Consumers are unwilling to pay a lot more on their monthly bills for the advanced services 5G could provide. However, they expect those services. But upgrading networks to 5G requires major investment from operators. Is 5G about to hit an economic barrier?
Not necessarily. The potential of 5G for generating new sources of income for operators and users – notably users in private industry – has already been demonstrated. For example, as far back as late 2019, as part of the two-year EU Horizon 2020 5G-MoNArch project, Real Wireless developed reliable techno-economic cost benefit methods to quantify the costs and benefits of 5G deployments. These were then applied to the setting of Hamburg Port.
A smart sea port, as this testbed demonstrated, offers much more reliable and efficient traffic management and overall port operations on the one hand, and better monitoring of air quality and pollution on the other. There can be clear operational and health benefits for industries in investing in improved connectivity – and RoI and cost savings could demonstrate this.
However, these calculations alone, though they will help to support the case for 5G, cannot be the main criteria. We need to look at something other than the benefits to specific industries: at socio-economic benefits for example.
It’s become something of a truism that the ongoing pandemic has been bad for live events and face-to-face meetings but good for wireless services, thanks to contactless communications and online ordering, meeting and payment.
We at Real Wireless believe that this understanding of the potential of wireless for improving our lives and businesses is now extending to the understanding that smarter, cleaner, less traffic-clogged cities, less polluting industries and better-run public services can also be enabled by wireless.
In fact the wider socio-economic benefits of wireless are now becoming apparent to some public bodies, with a positive effect on the two major costs involved in 5G networks: upgrades and rollouts. A good example is the growing trend towards the cataloguing of assets such as street furniture by UK public authorities, and the sharing of these catalogues with wireless service providers to help them find potential site locations.
This is the public sector working alongside mobile network operators and other wireless service providers to figure out supply or access issues. It will help operators to afford the investment needed to upgrade their networks to 5G. And that in turn will deliver on socio-economic benefits.
But much more can be enabled by such partnerships to ease the cost burden of 5G rollout. The urgent questions that we all need to address are: how much more? What form could it take? And how can it be delivered?