As the race to implement 5G cellular network technology heats up, there has been considerable anxiety about Taiwan’s standing in the pack. As many of its global peers have already held spectrum auctions, the National Communications Commission (NCC) pushed forward the date for its own to Dec. 10 and is amending regulations to ensure flexibility to develop 5G systems and applications.
Excitement is swirling around the potential uses of 5G technology, from autonomous vehicle networks to virtual reality streaming, but the development of such applications is still a way off, while uses that no one has yet considered will likely emerge. At this stage, attention must be focused on building an ecosystem that ensures telecoms play fairly and application developers are given space to explore.
To this end, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has proposed setting aside the 3.7 gigahertz (GHz) to 3.8GHz frequency band for the exclusive use of developers, instead of selling it to a telecom. While this is a good idea in theory, lawmakers on the Legislative Yuan’s Transportation Committee on Monday last week were right to question the idea.
Testing on the spectrum that an application is to be deployed on is only one element to successful implementation — cost-effective frequency availability and equipment needs must also be considered.
For applications that need a large network, it is far more cost effective to use a telecom’s existing equipment, while the vast majority of other applications would still be best implemented using cables or Wi-Fi.
Considering the insufficient six or 12-month time limit that the plan proposes for private developers, the ministry’s idea seems to mainly focus on providing more space for public use application development, which is an important facet to prioritize.
When determining how to structure the 5G regulatory environment, decisionmakers must keep in mind the question: Are people getting the right benefits out of the limited frequency spectrum?
A better way to approach this question than setting aside a testing ground might be to require telecoms to ensure sufficient bandwidth and latency guarantees for approved public-use applications, in addition to the NT$26.6 million (US$856,904) that the NCC has already allocated to facilitate partnerships between telecoms and developers.
Telecoms left to their own devices cannot be relied on to put their weight behind new and untested applications, although they remain the best option for building infrastructure.
The major telecoms have admitted that they are hesitant to move forward with 5G development. Each telecom spent NT$60 billion to implement 4G and they are expecting 5G to be two to three times more expensive. Also, considering the 4G WiMAX fiasco, in which service providers invested heavily early on to become industry leaders only to be pushed out by the Long-Term Evolution standard, they are right to be wary.
In this race, the countries with the strongest foundations will create the best services. As the government is looking to push ahead with 5G deployment, it must not let its impatience to be on the cutting edge harm the chance to build seamless smart cities and applications that will set Taiwan apart from its peers.
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