May 11, 2021

5G telephony: a lot of smoke … and some nuts | Trends

5G telephony: a lot of smoke ... and some nuts | Trends


From the hand of the creators of 'big data', 'cloud' blockchain 'and' IA 'now comes' 5G': the new hit. Or, rather, the new buzzword. Another technological term hijacked, like all previous ones, by marketers and publicists. "It's the most fashionable word in technology circles, but is it really worth talking about?" Wonders analyst Alejandro Barrera, innovation consultant and editor of The Aleph.

In effect, the Marquetinian narrative around 5G does not skimp on grandiloquent words. "It will be the next great revolution", "It will change everything" (everything?) Operators, hardware manufacturers, technology consultancies, consumer electronics companies, start-ups, events … few escape 'the 5G fever' (as Barrera has baptized it). "It reminds me of when it was said that 4G was going to be the next big innovation," he writes in a recent article in The Aleph.

What is it and what does the 5G have to be attributed with such powers? It is, say the experts, a new standard of wireless communication with greater bandwidth, capacity and security, and with less latency than the previous ones. This translates -explains barrier- into "critical improvements" such as better support for connectivity of multiple devices or connections 10 times faster than current ones.

The typical example that is often cited to understand: will allow a high definition movie to be downloaded in a matter of seconds. "It is not the most important example but it is very graphic", comments Federico Ruiz, director of the 5G National Observatory, in conversation with The Country RETINA. It is also said that it will provide fiber optic speeds to households without the need for fiber thanks to a higher mobile bandwidth.

Given that it is expected that global mobile data traffic will multiply by 5 before the end of 2024 – according to the report Ericsson Mobility Report of Ericsson- the 5G is positioned as a solution to avoid the collapse of 4G networks. "It is true that the implementation program is better developed than previous technologies. However, there are still important obstacles to overcome, "says the editor of The Aleph. The first: "Everyone is announcing something, but none of that translates into an application in the market," says the expert.

Indeed, having use cases is a priority for the industry around the 5G. This was recognized by the experts who participated in the Mobile Talk about this organized technology Mobile World Capital this February in Madrid, in which Ruiz also participated. The director of Ericsson Spain Networks, Somaya El Marrakchi, stressed that the 5G will have a cost for gigabyte (GB) 10 times lower than 4G and mentioned some sectors very susceptible, in their opinion, to benefit from this technology: manufacturing, services, citizen security, health …

Michele Zarri, technical director of the GSMA, points out that the 5G "will play an essential role in facilitating artificial intelligence that, in turn, will boost the development of smarter cities." It also ensures that this technology will enhance the development of virtual and augmented reality products and services. Some applications have been seen this year in the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Among them, a tele-assisted surgery through 5G live, 5G drones against fires, collaborative and autonomous robots or the first transmission of 5G video in real time in a commercial network in Spain.

Several have also been presented at the MWC smartphones 5G, something that Andreu Veà, pioneer of telecommunications and internet, does not see much use. At least, at the moment. "Having a 5G mobile is like having a 4K television in a country where no channel broadcasts in 4K: nonsense. The same happened with 3D TVs: a lot of marketing, everyone to buy a 3D TV and now nobody remembers, "remarks the expert, founding member of Asertel (the fourth Internet provider in Spain) among other companies.

Matter of time

How long will these applications and new use cases take to reach consumers? When can they even benefit from the ultra-fast downloads that 5G promises? "Despite the promising new features, consumers will take advantage of them," says Barrera. Ruiz believes that by 2021 Spanish users will already be able to enjoy 5G extensively on their smartphones. More conservative shows Veà, who does not believe that this occurs in a period less than 5 years. In this line, Ericsson's report predicts that until the end of 2024 5G will not reach 30% of mobile subscriptions in Western Europe.

What does the deployment of 5G depend on? To begin with, there are those who are willing to pay for it. That is, in fact, the great stumbling block. On whom should the cost fall? Operators, manufacturers, government, users? According to the report 5G beyond the hype ('5G beyond exaggeration') Oliver Wyman, "the euphoria and expectations unleashed with the first 5G pilots do not seem to be driving an investment in significant volumes in the sector in Spain." "The business model of many of the new services is yet to be tested, so operators must begin, within this uncertainty, to develop a rational and complete plan for a network and service transformation with 5G technology as an integral part. "They point out.

The Marrakchi recognizes that it is essential to find ways to monetize the new services based on 5G. "It takes a lot of investment, since you have to install four antennas (even in the streetlights and traffic lights) and the equipment is more expensive," says Veà meanwhile. "The users have already paid the 4G and we are not willing to pay more now for the 5G," he adds. The internet pioneer believes the operators will not invest until the commercial strategy and return on investment are clear. "It's the big question. There is a lot of blablablá but there is no business model that is sustained, "says Veà, in line with Oliver Wyman's report.

