The leaders of the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have signed a letter of intent to accelerate the development of fifth-generation mobile systems (“5G”). The move aims to support these countries efforts to be among the world front runners in the roll-out of 5G wireless services. The announcement was made at an annual summit of the regional leaders that was hosted by Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven.
“The Nordic region is one of the most innovative regions in the world. The development of 5G is progressing quickly and the Nordic region will be at the fore of this development. It creates jobs and prosperity in our countries,” said Swedon Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
The agreement involves the backing of governments and many of the leading telecom companies operating in the region, including infrastructure suppliers Ericsson and Nokia and mobile operators Telenor, Telia, TDC, Tele2, Iceland Telecom and Vodafone Iceland.
The declaration of intent states that the Nordic region will be the first interconnected 5G region in the world and identifies areas in which Nordic cooperation needs to be intensified. Yet there was no mention of IMT 2020 -the future ITU-R standard for “5G” radio aspects or the status of the non radio functions that are aligned with IMT 2020.
There’s certainly a track record that shows how collaboration in the wireless industry can work to support technical prowess and create high-paying technology jobs. The Nordic countries were among the first in the world to recognise opportunities in the broad deployment of wireless services. In the early 1980s, regional players developed the Nordic Mobile Telephone system, an analogue network that quickly became the most widely-adopted mobile service in the world, popular with enterprise users as well as consumers. Mobility became mainstream.
The success of that system, in terms of both the technology and collaborative efforts to create it, was one of the springboards that led to the development of the GSM standards with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia were major participants in that European endeavour and those two companies still hold many of the GSM essential patents.
Although the Nordic region was instrumental in the development and democratisation of first- and second-generation mobile services, there’s been a dilution of technology leadership during the past decade. Companies from the US and South Korea began to dominate the market for handsets and the mobile ecosystem, and Chinese infrastructure makers eroded the leading positions of Ericsson and Nokia.
Concern that the Nordics — in fact, Europe in general — could be left behind in the early stages of 5G are certainly valid and worth addressing. Given the huge costs associated with deploying 5G, it may be that infrastructure and network sharing proves the only way for operators to make the economics add up.
Ericsson had an exclusive role as an industry advocate, with Cecilia Atterwall, the Head of Marketing and Communications at Ericsson’s Business Area Networks, addressing the prime ministers on how 5G is the foundation for the digitalization of industries and society. Ms. Atterwall’s address covered evolved mobile broadband and the Internet of Things (IoT) highlighting business and use cases covering: mobile broadband user experiences, smart cities, transport, and smart manufacturing – and how one 5G network could handle all such cases simultaneously.
The project aim is for “5G” technology to be a major part of the worlds telecom infrastructure enabling new industries and services beyond communications. The agreement between the five Nordic countries includes the technical coordination of 5G frequency bands throughout the region, and removing obstacles to 5G expansion and development of new testing facilities. Progress will be closely monitored by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Yet there’s no definition of what “5G” actually is!
The combined population of the five Nordic countries is only about 27 million. Much larger nations around the world are also working to take pole position in 5G. In Asia, the government of South Korea is hoping to avoid the existence of several separate 5G networks with patchwork coverage by mandating that the three mobile operators SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus and Internet service provider SK Broadband work together on a single nationwide 5G network. The three major wireless China telecom operators are also cooperating on “5G’ technology.
In the US, T-Mobile and Sprint are using the importance of a fast and successful pre-standard “5G” roll-out as a main justification to win approval for a merger of the two carriers. They might be telling regulators what they want to hear, but there’s certainly some validity to the argument.
In many instances, 5G will be a group effort. We expect more cooperative projects to be announced as challenges arise.
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