07.11.2023 - ICT, Innovation, Technology

“Latvia is a real leader in 5G” - Will Townsend

On October 18-19, 2023, Riga hosted the 6th annual 5G Techritory conference, gathering the 5G ecosystem’s key players – policymakers, vendors, integrators, and other stakeholders – for panel discussions and co-creation events that would shape the future of 5G. 
During the conference, Labs of Latvia caught up with Will Townsend, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy and both advisor and speaker at this year’s 5G Techritory, to learn about the latest telecom trends, how Latvia’s 5G efforts stack up against other global players, and what’s next for the industry. 
What are the hottest topics in the telecom industry right now? 

Will: Obviously, 5G continues to be central and one of the challenges with 5G has been this notion of Standalone versus Non-standalone deployment. 

5G is the first time that the Standards Committee, 3GPP, allowed operators to have sort of an in-between rollout stage, namely Non-standalone, where 5G is deployed partially using existing infrastructure. But without 5G core infrastructure, you don’t get the same throughput, you don’t get the same low latency and device support. One of the challenges with Non-standalone is that it doesn’t deliver the true promise of 5G, which really comes down to the latency and the throughput. 

These are the factors that are going to drive next-generation use cases like manufacturing automation and autonomy, and more. Accordingly, there’s a lot of focus now on mobile network operators and them moving their networks to Standalone. 

Another topic, obviously, is AI.

There are a lot of very disruptive applications for AI and telecommunications when you look at the ability for networks to become more self-healing, providing more predictability with connectivity. That’s less important for consumers and more important for enterprises. Bringing 5G and AI together is going to create some very interesting use cases, especially in the enterprise.

The third trend is edge computing – the idea of putting computational power close to where data is actually created to reduce latency and speed up analytics. And so you can start doing some very interesting things with contextual awareness, make applications smarter. And in my mind, when you combine edge computing and AI and 5G, it’s really going to unlock a lot of innovation in the future. 

You have been keeping an eye on what is happening in Latvia and our 5G ecosystem. What’s the impression from an outsider’s perspective? 

Will: Latvia, in my mind, has been a real leader in 5G. That credit is based on the country realizing very early that 5G was going to be disruptive and something that was going to facilitate digital transformation. I’ve been coming to 5G Techritory for the last five years, and every time I come back, I just see maturity in what the country is doing. 

For example, I was very impressed with the memorandum of cooperation that was signed between Latvia and Ukraine. Latvia is going to provide Ukraine with all the lessons learned – that I think 5G Techritory has helped facilitate – to help Ukraine rebuild its critical infrastructure. I heard that over 5,000 base stations have been destroyed during the Russian invasion and one in eight families does not have broadband connectivity in the home. 

Ukraine is a huge country. Ukraine is also responsible for a lot of the agricultural industry in this part of the world, and to bring Latvia’s experience with 5G to help them rebuild that infrastructure, but more importantly, to focus on use cases like agriculture and technology – I think it’s very compelling.

For me, that really cemented that Latvians have truly become leaders, not just within the Baltics, but within Europe and the world in general.

Where is Latvia lagging, compared to, let’s say, the US?

Will: In the United States, we’ve been very focused on providing access to unlimited data plans for customers. And, honestly, at the end of the day, 4G provides adequate bandwidth and latency. 

Where 5G really shines, at least for consumers, will be low latency for things like cloud gaming. But really, the most disruptive use cases are going to be within the enterprise. And I would say that Latvia is much further ahead when it comes to the enterprise use cases, which I believe are where 90% or higher of the real innovation is going to come from. In Latvia, I see some lag within the consumer segment, but I think the country is purposely focused on providing 5G to industry to drive the digital transformation. 

One of the most compelling consumer use cases that have emerged within the United States has been around 5G Fixed wireless access, which is the notion of using 5G as your home broadband. 

But Latvia has one of the most densely installed fiber networks in the world. Because of that fiber density, there isn’t the same need to have fixed wireless access, like we’ve seen in the United States.

So what Latvia needs to work on is the same exact thing everybody else needs to work on – finding those consumer applications for 5G, which may come from and disrupt the most unexpected of places.

What was one of the most impressive things that came out of 4G? Well, it was ride-sharing, because we finally had consistent connectivity. And then we had a GPS signal that was no longer degraded. And so that made ride-sharing a possibility, and it disrupted an industry that needed to be disrupted.

Getting back to 5G and AI and edge computing, what’s going to be exciting are what developers come up with when they start playing with these technologies and integrate these technologies, because no one saw ride-sharing coming. So I think we’re gonna be in for what I call an “aha” moment when the next killer consumer use case is birthed with 5G.

Sounds like you’re coming back next year. What do you think will be the new topics and new trends for next year’s conference?

Will: Of course. I’m expecting to see more maturity in getting back to AI because we’re in the very early stages of generative AI and what AI can do to improve telecommunications. A lot of the investigations around artificial intelligence are very new. 

We’re seeing some initial use cases in the United States around AT&T partnering with Nvidia to develop platforms that can facilitate smarter truck rolls for field service repair and installations. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I hope to see some startups that have been able to use AI and 5G to develop the next killer telecommunications app. 

Another really important trend that’s going to be popping up is cybersecurity. 

Even though 5G has encryption improvements over 4G, as we deploy these 5G networks within enterprises and hospitals, what happens is as you start connecting more devices and the threat surface grows. That was a topic at this year’s 5G Techritory – more devices mean more attack vectors for bad actors who will always try to find ways to infiltrate networks to do denial of service attacks and extortion through ransomware.

So, I think that’s where the next frontier is – now that we’ve got ubiquity, as all these mobile network operators roll out 5G, figuring out how do we secure these next-generation networks? They’re highly complex, they’re highly disaggregated, and it’s going to be a challenge. 

Authors: Julia Gifford, Viesturs Ābelis (www.labsoflatvia.com)
Photo: 5G Techritory publicity image

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