How 5G will enable a digital society

As the political dynamics of Europe shift, it is vital that the existing co-operation on developing future network communication technologies is retained and ideally enhanced to ensure technological access and future economic prosperity.

The existing co-operation is based on the 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G PPP). This is a large 5G collaborative research initiative that is organised as part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

The 5G PPP has been a clear success for Europe, including the UK, with thousands of researchers and developers across Europe successfully working on innovative solutions for the definition of 5G. These efforts have had a significant effect on the 5G standards we have today, especially in the areas of system design, evaluation aspects, air interface innovations, network management, security innovation, virtualisation and service deployment innovations.

However, the 5G PPP is nearing its end and communication infrastructure will continue to evolve, driven by cutting-edge research. To ensure Europe, including the UK, has access and influence on this technology, it is vital these research activities can continue. We need a new communication technology partnership between the European Commission, UK government and the private sector to ensure Europe stays in the forefront of this important area. We need the next chapter in mobile communications – smart networks and services – to be created in Europe (including the UK).

The future is digital. The combination of digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced satellite technologies and ubiquitous communication will change the world we live in, moving well beyond 5G.

The advantages of such a digital world will not just be commercial, but also societal. 5G networks will lay the foundations to tackle efficiently the grand challenges of an ageing population, environmental and resource management, mobility, increasing urbanisation and industrial competitiveness. In this bold new world, the vision of a truly networked society where technology enables meaningful societal change, such as zero casualties on European roads, becomes possible.

What is needed to deliver the future?

However, this future vision, like the promise of AI, big data or high-performance computing (HPC), is only realisable if we have the matching advanced communication networks. These so-called smart networks provide the lynch pin to join all the critical pieces together and make future visions possible. The smart network acts like a nervous system allowing the intelligence to control the whole.

Smart networks envision a fundamental change to the communications network beyond 5G. In a world where everything will be networked in a seamless way, with a seemingly infinite bandwidth, we need a flexible communications network that can adapt and evolve. Smart networks will combine distributed communications and intelligence, providing scalable communications, computing and memory resources at any location.

In addition, as communications networks become evermore fundamental to our everyday lives, even in safety-critical aspects, smart networks need to embrace security both in terms of guaranteeing the network infrastructure integrity as well as the safety and privacy of personal data.

Smart networks will be the foundation of the future digital world. AI, big data and HPC will all play their role, but without a suitable advanced communications network their potential will be sorely limited.

With communications networks being a technological area where Europe can still claim leadership, smart networks should be a major focus in Horizon Europe, the next European Union programme for research and innovation. All European countries, including the UK, should understand research and innovation will be central to taking leadership in future smart networks to support a smart move into a digital society supporting European values.