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Saverio Romeo, Lead Expert at Digital Cities Challenge Digitalaq, chaired a lively session on 5G at IOTHINGS 2018 in Rome, last 22nd of November. The objective of the session was to discuss the state of the 5G trials in Italy, with attention on those happening in small and medium sized cities, the applications 5G can enable, and how the move from the trials to commercial deployments should happen. The panellists, listed below, represent prestigious organisations directly involved in 5G trials and in the development of 5G.

Francesco Barletta, Head of ICT & Innovation, Wind Tre

Pasquale Camelia, Business Unit Manager, Net Reply

Marco Cardelli, Vice Direttore Generale, SPEE

Fabio Graziosi, Professore, Università degli Studi dell’Aquila

Andrea Fratini, Network Engineer & 5G MiSE Project Manager, Open Fiber

Jia Yunpeng, Chief Marketing Officer, ZTE Western Europe

Giuseppe Ribaudo, Marketing and Communications, Sirti Digital Solutions

 

Terms such as “business models”, “ecosystems”, “network slicing”, “network neutrality”, “investments out of frequency auctions” were used very often during the discussion. But they also represent the areas in which there is more uncertainty. However, that uncertainty is also seen as a territory of opportunities to explore. Besides this overall sentiment, the following points summarise the 2 hours discussion.

1)      The panellists showed consensus in believing that 5G represents a change of paradigm in telecommunications infrastructures. 5G is not only about enhancing bandwidth, but it is about moving from “a best effort” approach to connectivity towards a “quality of service” approach. In the history of telecommunications, this truly represents an important change.

2)      Despite that, the audience has showed some scepticism. The issue of demand is worth to be mentioned. The issue revolves around the idea that the 5G community is pushing the demand. Currently, 5G is not needed, probably. I would add to that an extreme pressure at political level on 5G. Governments are seeing 5G as a competitive asset for enabling emerging technologies. Being at the forefront of 5G means having the infrastructure necessary for being at the forefront of innovation in the technology sectors and not only those.

3)      Because of those forces, 5G development is here to stay. But the panellists agreed that we cannot have 5G without having fiber optics. The two technologies together represent the connectivity infrastructure of the future.

4)      That infrastructure could enable several applications, but those that seem readier to embrace it are: automotive and AR/VR applications.

5)      But it is not clear, yet which business models will work. There was a consensus that it will not be about adapting existing business models via 5G, but, 5G will enable new business models. That statement is followed by concepts such as ecosystem and network slicing.

6)      Network slicing should enable dedicated services, perhaps, new dedicated connectivity providers. It also appeared that the role of the regulator in designing the future and the impact of network slicing is important. The regulator should also clarify the relationship between network slicing and network neutrality.

7)      Regarding ecosystems, the consensus is that 5G can only happen if there are strong partnerships between players with different capabilities. This can be seen in the current 5G trials. Ecosystems can enable the move from trials to commercial deployments.

8)      It was also highlighted that those ecosystems should be designed around applications, and, in the case of cities, around the local needs.

9)      Finally, some words were spent regarding the governance of 5G, particularly in city contexts. If 5G could enable municipalities to run networks dedicated to specific services, several municipalities, at the same time, are not culturally ready for that task. Therefore, we are moving from the “physical city digital divide” to the “cultural city digital divide” in which on one side we have cities, generally large ones, able to adopt technologies because they have embedded a digital framework in their policy making and administrative structures. On the other side, we will have cities, generally small and medium-sized ones, unable to cope with new technologies. Therefore, for cities, the most important factor is not technology, but a digital cultural framework.  

To sum up the session with a message, we could say that 5G appears to be a promise land, but its landscape is foggy and the route to go there still uncertain

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