, in Taiwan for remote healthcare and in Chattanooga, U.S. for smart home for elder care. So, while cancer risks linked to mobile network radiations have not been ruled out, the number of lives saved by mobile networks (think e911 for example) continues to grow which 5G is anticipated to amplify.
The 5G Community is Environment-friendly. Again, both the founding member and the ng Connect Program have a history of bringing environmental considerations to the forefront. Technology advances need not harm the environment, but should help preserve it in many ways. The ng Connect Program launched initiatives in water management, air quality monitoring, waste management, smart energy, distributed energy resource management (for renewables), and continues to look for respectful ways to improve our natural habitat. As noted above, 5G networks and their characteristics are expected to bring new capabilities.
Finally, the 5G Community is Real! And this is the most important aspect. Everything up to this point is just words, intents or nice stories. The ng Connect Program was retooled a few years ago to focus on execution, on bringing solutions to the field, to end-users, through real-life market trials. Only so can you measure the impact and validate the benefits of technologies and business models combined to make people’s lives better. The 5G Community will follow the same processes and adhere to the same execution mantra as ng Connect. It will be real!
At a time when 5G monopolizes conversations and airtime in the telecom industry and beyond, but also when our societies are confronted with mounting defiance and insecurity, a stronger response is needed than just technology feats, industry partnerships and consortia. Right now people need to come together, communicate, and collaborate to make technology an essential tool for building a better world. This is what ng Connect is about, this is what the 5G Community is about. Let’s tip the scale towards more hope and optimism in our work and in our personal lives. I am convinced that 5G will help. The new networks are right around the corner. The promise is there. Our 5G Community will make it real!