A European commissioner raised concerns in a private letter to mobile operators and the network infrastructure industry – seen by The Register – that the 5G project is not working out according to plan.
Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel said in the letter – sent early in December last year – to the major industry body behind the 5G standard, 3GPP, that she is concerned with its progress on "vertical industries" like smart cities, eHealth and connected transport.
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She CC'd in the heads of mobile industry lobby groups the GSMA, the 5G Infrastructure Association and Digital Europe for good measure.
Commissioner Gabriel addressed 3GPP's Project Coordination Group chair, Jorge Luis Romero, saying she was concerned that the group – which is made up of all of the biggest names in the mobile industry – is focusing too much on faster mobile and not enough on the original 5G vision of an all-singing, all-dancing hyper-connected world.
She went on to politely bring up the small matter of the €700m the commission has pledged to its 5G Public Private Partnership (5GPPP), which was designed to hothouse a range of projects loosely brought under the banner of 5G.
These projects have seen around 300 contributions into the standard as it is today, said Gabriel in the letter. This will be disappointing, given 3GPP has considered around 100,000 contributions to date as part of its standards process.
Romero responded in his own letter to Gabriel, also seen by The Register.
He said he "begged to differ with [Gabriel's] view that 3GPP is focused primarily on improving data-rate capabilities" and that 3GPP is committed to meeting and in many cases exceeding the minimum performance requirements set by the International Telecommunications Union, which will rubberstamp the globally binding 5G standard in 2019.
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He said that with a project as big as 5G, "it is inevitable that different priorities will be expressed by different regions and industry sectors. It is evident then that when priorities are discussed in 3GPP, it is a consensus view of participants in the standardisation effort that will prevail."
"This should be viewed positively," he added, "because it is futile to write standards unless there is an industry that is ready to deploy them in reply to market demands."
He also mentioned the 100,000 standards contributions from its around 550 members – which include corporations, government bodies and academic institutions. It looks like there was some stiff competition.
Show me the money?
The market demands for vertical industry use cases that Gabriel mentioned have yet to materialise.
Automotive companies are focusing on creating their own solutions for autonomous driving, although mobile operators are trying to muscle in where they can with more entertainment and information-based use cases, while other large industrial players are looking to adopt their own in-house connectivity solutions.
Caroline Gabriel, research director and co-founder at Rethink Research, said at an event in Westminster on Tuesday that there are "big business decisions to be made with 5G – or it will be just another radio upgrade, good for consumers but not translating into higher profits."
She said that in her regular survey of European mobile operators' views that use case priorities for mobile operators in Europe are significantly higher when it comes to enhanced mobile broadband and connected cars; that operators think 4G will be sufficient for many years; and that new revenue models are unproven.
Paul Morris, head of global affairs and corporate social responsibility at Vodafone, told the same conference that things like "AI, robotics, big data, AR and VR will be a massive change in our society" and are "fundamentally exciting".
Still, Morris said that "5G will be built on the foundations of 4G – the reality is it will be macro but also implemented on small cells", which does not suggest a bold departure to a standalone 5G network.
The Register understands that none of the parties involved in the exchange want to get dragged into a public spat and that meetings in Brussels are being arranged to discuss the differences in views.
We've asked the Commission for comment. 3GPP declined to comment. ®