By Ken Figueredo, Founder at More With Mobile
This final article in a three-part series on 6G leadership focuses on the role for government agencies in providing purpose and resources, both to lead and to enable the development of next generation communications systems.
6G Leadership and the Pressing Role for Government Agencies
The expanded scope of 6G means that many of its aspects cannot be addressed by academia or commercial organisations on their own. Moreover, innovators that are small or peripheral to the communications industry lack the scale and experience to pilot innovative technologies through multi-year, research to commercial phases.
Coordination, interventions, and ecosystem enablement are areas where government and public sector involvement can play a beneficial role. For example, early-stage public-sector investments in Europe’s HEXA-X program provided a unifying purpose while laying the foundations for subsequent public-private funding. Other government interventions, such as those from India and South Korea, involve policies that articulate national objectives while giving direction to indigenous industries.
Leadership in advanced networks is more difficult to achieve in market-led economies. This is the view of a US expert panel working towards an action plan in key technology areas. The panel highlights the lack of a national strategy to harness networks to achieve the nation’s economic, social, and national aspirations. There are, however, positives in the USA’s strengths in cloud, software, and satellite systems. These adjacent industries are set to play a bigger part in 6G systems although the mechanisms are yet to take form.
There is also a need for coherent policy across government agencies. Finance ministries can provide funding and enact favourable taxation policies. It is not within their power to specify market development initiatives, to direct industrial strategy, or to regulate markets. These activities fall under the responsibility of other bodies. Even then, the landscape is complex and changing. Initiatives to regulate digital markets across the world, for example, touch on human rights, consumer protection and competition directives. Each of these brings other governmental agencies into play.
Can Government Lead or Only Push?
Potential actions for governments depend on the political context. The market-led USA contains cross-party initiatives such as the Next Generation Telecommunications Act and the Future Networks Act. While these drew attention to industry issues, both fell at the legislative hurdle. Unsuccessful initiatives create a temporary sense of progress while eating into the time available for planning and implementation. New legislation, to allocate funding, create new agencies or introduce a system of R&D tax credits for example, takes time to enact. There is a further time lag as organisations adjust their operating models to take advantage of new rules and resources. These are promising interventions that can align national industrial strategies to target new markets that are shaping around AI, climate, and energy, for example. This is less viable where political rancour obstructs national leadership aspirations.
When governments are forced to react, there is a temptation to decide according to the near-term election timetable. Nevertheless, some of their initiatives should address long-term change. For example, programs to foster local academic and business clusters are best undertaken as structural changes targeting sustained innovation and scale rather than as one-time measures centred on 6G. This is also true of initiatives to support small and medium-sized businesses, helping them to grow over time.
One consequence of the difficulties in passing legislation and earmarking 6G funding is that government actions are likely to operate through existing agencies and funding models. Across the world, for example, established bodies are adjusting their sights to ‘beyond 5G’ agendas. In the USA, landmark initiatives such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act are promising and strategically focused vehicles to facilitate long-term government action on 6G topics, albeit with strings attached to their primary goals. Elsewhere, there is recognition that proven bodies such as 3GPP and ETSI are likely to provide the foundations for the more expansive and cross-industry standardisation that 6G will require.
Other political regimes and industry-led bodies might be more direct in allocating resources to next generation network initiatives. However, there is no guarantee that they will address the broader opportunities associated with 6G’s expanded scope and ambitions. To put this into perspective, consider the analogy with a philharmonic orchestra, which comprises a wide range of musicians and instruments playing in harmony to a music score. At present, the 6G orchestra is still assembling its full complement of musicians. It is also developing its ‘music’ score, notwithstanding the numerous White Paper publications on commercial, societal, and technology opportunities that have been published across the world.
Beyond the national scene, there are areas where regulatory initiatives are best coordinated at the international level. Spectrum allocation is an obvious target. However, newer topics will grow in importance as goals tied to the use of AI, private and secure data management, sustainability and trustworthiness come to the fore in 6G systems. For example, national and international efforts to regulate AI and digital markets will inevitably impinge on 6G.
International collaboration is also important for market scale and to address concerns about technology sovereignty and supply chain resilience. In the case of 6G, the telecommunications industry is wary of fragmented standardisation and balkanisation of the internet. One area where individual organisations and governments can demonstrate leadership is by prioritising a global standard for 6G. CDMA, TD-SCDMA and Wi-MAX hold cautionary lessons for go-it-alone technologies. Achieving a global standard will however depend on international commitment to good governance in open and accessible standards development organisations.
Long time reader, first time contributor. Love technology and the great outdoors. Looking forward to discussing everything beyond 5G and the future of wireless technology!