Before COVID-19, 5G was a priority not only for most mobile network operators but also for government and industry. Now, the pandemic will inevitably impact 5G deployment plans and present new challenges but also opportunities for all.
Mobile network operators are facing significant difficulties from traffic growth and congestion to security issues and attacks on mobile masts, making the security of the existing service their first priority.
Secondly, they will need to review their existing plans, as they may now struggle to generate the revenue streams required for a major 5G rollout with all aspects of the telecom business currently being affected by temporal skills and labour shortages and short-term supply chain delays.
Moreover, before this crisis, operators were already in the middle of re-planning activities to cope with the Huawei ruling from the Government, which had an impact on existing infrastructure and future infrastructure plans.
As a consequence of COVID-19, 3GPP 5G Phase 2 (Release 16) has been shifted by 3 months to June 2020, which means the new features for uRLLC (low latency) and mMTC (massive device deployments) will be delayed, preventing some use cases from being supported and again affecting plans.
While main operators in China, Japan and USA have announced accelerations plans for 5G to take advance of 5G benefits, regulators in France, Spain, Austria and Portugal have already postponed the auction of 5G frequencies due to the pandemic. In the UK, Vodafone has asked the government for the planned auction of 5G spectrum to be allocated fairly among the operators at the reserve price. The UK risks losing ground to its competitors in Europe if there is an excessive delay in UK 5G spectrum auctions which could slow the recovery rate of the country compared with other markets.
Despite all this, COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for learning and improving. 5G is the enabler that can drive the economy post epidemic, allowing faster and better responses to future crisis through advanced technology. National geographic coverage, automated and flexible industry, real time tracking and monitoring, remote health, home education, robotics innovations or autonomous vehicles could not only act as catalysts for our recovery and readiness for future emergencies, but for reengineering operating models to enable new ways of social and business interaction.
Finally, this emergency offers a new opportunity to educate and explain technology to citizens providing information supported by independent parties, involving people in talks and debates or enabling a forum to open questions. Mast burning as well as physical and verbal threats to engineers are the consequences of ‘5G conspiracy theories’ linking it to COVID-19 in social media. Government, operators and scientific institutions have been forced to debunk such theories but it is not enough, proper education now will help people to understand the technology and its potential impact on the society reducing the false information spread and, at the end, the delays caused by these incidences.
Some delay in 5G implementation plans is inevitable but it is imperative public and private stakeholders to join forces to minimise it, so that wider connectivity and better networks could help our recovery from this crisis. But the real opportunity is to capitalise on the inevitable changes in society that will emerge in the post COVID-19 era and ensure that everyone embraces the opportunities that 5G will present. We have the chance to have a revolution in connectivity services rather than a gradual evolution.
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