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November 28, 2019

The importance of 5G – in the Baltic Sea region and beyond

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

*The following article is adapted from my opening remarks at the second-annual 5G Techritory event in Riga, Latvia. The three-day event, which is held in close cooperation with ITU, brings together policymakers, heads of major industry organisations and business leaders from Europe, the United States, and Asia to network and discuss the commercialization of 5G in the innovation-rich Baltic Sea region.

It is already fifty years ago that a team of graduate students at UCLA sent a digital data transmission making two computers talk to each other for the first time. What started as a small network of academics’ computers eventually led to the Internet revolution.

Today, we are on the verge of another revolution: the 5G revolution. So, I am delighted to be here in the beautiful city of Riga for this forum organized by the Electronic Communication Office of Latvia in close cooperation with ITU, to bring together regional and global business leaders, technical experts, academics, and policymakers to discuss the future of 5G.

This mix of stakeholders is very important. So many different industry sectors and organisations will be involved in the implementation and use of 5G products and services that collaboration across sectors and borders will be key to its success, both here in the Baltic Sea region and around the world. Collaboration is at the heart of ITU’s work and that is why we are happy to support this event.

A unique platform to bring all stakeholders together

ITU is a bit different to most United Nations agencies in that it has benefited, through its long history, from having a large private sector membership, which is becoming ever more diverse, as well as more recently a growing academia membership. These, together with our 193 Member States and members from other international and regional organizations, provide a unique platform to take forward the technical, regulatory and policy issues related to today’s emerging technologies.

5G will clearly serve as an accelerator towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

And of course, one of the most promising and anticipated of these technologies is 5G. ITU is critical to the development of 5G through its standardization activities and its management of radio-frequency spectrum.

ITU maintains the international treaty on the use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbits, known as the ‘Radio Regulations’​. This was amended at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) that ended last week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

165 governments negotiated and agreed on the relevant modifications to the treaty, which include provisions for new technological innovations such as Earth stations in motion, Intelligent Transport Systems, non-geostationary satellites networks and high-altitude platforms, to name but a few.

ITU Members identify additional frequency bands for 5G

One of the main items, of course, was the allocation of additional spectrum for 5G above 24 GHz.

5G will connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart, networked communication environments supporting applications such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, 3D video, remote medical services, virtual and augmented reality, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industry automation, as well as many new innovations yet to come.

This will require large amounts of spectrum and I am pleased to report that an additional 17.25 GHz of spectrum was allocated for 5G (or IMT2020 in ITU nomenclature) in the 26, 40, 47 and 66 GHz bands, compared to just 1.9 GHz previously.

Importantly, 85% of these new allocations are world-wide. Global allocation of spectrum is very important to ensure that different radio services can co-exist without harmful interference, to provide interoperability and to create a global market that reduces costs through economies of scale.

Regulatory certainty

Allocations in the Radio Regulations give stakeholders the regulatory certainty that these frequency bands will be available for use in the foreseeable future and will be protected from harmful interference.

WRC-19 also defined a plan of studies to identify frequencies for new components of 5G, in particular to bring 5G to the underserved remote and rural areas, which are difficult and costly to reach due to terrain and poor return on investment, by carrying 5G base stations on high-altitude platforms that will cover a wide area at much lower cost that terrestrial base stations.

The ITU group responsible for the evaluation of the proposed radio interface technologies for 5G brings together governments, regulators, mobile operators, manufacturers, academics and standardization bodies from all over the world.

The evaluation will be completed soon and will result in the finalization of the IMT-2020 radio interface standards defining the full performance requirements in terms of peak data rate, ultra-reliability, user density, energy efficiency, and low latency in the most demanding scenarios, including massive machine-to-machine communications.

ITU is also working on the standards for the telecommunication networks to support the huge increase in data flows that 5G will generate.

5G will clearly serve as an accelerator towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, so now more than ever before, all stakeholders including governments, industry, academia and civil society need to come together to collaborate and ensure that this 5G revolution becomes a development revolution – reaching out and bring benefits to everyone everywhere.

I am sure that the discussion here at 5G Techritory Forum, coming so soon after WRC-19, will provide a further boost to the momentum that it generated.

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The importance of 5G - in the Baltic Sea region and beyond

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