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April 3, 2019

How geospatial technology will boost 5G and shape smart cities and communities

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Fifth-generation mobile technology, or 5G, will act as the connective tissue of tomorrow’s digital economy, linking everything from smartphones to wireless sensors to industrial robots and self-driving cars.

5G will help make smart sustainable cities a reality. But with so many different interests involved in planning smart cities, collaboration is key.

That is why ITU formed the United Nations Smart Sustainable Cities initiative with 16 UN bodies. It is why we are also working with members and partners worldwide use the technology to improve the lives of those in rural areas, where most of the world’s unconnected live. Bringing connectivity to these people and the consequent benefits of healthcare, education and improved productivity, will help to remove one of the main drivers of urbanization.

Almost all the traffic carried by telecommunication networks is carried over fiber optic cables meeting ITU standards, almost all video viewed on the Internet is using ITU standards. Most broadband access is based on ITU standards, and ITU lays down the rules for the use of radio-frequency spectrum, whether it be for mobile phones, healthcare, traffic management or earth observation.

So, clearly, ITU is at the forefront of today’s digital revolution at a time when more than half of the world’s population is now connected to the Internet.

Importance of geospatial data

Moving forward, 5G telecommunication infrastructure must be stable, secure, reliable and interoperable to support an enormous volume of applications and services.

Very accurate geospatial data will be essential for 5G deployment, which will require denser telecom networks − more base stations placed selectively and strategically.

Not just accurate geodata, but advanced spatial analytics are, therefore, crucial for planning such infrastructure, ensuring that these planned radio networks are both cost effective and efficient.

Just as accurate spatial data will be instrumental to 5G deployment, 5G will also contribute to more accurate spatial data, since 5G base stations will be synchronized to within nanoseconds relative to each other, which will improve the positioning accuracy for autonomous vehicles, smart transportation and intelligent traffic management systems.

These are a few of the reasons working more closely with the geospatial industry will be important for ITU and why I was pleased to participate in the Geospatial World Forum and enter into a cooperation agreement with World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) this week.

5G rollout

The 5G rollout will pose considerable challenges in terms of radiowave propagation at the higher frequencies which can be impacted by very small obstructions and weather conditions, specifically precipitation.

With billions of devices interconnected and relying on secure and real-time connections, 5G will require much more spectral efficiency, as well and a lot of additional radio-frequency spectrum, beyond what is currently used by 3G and 4G systems.

This additional spectrum needs to be identified and harmonized at a global level, and the radio technologies used in 5G devices need to be supported by globally harmonized standards that will ensure openness and interoperability, while reducing costs through economies of scale and avoiding getting locked into propriety standards. This is why ITU’s role is essential.

Pivotal meeting in Egypt

This October, over 3000 delegates will gather in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt for ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 to update the Radio Regulations treaty to include additional spectrum for 5G above 24GHz, in addition to many other amendments to satisfy a range of demands on the spectrum.

With so many different interests to satisfy, both from a sectoral as well as geographic viewpoint, coordination, cooperation and collaboration between these interests is essential to represent their views and lobbying for the inclusion of their requirements in the treaty.

This is why a close relationship with the geospatial community is welcomed as it will help us to ensure that the potential and requirements of geospatial data, services, and technologies is well understood.

I very much look forward to building on closer collaboration with the geospatial community to leverage the power of the technology to improve the lives and productivity of people and businesses everywhere.

Featured photo courtesy of NASA
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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

How geospatial technology will boost 5G and shape smart cities and communities

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