Almost every ten years, we can witness the introduction of a new generation of mobile network infrastructure. Nowadays, with the outbreak of the 5G technology, we are living one of these rare moments. In 2019, we will indeed see the launch of the first real so-called 5th generation networks, with new mobile devices and fully operational radio coverage, although it will at first be limited to large conurbations The United States and South Korea will claim quite rightly that they were the pioneers, followed by Japan, Australia and some Gulf countries. Europe will follow in 2020. Indeed, the national regulators are only assigning now the frequencies required for such an extension.
The impact of the 5G on our societies could be as fundamental as the 2G (GSM) 30 years ago; it will definitely be greater than the 3G/W-CDMA in the 2000s and the 4G/LTE at the beginning of the decade.
At a technological level, innovations that come with the 5G in terms of Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are indeed as revolutionary as the introduction of the GSM, the first universal standard, and the democratisation of mobile phones allowing their use from everywhere and, for the most part, at an affordable price.
Moreover, the 5G was created from the beginning to connect various types of “objects”, making the Internet of Things (IoT) mobile and widely accessible. In this way, vehicles will be interconnected, cities will become smart, each house will host a huge diversity of connected objects, and human beings themselves will become connected thanks to the introduction of portable sensors. We can sense huge possibilities. Every area of the economy will benefit from it, from the transport industry to the medical sector, from environment and energy management to the 4.0 industry, and from virtual and augmented reality to research and education…even up to public security. No profession, no organisation will be spared–directly or indirectly; the whole humanity will benefit from it. The 5G will thus form the nervous system of a global digital economy by giving citizens a better control over their lives, with the automation of their daily tasks in order to improve their productivity and their quality of life.
The mobile networks will thus–if it is not already the case– join the other essential components of a permanently developing world. The 5G will become so essential and “natural” that we will not even notice it, until the moment that, to everyone’s great surprise, it will fail.
Given the current global environment, characterised by a system of international economic relations based on the competition, amongst other features, the lack of control of such networks induces at least two types of risks. The first one has just been mentioned: it is the possibility for a malicious organisation wanting to harm a country or a company to significantly disrupt its smooth operation. Without communication there is no comfort, no industry or services, no possible development…and worse, no defence or security.
The second risk involves the protection of intellectual property and, more generally, industrial, economic and political espionage. Since almost all the information and data is unstoppably passing through mobile networks, it is technically possible for infrastructure providers to monitor or even catch their content.
Who is controlling the technologies?
Over the last 20 years, China has swiftly learned how to control the most modern techniques. The landscape of the telecommunications industry was completely turned upside down with the arrival of Chinese giant companies such as Huawei and ZTE. These companies brought about a brutal consolidation of the market that led to the disappearance of national leaders such as the French company Alcatel, the American corporation Lucent, the German firm Siemens, the Canadian company Nortel, the English corporation Marconi and many others. These changes fuelled a strong destruction current of high added value jobs in favour the newcomer.
Faced with an increasingly powerful China, Europe needs to put forward its technological and industrial assets. The task is difficult, but not impossible. It requires, first and foremost, to fully understand the situation. However, is it really the case? The question is still pending: is the 5G an astounding chance of progress to build a better world, or is it a point of no return towards the loss of our independence?