The government yesterday held cross-ministerial meetings to formulate the country’s long-term strategy for developing next-generation wireless networking technology, or 5G technology, to cope with fast-growing data usage and the arrival of the “big data” era.
That was the first step taken by the government after Minister Without Portfolio Simon Chang (張善政) said in November, when six 4G licenses were released, that the nation had to start investing in research and development for 5G technologies as soon as possible, so as not to repeat the lag in the commercial launch of 4G, or Long-Term Evolution (LTE), services.
The government is also considering earmarking NT$10 billion (US$330 million) for the development of 5G mobile technology and fostering a local supply chain that includes chipmaker MediaTek Inc, telecoms equipment supplier Unizyx Holding Corp and handset maker HTC Corp.
As of Dec. 31 last year, 263 LTE networks had been commercially launched in 97 countries, according to the statistics compiled by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, while Taiwanese telecom operators led by Chunghwa Telecom Co are set to offer their LTE services only at the end of this year.
During the 3G era, Taiwan offered first-wave 3G services beginning in 2002. However, in the subsequent race for 4G technological dominance, the government mistakenly bet the nation’s resources on developing WiMAX technology, siding with Intel Corp. A U-turn in policy led to Taiwan rushing into auctioning off the fragmented 4G bandwidth before 3G licenses ended in 2018, so some of the bandwidth is occupied by WiMAX operators.
Because of the government’s misjudgement, local companies from telecommunications equipment suppliers to device makers to telecoms operators lost the opportunity to profit by offering the new technology.
Yesterday’s meetings should be a good starting point for Taiwan’s inroads into the 5G era and may help the country benefit from the business brought by this new mobile technology. At the very least, Taiwan should not again fall behind the rest of the world in offering 5G mobile services by beginning to invest in the technology, as the standards of the technology have not been finalized yet.
China and South Korea are among the most aggressive countries in the world in developing 5G technology and fostering industry supply chains.
In May last year, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co announced the creation of a 1Gbit per second wireless connection it referred to as “5G” and said it would bring the capability to its production of smartphones by 2020.
Last month, China’s Huawei Technology also said it had jumpstarted its investment in 5G technology and that it was helping to develop global standards for 5G in the hope of offering data transmission speed of 10Gbit per second, 10 times faster than 4G can deliver.
Taiwan this time may join the global 5G bandwagon just in time and benefit by leading, rather than following, the trend by commercializing the technology early.
However, it is not enough to have an early start. There must be consistency in policy and policy execution. This is a real worry and the biggest uncertainty about fostering Taiwan’s 5G industry, given the uncertain tenure of the key policymakers. Chang, a former executive from Google Inc and National Science Council Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一), another architect of Taiwan’s 5G development, could leave their posts at any time. The government needs to create a special task force to continue to carry out the policy and strategies consistently, even after the original policymakers are absent.