Emerging Technologies

5G and the growing need for national CTOs

A visitors walks past a 5G sign during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017

For the implementation of 5G to go smoothly, policymakers will need to prepare the way Image: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RC1FED28BDE0

Erik Ekudden
Chief Technology Officer, Ericsson
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The Digital Economy

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

The profound impact that 5G will have on the world is hard to overestimate. It is a platform for innovation that will bring about a wave of new opportunities and economic growth to nations in every corner of the globe.

New jobs will be created — and old ones reskilled — as new services and applications enabled by 5G are realized.

5G will also help us establish, and foster, a cleaner, safer and more sustainable society for current and future generations to enjoy.

It’s clear from the many engaging discussions here at the World Economic Forum that we simply can’t afford to exclude any country or citizen from the benefits of digital connectivity. With that in mind, I firmly believe that 5G is an investment in a future that we all can benefit from and enjoy. We just need to ensure that this happens.

Next steps

So, what is stopping us? The short answer is nothing! However, in order for this change to happen efficiently and effectively, governments and public sector policymakers will need to create policies that will enable innovation in a way that is both ubiquitous and affordable.

Thankfully, 5G is the first generation of technology developed specifically to scale for both consumers and enterprises in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, address global societal challenges, and transform how industries work.

But back to my original point: what would it take to make the above dream scenario a reality? In other words, could a national chief technology officer (CTO) help governments and public sector decision-makers?

As CTO of Ericsson, I have worked with customers and industry leaders to define this new platform – 5G - for new business needs. With 5G we have the opportunity to provide a leading platform for digitalization that can drastically increase efficiency and enable enterprises to reshape their business processes as data-driven and fully connected with the latest mobile technology.

And with the dawn of 5G just around the corner, I believe these choices - embraced by a nation’s CTO - would have a positive influence on a nation’s competitiveness, boost its society and public sector, and support digital inclusion.

Creating a blueprint for digital inclusion

In my opinion, a national CTO is much more likely to be effective if they truly understand how the communications and Internet industry works as well as the underlying technology trends.

Initially, I imagine a national CTO would be tasked with creating a blueprint for digital inclusion. In so doing, they would have to ensure that the government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, strategies and services to keep the country and its people competitive now and in the future. Of course, these tasks are as ambitious as they are complex. It’s likely a national CTO would have to convene advisory groups to support this work by meeting with leaders in various governmental areas, industries, NGOs and community groups, too.

This is just a general summary of what such a role might entail. What might a nation’s CTO offer their government? Let’s explore that topic through the lens of two key characteristics:

1: Global scale and cost efficiency

Governments could stimulate the efficient rollout of 5G by providing service-level obligations combined with long-term licensing conditions. While earlier generations of wireless were primarily associated with consumers, almost every sector, from manufacturing to energy and transport, stands to benefit from 5G. Therefore we must welcome and facilitate investment in 5G.

Governments and policymakers should be thinking about 5G with its long-term economic and social benefits in mind, rather than any immediate financial gains - for example through spectrum fees and auction designs. Governments need to collaborate with 5G network providers to encourage infrastructure investment, working together to achieve objectives without damaging market incentives. If governments refrained from extracting the maximum monetary fees when awarding licenses, this would limit the funds set aside for 5G infrastructure by operators. A nation’s CTO would be able to see these benefits, and could mediate and set the priorities needed to stimulate an open and competitive market that would drive innovation for all.

2: Enable enterprises to leverage advanced infrastructure

Without access to adequate infrastructure, the digitalization of society and industries will lag behind. Fewer industries will be able to operate and innovate at the leading edge of technology. In the long-term, this not only creates opportunity costs for enterprises - it also impacts their overall competitiveness against peers from other regions. It is critical to put policies in place that enable enterprises to leverage the power of the new network platform with virtual networks - so-called network slicing - and the high performance and security of the 5G platform.

The future is bright

Technology is now intertwined in every modern process: from education, transportation, health and energy to homeland security. Digital transformation is occurring at an unprecedented rate, and there is a risk that if we are not leveraging 5G effectively, the whole economy will suffer.

It is up to the information and communications technology (ICT) industry and governments to work together to improve the deployment of this new technology and increase productivity, to create new jobs and reskill old ones, to future-proof business and safeguard future societies. It is only by working together that we can create strategies that will address the current needs of society and create a lasting impact for future generations. Regardless of who tackles these challenges, governments and ICT players share a responsibility to make tomorrow better than today. At Ericsson we’re up for that challenge. Are you?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
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