Veà believes that a plausible option is for consumers to pay for subscriptions to certain 5G services. For example, the user of a connected vehicle would pay the manufacturer each year to maintain the connection of his car. "The problem is that, on the one hand, that does not revert to the operator and, on the other, it is an extra burden for the consumer, who in addition to buying the car has to pay to guarantee connectivity," he says.

For its part, Ericsson's management assures that "mobile infrastructure must be seen as critical at the national level because it is fundamental for digitalization". Both she and Ruiz point to the Government's responsibility to facilitate it and to eliminate barriers to the deployment of this technology. Veà considers that this is not a priority. "We are talking about 5G and it turns out that Rodalies de Catalunya does not have a GSM connection," he says. "The almost 500,000 people who transport a day can not even make a phone call without having to reconnect 8 times," laments the expert.

For Veá, what is really necessary is to deploy fiber optic in all corners of the country and invest in connectivity in trains. "The increase in productivity would be brutal," he says. He says he has been trying to convince politicians at the highest level for 10 years, without success. "It can not be that there is not even the most basic coverage in the vicinity of Barcelona, ​​the mobile world capital. It's more difficult for me to connect to the Internet in northern Catalonia than in North Africa, "he says ironically.

5G, sure?

Another obstacle in the implementation of 5G is cybersecurity, especially in the field of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the report Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) published this month, by 2022 there will be 3.9 billion mobile IoT connections, four times more than in 2017. Ericsson's report figures these connections at 4.1 billion by 2024.

As the number of connected devices increases, the risk of cyber attack increases. Its use at the industrial level, in the connected home or in our body (through wearables) It is a threat. The wide variety of devices that can be connected (televisions, thermostats, locks, alarms …) creates a large number of possible access points for hackers, which could even penetrate the casings of the systems of the manufacturers.

"The 5G is amazing to improve the life cycle of the processes of automation of the industry but there are numerous obstacles to implement it in practice", says Gerard Vidal, CEO of the cybersecurity company IoT Enigmedia and founding member of the European Cybersecurity Organization. Vidal explains that the presence of inherited and heterogeneous networks that combine 5G, 4G devices, etc. It is one of the biggest risks. However, he believes that "the biggest threat that 5G has is human". It refers to the difficulty of convincing people in factories to change their way of working, "which is a big security problem," he says. "We have to raise awareness that the new systems we are promoting are good," he says.

Good but not infallible, says Veà. I would never use 5G, he says, for critical functions such as those performed by a nuclear power plant, since this would require a 100% stable network, with no risk (however minimal) of the connection being interrupted. Ruiz agrees that for this type of application, as in the case of machines that communicate in a factory or connected vehicles, the slightest interruption can not be allowed. However, it considers that providing the 5G infrastructure with new service guarantees could prevent it. Would it then be a cut-proof network, stable 100%? "For a technician there is not 100% but we can talk about 99.9%. 5G has been designed with the most severe reliability standards, "he maintains.

With the sights set on cybersecurity at a higher level, Barrera emphasizes The Aleph that, "although most of the news around 5G is marketing tactics that play with consumer expectations, this technology poses some defining scenarios that are intertwined with dominant global trends." It refers to the struggle between the United States and China for supremacy, also in the 5G, in line with its strategies of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomous Vehicle. "Both require multiple devices, low latency and a lot of speed," he stresses. Something that gives them this wireless communication system.

The underlying element in this conflict is privacy. "Those who control the infrastructure control the flow of information. A full deployment of 5G will move the Chinese surveillance agenda even faster. If Huawei expands beyond China, it will allow the implementation of these programs beyond the Asian borders, "says Barrera. A scenario of its own Black Mirror. Your prediction: that efforts to have a connected world will result in the parallel existence of at least two different internet.

Spain in 5G

Contrary to what happens with Artificial Intelligence, Spain is one of the leading countries in the international 5G board. It is placed between posts 5 and 6, according to a study elaborated in 2018 by Analysys Mason for CTIA, the employer of the wireless communications industry in the USA. The first level of deployment of this technology is led by the US itself, along with China, South Korea and Japan. Spain competes with Italy for the first place in the second level of preparation. In both countries, regulators are "at an advanced stage for the launch of the 5G spectrum." In fact, this has been made clear during the MWC by companies such as Vodafone, which has marked 2020 as the date to launch its 5G service for mobile phones.

According to Federico Ruiz, director of the 5G National Observatory, the outstanding Spanish position is due to "a very powerful ecosystem that combines academia, start-ups and industry and that seeks to align the objectives of the research with those of the industrial sector; to a very good coverage of broadband and to the presence of key players when it comes to operators and manufacturers ".

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