What a day! Speakers at the 6GSymposium pulled no punches, covering off a host of issues related to the commercial success of Beyond-5G services. The analysis explored what has gone wrong in the past and what needs to change for the coming generation of telecoms to be a commercial success – not just for the vendors but for the operators and their partner ecosystems.
The day underlined the point that the real evolution towards 6G may need to be in the industry’s mindsets, relationships and business models, with technology serving as an enabler rather than a driver.
“[We need to ask] What do customers really want? What do they really value? It is all about what they expect, not necessarily the industry’s old mindset,” Omnisperience Chief Analyst Teresa Cottam noted during a session exploring how to profit from 6G as a general purpose technology.
Serial entrepreneur Norman Foster underlined the need to engage with the human aspect. “Humans categorise things usually in terms of things we already know, and this can lead us to mis-categorise genuinely new things as familiar and downplay them,” he noted.
As a result, building acceptance of a new concept involves “constructing a narrative that makes the radically new seem like the most natural next step. It’s about helping people to interpret what they don’t yet understand in terms of what they already know.”
Meanwhile in separate sessions Hanne-Stine Hallingby of Telenor Research and venture capitalist David Pollington both emphasised the need for openness on the basis of business imperatives, and also highlighted the risks from regulators.
Hallingby underlined the failure of 5G so far to enable telecom providers to differentiate services, but highlighted the ability of open, software-based networks to offer cost-efficient scaling and flexibility. With this basis, options for future service creation and new ways to engage with customers open up, for example in being able to provide differentiated experiences or prioritisation – unless regulators stifle these options as we saw in the USA’s debates over net neutrality.
In Pollington’s case, openness and orchestration are necessary answers to the problem of complexity in the development of new services and technologies, on the basis that “the space has outgrown the ability of any standards or industry body to define it”.
With an increasing confluence of telecoms, internet, cloud and distributed systems and services even in the 5G. As a result, Pollington argued, the only feasible path to developing from here is iterative and collaborative. This could herald the end of telecoms style ‘generations’ of technology and instead bring in a DevOps approach… but only if the standards bodies and regulators are able to adjust to this.
A New Alignment of Government and Industry?
The regulators were able to respond during a session exploring why a regulation revolution is needed in the 2020s. Former BEREC Chairman Georg Serentschy underlined the need for regulators to become enablers of innovation.
“Europe, to a large extent, lacks a smart combination of regulation, industrial policy, and innovation policy. Only when we succeed in synchronizing industrial and innovation policy with regulation that we will be able to attract more investment,” he observed.
Traficom’s Heidi Himmanen pointed out that, unlike previous generations of telecoms, there are national visions driving evolution beyond 5G which set out societal and environmental goals. As a result, regulation has the opportunity to help industry align with those wider desired outcomes and become an enabler of that. While some of the tools remain the same for the regulators, the process and objectives are very different.
“It’s really important to have the main goals in mind as we develop new technology, but also to understand the future examples. I think these are the ones that help us describe for the greater audience what 6G is about and the real-life use cases. And then coming to enabling technologies and the capabilities are indicators. All these set the scene and they motivate the need for a new kind of regulation and spectrum,” Himmanen pointed out.
Professor Gerard Pogorel of Telecom ParisTech concurred with the idea of a new, policy-led alignment between regulation and policy, highlighting the difference this would make in approach. “There has been a bad habit that… when we speak of future technologies, some people have the first reaction of ‘That’s interesting, let’s auction spectrum,’” Pogorel explained.
However, taking a policy lead opened up some very different questions to Pogorel and fellow speaker Erik Bohlin of Chalmers University. Hey both questioned whether regulation and policy should reflect the drift away from globalisation in the wider political sphere, giving attention to ‘circles of trust’ or questions around digital autonomy in the same way as political autonomy.
A new alignment between government and industry also seemed to be on the cards, particularly in sessions where speakers explored the role that Key Value Indicators related to universal access and to sustainability would play in making 6G commercially feasible. Expectations for sustainability are being written deeply into not just European but global visions for 6G. Would they spoil the business case?
Not necessarily, according to Telesat Chief Commercial Officer Glenn Katz. The Canadian satellite company was being tasked with delivery of coverage universally across Canada, but with both the national and Quebec state governments as investors in the company. Katz highlighted that this changed the commercial dynamics of the company so that shareholder value was driven in part by satisfying government priorities on coverage, which stands in contrast to maximising shareholder revenues.
Meanwhile Bernadette Lewis, the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Secretary-General, was very clear that the ability to use digital communications was “a fundamental aspect of a digital democracy”, as an extension of a universal right to freely communicate. While Lewis was at pains not to put the cost burden onto government alone, she highlighted “I think we need to explore other sources of collaborations between non-traditional partners. Have you ever heard of civil society-private partnership? We have to think outside of the framework we used to think before.”
Telecoms providers already have programmes focussing on energy reduction or efficiency, which is driven in no small part by the need to reduce costs. The question was posed whether other forms of sustainability could be approached as business opportunities as well.
This is an issue being addressed globally. Japan’s Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium, the USA’s Next G Alliance and operator organisation the NGMN all put forward some bold programmes; however, with an increasing reliance on cloud services and infrastructure, it is far from solely a challenge – or solution – for traditional telecoms players. Max Schulze, Chair of the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance, observed:
“I speak to companies all the time who think that because they use renewable energy they are carbon neutral. They aren’t, because it took resources to build their factories and products. There are formalised lifecycle analyses available to address this; above all we need to apply them across the board, to the whole value chain.”
Both he and Marie-Paule Odini, HPE’s Distinguished Technologist and Chair of the Next G Alliance’s Green G working group, emphasised the need to re-imagine value and cost in a world where we can no longer discount the environmental impact of what we make and do. Under such a scenario, systems which are recycled, recyclable, and in fact genuinely sustainable work out less expensive than others, making them a natural business choice.
Meanwhile, Saima Ansari of Deutsche Telekom highlighted the role that a complex web of sustainability demands played in their supply chain’s procurement process, underlining that the weighting for sustainability criteria was never less than 20% of the whole. Again, this creates an incentive in the supply chain to move towards greater sustainability across a wide variety of dimensions.
Tomorrow is the final day of 6GSymposium, taking a deep dive into the technology of future networks. 5G is already pushing the boundaries of current technology; what comes next? From satellites, semantic communications, waveforms, semiconductors and network architecture, we have you covered.
If you want to see these, and recordings of all 16 sessions from the symposium, register for free on the 6GSymposium website, where recordings will be made available from next week.
Journalist since eight years old, when I would read the newspaper out loud and pretend it was a radio show. Based in São Paulo, I have worked for Brazilian websites as reporter and editor before joining 6GWorld