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WIC2019 - 5G, Opening a new era of digital economy

​​​Speech by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Sixth Wuzhen World Internet Conference - "5G, Opening a new era of digital economy"

21 October 2019 - Wuzhen, China

​Let me take this opportunity to congratulate China on behalf of ITU on its efforts to use next generation-networks like 5G to expand mobile and broadband connectivity, both in urban and rural areas.

At the end of the day, bringing radiocommunication technologies to all people is the ultimate goal of a conference like WRC-19​. And this time around, a range of technologies promising to connect more and more people around the world are on the agenda  ̶  from 5G to high-altitude platform stations and low earth-orbiting satellite networks.

For these technologies to work, however, you need two things  ̶  globally harmonized standards and regulations to ensure accessible and affordable telecommunications to all.

The ITU standardization process for IMT-2020, the name we use for 5G, is underway. Key 5G performance requirements for IMT-2020 have been agreed. This process brings together governments, regulators, mobile operators, manufacturers, academia and standardization bodies from all over the world. And it will be finalised in 2020.

What is evident from the ambitious performance targets of 5G systems and the wide variety of envisioned 5G applications is that future networks will need to be agile all-around players able to perform a wide array of specialized functions. In response, ITU has launched a Focus Group to work on how machine learning will contribute to the efficiency of 5G systems. And just a few weeks ago, a new ITU standard established a basis for the cost-effective integration of machine learning into 5G and future networks. The architectural framework is the first of a nascent series of ITU standards addressing machine learning's contribution to networking.

ITU has also established a new Focus Group to study environmental efficiency in the age of artificial intelligence​. This is a topic that is very dear to me as it affects the impact of frontier technologies on climate change. The work of this group is expected to support ITU's ongoing studies of the environmental requirements of 5G systems.

Meanwhile, three new ITU standards from our Study Group on the 'Environment and circular economy' have achieved the first-stage approval required to enter the close of their development cycle. These standards aim to support sustainable power feeding solutions for 5G, energy-efficient datacentres, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.

And let me mention the last edition of ITU Green Standards ​Week that took place two weeks ago in Valencia, where participants adopted a 'Call to Action​' urging city stakeholders to lead the way in the application of frontier technologies such as 5G to protect the environment and tackle the urgent climate crisis.

This call to action highlights technology's central role in making a defining contribution to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Turning to my second point, about the use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. Access to information and communication technologies has become a development indicator and aspiration in and of itself. Today, broadband networks are as essential as roads, railways, and water and power networks. And this is why countries have recognized spectrum as a key natural resource for public benefit to achieve their socio-economic goals.

As you know, ITU maintains the Radio Regulations​, the only international treaty on the use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbits. We have been doing it for 113 years. WRC-19 will update the Radio Regulations to satisfy the ever-increasing range of demands on the spectrum and orbit resources, including additional spectrum above 24 GHz for 5G. 

5G is expected to operate using a combination of different radio-frequency bands. Some of the spectrum for 5G will be in new frequency bands not previously used for mobile broadband services, and some will be in low- and mid-frequency spectrum that is currently used by 2G, 3G and 4G systems.

Keep in mind that when identifying additional frequency bands for international mobile telecommunications (IMT), the protection of existing radiocommunication ecosystems must be respected. For example, a future identification of the 26 GHz band for IMT will require the establishment of sharing and compatibility conditions sufficient to protect existing earth exploration-satellite systems used for monitoring natural resources or forecasting climate conditions.

Similarly, fragmentation in the 5G spectrum is another challenge. It poses additional burden to the regulators, who will need to manage and protect the fragmented use of spectrum by each industry and in each location.

At any rate, new spectrum for 5G needs to be agreed internationally. The global allocation of frequency bands by ITU allows all radiocommunication services to co-exist without interference, giving all stakeholders, including those involved in 5G development, the certainty that these bands will be available for use in the foreseeable future. Interconnection and interoperability are at stake, as well as resulting economies of scale.

Building radiocommunication networks is expensive. Countries and companies need to ensure that their investments are protected, both through international standards and globally harmonized radio-frequency spectrum management. And that is why cross-industry and public-private sector collaboration on these important issues is so critical, including and especially in areas that may be less attractive for operators.

Next-generation networks will power our mobile lives, transforming key areas like health, education and financial inclusion – and serving as an accelerator towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. WRC-19 is set to play a pivotal role in the digital economy and technologies that hold great potential for human progress. What is at stake is digital inclusion and the chance to improve the lives of millions around the world.

Thank you for your attention.