Pushing boundaries: Thoughts on the tech milestone we’re about to reach

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Huawei's stand at Mobile World Congress 2018. [Huawei]

This article is part of our special report Mobile World Congress: Europe rushes to keep pace on connectivity.

It’s been almost ten years since the commercial rollout of 4G created the connected world we live in today. And the new buzzword now is 5G, writes Tony Graziano.

Tony Graziano is the vice-president of Huawei’s European Public Affairs and Communication Office in Brussels.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) extravaganza, I felt acutely aware of the imminent next frontier in connected living: with the buzzword 5G on everyone’s lips, there could be little doubt that a decade of efforts and breakthroughs is about to pay off. This major new technology looks all set to unleash its transformative power.

5G has moved out of the panels and into the exhibition hall. Yes, of course, it’s still very much on the agenda of tech talks and wider policy debate too, but the first 5G-enabled devices are here, and live trials are giving a sneak preview of tomorrow’s lifestyles.

The future 5G networks will not only channel a massive data flood but also sweep other new technologies into our daily lives, enabled by the unprecedented connectivity of next-gen networks. The MWC 2018 provided some concrete answers to the question of what our AI-, cloud- and IoT-enabled future will look like. The short answer is: pretty exciting.

What I found most thrilling about this ‘time capsule’ I entered in Barcelona was not so much this or that particular network test showcase or handset launch (and not just because Huawei’s next flagship is still under wraps!) – but the new possibilities that emerge when these technologies come together.

A ‘habitat’ for innovation

Let me mention one of our MWC stunts which generated a few quirky headlines to illustrate what I mean. A live demo featured a Huawei phone smart enough to drive a Porsche: the phone’s chip, which features an artificial intelligence engine, can process thousands of images, recognise various obstacles (such as a dog or a ball) and instruct the car to adapt its course.

The interesting thing here is that enabling a phone to drive a car involves so many different actors that we can hardly take the credit for making it happen – not in a real-life context anyway. It involves a host of technologies ranging from the device, (5G) network and AI expertise through to the car itself and the roadside infrastructure the system is using.

This means that getting this type of driving experience on the road involves the global ICT supply chain, the ICT industry and various vertical industries, researchers, policymakers – and solid bi- and multilateral partnerships between all these parties to deliver innovation, ensure safety and deploy the new system.

So collaboration is an essential prerequisite to driving innovation across new ecosystems; but we also need efforts at the right level to federate initiatives, gather the right partners and unleash the potential of different organisations whose reach is limited when working in isolation.

The abundance of collaborative projects showcased at MWC indicates that this process is well underway. A key initiative in this context is the 5GAA, which hosted its own 5G mobility event in Barcelona – with the roadmap to connected vehicles, and C-V2X technology (the standard for vehicle communication) high on the agenda.

The 5GAA is the perfect illustration of the type of cooperation we need right now. It’s a global association with a growing list of partners engaged in the automotive industry, the ICT industry and the broader ecosystem and value chain for vehicle and road transportation systems. As such, it can effectively foster cross-sector collaboration for joint innovation, and for aligning timelines, priorities, and solutions, thereby facilitating global regulation, certification and standardisation efforts.

At the European level, EU policymakers are in a key position to play a federating role. The 5G-PPP and the European Automotive Telecom Alliance are flagship examples of how this is being put into practice.

Anybody who attended the mobile industry’s key event in Barcelona will agree that we are about to take a big technological leap forward. We have come a long way, and the industry is buzzing with the collaborative effort and the creative energy it will take to accomplish the last steps towards that next milestone.

What we need to ensure now is that this transition happens in the most sustainable and inclusive way. We will need the EU more than ever to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction, and also that everyone is reaping the benefits of this collective effort.

A few years from now, we will be looking beyond 5G. There’s a fair chance that we may also be looking back on its inception as a unifying force – bringing together technologies, ideas, organisations and, of course, people.

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