Setting the Scene for 5G: Opportunities & Challenges

The ITU report “Setting the Scene for 5G: Opportunities and Challenges” highlights 16 key issues and responses for regulators and policy-makers to consider as they formulate strategies to stimulate investment in 5G networks. These include: the investment case; spectrum management issues; infrastructure sharing; access costs; investment incentives — and more.

Below are excerpted portions of the report, including the Executive Summary.

Expectations of 5G are high, with many assuming it will deliver a transformative promised land – an improved end-user experience, new applications, new business models and new services riding swiftly on the back of gigabit speeds, improved network performance and reliability.

5G networks and services, standing as they do on the shoulders of successful 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks, are forecast by independent economic studies to deliver very significant economic gains.

This report helps demystify the hype surrounding 5G, and sets out the landscape for information and communication technology (ICT) policy-makers, national regulatory authorities (NRAs) and operators as 5G technologies move ever closer.

It helps navigate through the issues related to 5G and provides a measured, practical approach to policy-makers looking to make important investment decisions in the months and years ahead.

The sixteen key issues presented are essential reading and constitute a powerful embarkation point as we set out to grapple with 5G opportunities and challenges.

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Caution: high levels of investment needed

However, despite the potential benefits, there is concern that 5G is premature and notes of caution are being sounded. Operators are sceptical about the commercial case given the high levels of investment needed to deploy 5G networks. The report estimates the cost to deploy a small cell-ready 5G network – assuming fibre backhaul is commercially feasible – can range from USD 6.8 million for a small city to USD 55.5 million for a large, dense city.

Danger of increasing digital divide

A viable case for investment in 5G can be made for densely populated urban areas – always the most commercially attractive regions for operators. More challenging will be a commercial argument for investing in 5G networks outside such areas, especially in the early years of 5G deployment.

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As a result, rural and suburban areas are less likely to enjoy 5G investment, and this will potentially widen the digital divide.

Balanced view is needed

As long as the investment case for 5G remains uncertain, industry and policy-makers should remain cautious and should consider enhancing the availability and quality of existing 4G networks in the run up to 5G.

The need for 5G is not immediate. Policy-makers and operators should only consider deploying 5G networks where there is demand or a robust commercial case in favour of doing so.

Policy-makers’ actions will make a difference

Where demand exists alongside high 5G deployment costs, policy-makers can use a range of legal and regulatory actions to facilitate 5G network deployment.

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These include: Supporting the use of affordable wireless coverage (e.g. through sub-1 GHz bands) to reduce the digital divide; Commercial incentives such as grants, or PPPs to stimulate investment in 5G networks.

5G: 16 key issues for policy-makers to consider

This report highlights 16 key issues – and responses – for policy-makers to consider as they formulate strategies to stimulate investment in 5G networks. Together they represent powerful means of calibrating an overall approach across major aspects of migration and, where appropriate, embarking on a judiciously facilitated, accelerated transition to 5G.