5G – the start of our smart society

​The Swedish auction of frequency bands for 5G this autumn will be the start of the next generation of mobile systems, which is expected to result in a plethora of new connected services. Which actors will drive innovation remains to be seen – but how trust is handled will be crucial. ​

Initially, we will primarily experience a significantly stronger mobile broadband, and the capacity to connect a larger number of units. 5G will also be ten times more energy efficient compared to 4G. Then, the notorious 5G boost of the Internet of Things will likely follow, and the expected revolution of industry, smart cities, cloud-based augmented reality and much more. Many industries have already launched connected services, based on other communication standards such as Wi-Fi or 4G.

“Which is good, a rapid development gives competitive advantage. We learn as we go, and with 5G comes the opportunity to scale up”, says Tommy Svensson, researcher in Communication Systems.

He believes this is an important revolution and exemplifies with the automotive industry.

“Important aspects of their operations will be cloud-based, such as product updates to vehicles via the network and collection of data on maintenance needs, and we will see new traffic safety features thanks to fast communication to and in-between vehicles”, says Tommy Svensson.

“There are still areas of development for 5G, such as AI that could self-optimize the networks, energy distribution to sensors, or to improve coverage in challenging areas across the globe”, says Tommy Svensson.

The scenarios for the future are attractive, but what does it take for new technology to bring innovation on a broad front? Erik Bohlin at the Department of Technology Management and Economics studies regulation and competition in telecom. He says there is an ongoing debate about which actors are likely to drive the development.

“Mobile operators need to be on their toes if they want to drive innovation in the 5G cloud. It is very likely that there will be other actors. Cloud services of today are mostly driven by other than mobile operators”, says Erik Bohlin.

“With 5G there is a possibility to use more frequency bands, different frequency bands may be suitable for different purposes. There is also a discussion about allocating a frequency range for specific applications. Several countries in Europe have already taking this decision, including Sweden”, says Erik Bohlin.

Some mean that it would benefit innovation to open the market for new actors to drive and develop new applications. Erik Bohlin and his colleagues have studied the current policies for telecom and frequency allocation and compared with available research on innovation systems. The analysis shows that today's regulation of the telecom market in Europe has mainly been focused on competition issues, to avoid any individual player becoming too dominant.

However, with the launch of 5G, the issue of promoting innovation has been raised. But there is no simple answer on how to set up a frequency allocation auction in order to promote innovation, according to Erik Bohlin. Innovation is difficult to predict. He makes a historical comparison.

“Many believed that 3G was going to boost innovation, but it was not until smartphones came that we saw an upswing. Nor could anyone predict that today's major business areas would be based on free services on the Internet, such as Google, Facebook and Spotify.”

Most of the debate about 5G the last year has concerned security. High security requirements will be imposed on both operators and suppliers of infrastructure. In February it was decided that the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), who are hosting the frequency auctions, needs to consult with the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) and the Swedish National Defense before granting any frequency permits.

5G also enables new kinds of cloud services, but trust will be crucial in order to successfully provide these services.

“In order to trust the telecom operators with these services, they need to ensure security, confidentiality, integrity. Some industry actors mean that they need to run their own services”, says Tomas Olovsson at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

“If you look at the 5G network itself, the security need not be more challenging than for 4G. It's just a matter of moving data from a to b. Security can be handled in the same way as today, at a higher level in the applications”, says Tomas Olovsson.

In terms of security, there are also benefits with 5G.

“With 5G there is an opportunity to put parts of the security in the network itself and for some applications it can be a big advantage”, says Tomas Olovsson.

For example, letting the network help authenticate the party you are communicating with in time-critical situations, or using a targeted radio signal, making wiretapping more difficult.


Text: Malin Ulfvarson

Illustration: Yen Strandqvist


Republished from Chalmers magazine no. 1 2020 (In Swedish)


illustration of a connected city


Also read: 5G enables communicating gadgets and sustainability



Published: Tue 16 Jun 2020.