To achieve the UK government’s target for the majority of the country to have 5G by 2027, strategic decisions must to be taken now, and I believe that the scope of the digital transformation needed requires strong leadership from a service integrator such as CGI.
A huge requirement for change management
We already know that deploying 5G is going to be costly, estimated at £42 billion1 based on 2020 costs, so to make the most of the investment and the time available we need a clear plan of action. We also know that 5G won’t happen as a big bang. Instead, it’ll develop in stages, with the first — mobile broadband — appearing now. As the Government recognises, this makes a strategic roadmap vital to prevent developmental silos emerging and to guard against technological dead ends. The planning also needs to anticipate the disruption 5G will cause to the existing ecosystem and value chain, as predicted by the European Commission, Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It’s likely that competition and innovation will follow, as new investment and business models emerge. Throughout this growth there’ll be a huge requirement for change management for both the general public and the business community, given the scale and impact of 5G technologies.
Harmonisation is essential
All these factors make coordinated planning and implementation crucial to the success of 5G. There are signs that the multitude of standards setting organisations involved in 5G have a strong will to harmonise standards across the emerging environment so that 5G can become the ‘network of networks’ and Smart Cities can all speak the same language.-2 That said, the sheer number of organisations involved — ITU, IET, IETF, ISO, BSI, the TM Forum, 3GPP, ETSI, ANSI and the MEF to name just the most prominent — would find achieving harmonisation much easier if there was a single coordinating entity for 5G.
To my mind, there’s a clear case for the appointment of a service integrator to coordinate how we tackle the key considerations to identify the best and most direct path for the country to take to 5G. There needs to be a clear owner and driver for the transformational change that is about to happen, someone who can define the direction, goals and outcomes and be responsible for delivering them. And yes, I am volunteering CGI for the role!
Once in place, what would be the priorities of the 5G service integrator?
Tackle the costs of 5G
One of the first items on the agenda should be establishing ways to mitigate the costs of 5G. This is particularly important considering the sums likely to be involved, and the fact that it’s already evident that the infrastructure costs involved may be too great for the Government and telcos to shoulder alone. So, what if we could bring together all of business and industry into the development of 5G as stakeholders, sharing the costs as well as the benefits? Individual companies or collaborative consortiums could fund the technology necessary to make their premises a neutral hosting point for 5G, creating the network from the ground up.
Plan for a world of data
Working out how to manage the data 5G will generate also needs to begin now. It will be vital to put new forms of data architecture in place to deal with the substantial increases in data flow, the compute on edge function, the number of levels of data and the multitude of data nodes in place. On top of this, the UK will need to incorporate fibre deployment where feasible and alternatives such as satellite for more rural areas. And, of course, all of this data will need to fulfil the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), requiring a means of classifying and tagging data using a form of rights management to specify how the data can be used, who can use it and how long it’s valid for. Work in this area is only just beginning, requiring clear guidance and coordination to deliver effective management.
Protect and defend
5G will also need robust security, to protect the massive explosion of volumes of personal data crossing the network and to support compliance with GDPR’s right to be forgotten. Security will need to be baked in from day one to protect the vast increase in the attack vector surface that comes with more networks and devices — essential when you remember that 5G systems will have the capability to alter services within the city with life-threatening consequences.
Making 5G a reality is the biggest connectivity challenge to date. Without coordination, we run the risk of delays, expensive detours and, ultimately, not achieving the dream. We’re ready to step forward.