Erik Bohlin
Conducts research on 5G. “I am very proud that we at Chalmers have been given the opportunity to carry out such an exciting project,” says Professor Erik Bohlin, who is helping Thailand to implement 5G nationwide.

“5G will lead us to a completely connected world”

​5G will lead us to a completely connected world that will fundamentally change how we live. Professor Erik Bohlin at Chalmers is monitoring this development in real time. His latest assignment is to help Thailand to implement the fifth generation mobile network nationwide.
The advent of 4G gave us mobile internet, which became a force to reckon with when smartphones came along. Now it’s time for the next step in the mobile network, and expectations are high. 5G will give us faster connections with fewer delays, and is a building block for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The future of infrastructure, transport, automated production – everything will have the potential to be collected under one standard. 5G will be used for everything from advanced production units like robots, to self-driving cars or everyday objects in our homes. 

The hope is to create a single integrated network, with extensive efficiency and quality gains.

“Quite simply, 5G will lead us into a completely connected world that will fundamentally change and improve the way we live. It is the vision of an extensive network that serves a variety of different purposes. And this vision is promoted not only by big companies like Ericsson and Huawei, but also by governments,” says Erik Bohlin, professor at Chalmers.

Bohlin has conducted research in telecom and mobile phone matters for many years, and even helped the Swedish Government’s Committee on Transport and Communications to assess the potential effects of expanding broadband coverage in Sweden. Now he heads another important mission: to give Thailand the conditions it needs to implement 5G nationwide. 

“5G is the vision of an extensive network that serves a variety of different purposes. And this vision is promoted not only by big companies like Ericsson and Huawei, but also by governments”

Erik Bohlin, Chalmers​

It is unusual that researchers are given such comprehensive responsibility when 5G is implemented in a country.

“I am proud and happy that we at Chalmers have been given the opportunity to carry out such an exciting project,” he says. “Thailand is supporting 5G and wants to be at the leading edge of the new technology to attract investments and to optimise their infrastructure.”

The assignment comes from Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, and the research involves collaboration with several of the world’s leading experts in the field. 

One of the challenges is to help the country develop efficient radio network planning and design the best possible radio spectrum auctions.

“All states use advanced auctions to sell transmission rights for parts of their frequency band,” he explains. “It is important to set up these auctions fairly, so they do not become too exorbitant or lead to one actor obtaining a monopoly.”

These auctions can generate large revenues for the state, Bohlin points out, so it is important to strike a good balance. 

“In a recent 5G auction in Italy, the bidders paid a total of EUR 6 billion for the frequency licences. This is a complex policy choice. If the industry needs to spend too much on frequency licences, it will reduce their ability to invest.”

Bohlin and his fellow researchers also look at how the licensing terms should be defined to meet the needs of the general public as well as future demand. This, too, is a balancing act, he says. For example, should all parts of the country have access to the technology, and how quickly must the actors build up the network?

"If the requirements for rapid expansion is too harsh, it is possible that companies will not be able to follow through on their investments. But if the conditions are too weak, the network may not be as extensive as it should be,” Bohlin tells us.

The project will be completed in autumn 2019. Bohlin hopes that other countries can also benefit from the results.

“We will transfer ideas and results, making them available at various conferences and in publications,” he says. “This project will allow for more open knowledge development in the field.”

Bohlin thinks it is a great privilege to be able to do research on the telecom industry with its steady technological advances. But along with the many opportunities of 5G, he points out that it is important not to ignore the risks and challenges of the new technology. 

“We know that many in Sweden and the rest of the world warn about the security aspects of 5G networks. There are hidden risks of wiretaps, and connecting all devices in a single integrated infrastructure creates a potential for vulnerability if someone can access the systems. So even if I’m something of a techno-optimist, we must be aware of the security risks that do exist.”

Text: Ulrika Ernström
Photo: Ulrika Ernström and Carolina Pires Bertuol

Erik Bohlin on...

...the future and success potential of 5G

“The vision of 5G is very grand and broad, but there is always some uncertainty in the beginning of a new generation of technology. It is not certain that everything in the 5G network will go through as planned: perhaps there are other competing solutions based on, say, Wi-Fi network capacity. When 3G came, there were many expectations of mobile Internet that did not come true. Mobile Internet didn’t really get off the ground until smartphones came, with a new user interface. So it takes several types of innovations for an initiative like this to succeed and work as intended.”

...how far 5G has come in the world
“These days, several actors say that they have ‘the world’s first 5G network’. Korea and the United States have made investments, and a big initiative is underway in the planning for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. There is talk of a commercial launch by 2020, but even if the infrastructure is in place, it will take time before we have affordable phones so the technology becomes widespread. So we need to look at this in a more long-term perspective. 5G will develop gradually as a standard and exist alongside 4G for many years. Perhaps it will have made major strides in 5–7 years.”

Chalmers helping Thailand to implement 5G 

  • Charmers has been commissioned by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) in Thailand to provide the conditions and support the country needs in order to implement 5G. 
  • The project manager is Professor Erik Bohlin at the Science, Technology and Society division of the Department of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers.
  • Chalmers is collaborating with world leading experts in the field, such as Peter Cramton, professor at the University of Cologne and the University of Maryland, and Martin Cave of the London School of Economics.
  • Chalmers and Erik Bohlin have collaborated with the NBTC for several years, including supervising several doctoral students from Thailand in the field.
  • The project is being conducted in March–October 2019.

Read more about Erik Bohlin

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Published: Mon 27 May 2019.