“Wireless communications are playing an essential role in bridging the digital divide, not only through mobile broadband but also satellite technologies and the WiFi ecosystem, “ Joaquin Restrepo Mejia, Head, OPS, BR, ITU, reminded an expert panel representing a variety of new radio technology stakeholders. “But there are key challenges to guarantee affordable access, in terms of which model of market can be developed and the regulatory challenge for the incorporation of these technologies among the radiocommunication system.”
Lauri Oksanen, VP Research and Technology, Nokia, highlighted the huge burst in productivity across all sectors fuelled by connectivity, analytics and machine learning. Connectivity is at the heart of digitizing other industries and creating future value on an explosive scale. “There is a role for licensed or unlicensed spectrum, for satellite, wifi, mobile, but all need to work together to improve productivity and life,” he said. Coexistence is key to ensure an even balance between protecting existing users and allowing new use cases.
Nikolay Nikiforov, Chairman of the Board, Diginavis, spoke of the difficulties he had experienced first-hand in his former ministerial role in trying to connect the unconnected across Russia’s challenging remote terrain and climate. Any new technology to bring connectivity faster is important – but for him, non-geostationary satellites are “a true breakthrough for mankind, happening now.” He stressed the importance of regulatory issues through international consensus to avoid implementation delays, as it is “another story when tech came quicker than regulations.”
As we head towards a new era of 5G, we are entering a complex period between current networks and the adoption and implementation of 5G, stated Bocar A. Ba, CEO, Samena Telecommunications. Managing that transition is critical for digital development, and radio technologies play a central role. New spectrum is mandatory, he said, “But to be provocative, what happens once we have it? We need regulation to enable radio technology to be relevant and effective – and one key element of that is partnership.” Whether supporting the development of new technologies or the expansion of the incumbent, public-private partnerships need to be inclusive and sophisticated, bringing in government, national digital agenda policy makers, regulators, innovators with technology, private sector investors – the full range of stakeholders. It is also extremely important, he continued, to identify clearly roles in the partnership structure and timelines of cooperation.
Assia Bahri, Regulations Leading Manager Sigfox, spoke from the perspective of a company focused on mass IoT narrowband solutions, addressing devices at lower costs and with lower consumption for use across a range of sectors from agriculture to smart cities – anywhere where connectivity can improve processes and bring efficiencies. She identified several key factors in expanding access, including spectrum to allow for harmonization of IoT, and ensuring the correct cost of ownership for different categories of end users – whether the farmer monitoring plants or large-scale industry – through subscription fees and costs of hand devices.
“Continuous innovation is a key enabler for IoT, as this space is always evolving,” she continued. “Behind innovative IoT solutions are entrepreneurs, academics, young people innovating, and we need to build capacity to allow them to analyze and assess what the best solutions could be.” Industry stakeholders must work together and complement each other in identifying and resolving areas of inefficiency.
Loon’s solution to extending connectivity may be very different, but the central importance of partnerships and collaboration is identical. Julie Kearney, Head of Regulatory Affairs at the company, outlined how their AI-navigated balloons, functioning on the lines of a cell tower in the sky, are expanding the reach of existing mobile networks, contributing to coverage and emergency relief in remote and challenging reasons. “The key is partnerships with commercial partners and governments,” she said, to enable access to airspace and agreements with local operators.
Beyond partnerships, what are the major factors in connecting the unconnected through new radio technologies? The panel agreed that end users want more services, better quality and affordable prices – so positive business cases are paramount to make the leap from the experimental to real world success, irrespective of the technology. This includes the ability to scale, pushing down prices; to work with governments to understand operator restraints and increase affordability; to stimulate local innovation to create relevant products and solutions; and above all, to make the case to other industries on the importance of ICT – in Ba’s words, “to promote the beauty of connectivity and 5G.”
Stable regulatory frameworks and global harmonization are essential for economies of scale, summarized moderator Joaquin, but “we also need passion and tolerance of stakeholders to achieve consensus” and reap the benefits of harmonization.