Despite the rapid development of 5G networks worldwide, there are still many technological challenges to be met before reaching a mature phase of 5G deployment and for the industry to support the full range of various demanding 5G services. These challenges include the fast supply of network equipment supporting NSA and SA 5G NR and the corresponding user-equipment device availability. In addition, integrating Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology, in various tablets and smartphones using NR NSA and NR SA devices is also of high importance. 5G IoT devices are also expected to be developed from 2020 onwards, initially for industrial applications and later on for mass usage. In terms of frequencies, timely release of the 3.x GHz band is crucial. These parts of the spectrum have been mainly auctioned and licensed within 2020.
As mentioned above, in most cases, the announcement of the tender for the acquisition of spectrum for 5G took place in 2020 and was either completed within the year or is intended to be completed by the beginning of 2021. Furthermore, flexibility in licensing is required. For example, acquiring frequency licenses at a national level or in smaller geographical areas. Moreover, various obligations to cover 5G network needs and to develop the new 5G networks must be met. Regulatory authorities should establish the criteria for meeting these obligations. For example, regarding the 26 GHz millimeter-wave band, the effective continuation of the existing services should be investigated. Many Operators use this band for backhauling services, so a smooth migration or re-farming should take place. At the same time, a rather large part of this spectrum, in the range of 1 GHz bandwidth, has already been assigned on 5G RAN, especially taking into account using these block frequencies in specific small areas.
5G Connectivity & infrastructure
As far as the licensing and installation of antenna systems is concerned, flexibility, facilitation, and acceleration of the whole process are crucial factors for effective 5G development. The same applies to the accessibility and connectivity of the fiber optic infrastructure, especially in the light of the need for a denser network development by the use of small cells. All these new 5G gNBs should somehow be connected to the fiber-optic backbone network.
When fiber connectivity is difficult or not cost-effective, there is an immediate need to extend the interconnection of the various network nodes regarding backhaul & fronthaul via ultra-high-speed wireless links. These wireless links may use large spectrum blocks in the millimeter-wave frequency band at 70/80 GHz (E -band), but also higher at 90 GHz (W-Band) and even in the upcoming Terahertz frequencies at 140-175 GHz (D-Band). This will extend the range and variety of wireless connectivity and will provide a cost-effective solution for rapid 5G deployment.
5G Industry Cooperation
At this point, the need for seamless cooperation of providers and local agencies, municipalities, local communities, and private owners should be particularly emphasized. This cooperation becomes vital to enable the efficient development of a super-dense network, including installing small/micro base stations on street furniture like lamp posts, traffic lights, apartment building walls, bus stops, and other public areas. In this regard, there is a significant risk of increased complexity in the infrastructure licensing, by requiring adequate preparation, codification, and simplification of legislation. Regulatory flexibility and proper licensing laws, will enable the effective development of the needed instructions and procedures for the densification of mobile base stations.
Among other things, the expected development of 5G leads also to the emergence of issues and challenges related to broader thematic areas of security of critical network infrastructure and services offered both in the physical environment and in cyberspace. Other issues include the privacy and protection of user data on the Internet, the development of connectivity and interoperability supported by different heterogeneous infrastructures, and the integration of satellite communications. All the above components have a significant impact on the 5G business operations in the market as they form the framework that is capable of influencing the ecosystem of all the involved “players”.
5G Network Security
Another major challenge of the development of 5G networks is addressing the associated security risks. Several regulatory authorities have issued recommendations on a set of operational steps to help ensure a higher level of cybersecurity for 5G networks across the globe.
Since the fifth generation of networks will be the future backbone of our society and economy, special attention must be paid to these security issues. 5G networks are expected to connect billions of devices and systems in critical areas, including energy, transportation, banking, the health sector, and industrial control systems. All these areas carry sensitive information and must be able to support advanced security systems and protocols. In the last years, democratic processes, such as elections, are increasingly based on digital infrastructure and the upcoming 5G networks, making it imperative to address any possible vulnerabilities. There is now the need to create a common framework to address the security risk factors associated with the development of the corresponding 5G applications.
The security of infrastructure and the 5G supply chain must be ensured by a series of measures. These measures should include setting the rules on telecommunications and cybersecurity with the appropriate coordination, standardization, and certification of foreign direct investments to protect the 5G supply chain. The legislature should ensure that security aspects are also considered in areas such as trade defense instruments, competition rules, and public procurement. Various funding programs should make certain that beneficiaries comply with relevant security requirements.
Moreover, the new generation of 5G network technologies creates prospects for more flexible and efficient digital economic and business models. Although some of the 5G standards are still under development, the key specifications for initial 5G deployment have already been developed and validated. From emerging global trends, it is estimated that 5G will lead to catalytic changes, offering the opportunity for a broader transformation of the telecommunications industry. This transformation will take place through the wireless broadband services offering gigabit speeds and the support of new types of applications that will connect terminals with myriads of digital objects. For this purpose, 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will introduce a fully interoperable environment and an advanced ecosystem. Network adaptability is also crucial. Virtual representation with appropriate software will allow the rise of innovative business models in various vertical areas such as transport, health, industrial production, supply chain, energy, media, and entertainment.
In conclusion, the path to 5G and its connectivity targets for 2025 are essential for achieving a competitive digital single market with a drive towards an innovative gigabit society based on the overall worldwide development of high-capacity networks. At the same time, this digitization process acceleration in several key industries is based on the 5G network rapid deployment. It is further based on the emergence of innovative business models expected to strengthen synergies between the relevant sectors and the telecommunications sector. This cooperation aims to increase predictability, reduce investment risks, and validate both technologies and business models, leading to a clear and steady growth path.