The first Mobile Talks session of 2019 was held in Madrid and covered one of the main trends that will mark MWC19 Barcelona and the ecosystem this year. In a panel discussion entitled 5G and the connected society: the revolution that awaits us, Mobile World Capital (MWCapital) brought together international experts in this standard. The goal: to look at the current state of 5G in Spain and Europe, debate the challenges and opportunities of this technology that promises to revolutionise our lives, and build a clear vision of the future that awaits our cities, production sector and society.

These were the topics covered by the speakers: Federico Ruiz, director of the 5G National Observatory; Somaya El Marrakchi, head of Networks for Ericsson in Iberia and Morocco; Gerard Vidal, CSO of Enigmedia and member of the European Cybersecurity Organisation; and Michele Zarri, technical director of GSMA, moderated by Thandi Demanet, business analyst for TM Forum’s IoE and Digital Ecosystem programme.

The session began with a welcome from Joan Baselga, director of Communication and Marketing for MWCapital. Baselga highlighted the organisation’s work “connecting a very powerful ecosystem in several Spanish cities, with two digital hubs, through ground-breaking technology transfer programmes, initiatives to inspire scientific and technological vocation, and analyses of the impact mobile technology and technology in general is having on society.” Regarding 5G, which in Spain is being promoted by the Secretariat of State for Digital Advancement, Red.es and the Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation, he assured: “This technology is a game-changer.”

Thandi Demanet then took the floor to go into more detail on the topic of this first Mobile Talk of the year. The moderator highlighted the main attributes of 5G that will allow for ultra-stable communications and low latency. “It will not only allow you to download films in seconds, but also create new services for media and entertainment, augmented and virtual reality, mobility, etc.,” she noted. She also highlighted its “huge industrial possibilities in the field of the Internet of Things (IoT) and mass consumption, among others.”

The analyst also highlighted that Spain is ahead of the game in rolling out this technology, as the leader in Europe (followed very closely by Italy and Switzerland). She then gave the floor to the next speaker, Federico Ruiz. The Director of the 5G National Observatory highlighted three reasons why Spain is out ahead of the pack. Firstly, it has a “very powerful” ecosystem that brings together academia, start-ups and industry and seeks to align research goals with the needs of the industrial sector. Secondly, “very good broadband coverage”. And thirdly, “key players in terms of operators and manufacturers.”

Ruiz pointed out that, despite all that, it still needs government support: “MWC is an incredible opportunity to see what is coming, to predict the future. We have many opportunities to develop services and transfer technology based on 5G, and we have to take advantage of them. To do so, however, we need help from the government and regulatory agencies,” he noted.

Then, Somaya El Marrakchi began her turn by pointing out Ericsson’s privileged position “as one of two global leaders in 5G.” The executive highlighted the technical advantages 5G has to offer. First of all, in handling the massive growth in data transferred. Secondly, in terms of cost: “The price per GB is 10 times cheaper than with 4G,” she assured. And, finally, in increased growth opportunities for mobile operators. “The mobile infrastructure must be seen as a critical element on a national level because it is essential to digitalisation,” she added. Like Ruiz, she noted the government’s responsibility in facilitating this and getting rid of any hurdles to rolling out this technology.

El Marrakchi also highlighted other challenges: the need for use cases, to find ways to monetise the new 5G-based services and to overcome privacy and security obstacles.

This is the field Gerard Vidal works in, specifically cybersecurity for the industrial sector. Following on in the same line as El Marrakchi’s comments, Vidal gave us some of the main reasons why cybersecurity is a hurdle for 5G. The first challenge is human: it is hard to convince people in factories to change how they work, which is a huge security issue. “We have to raise awareness of the fact that the new systems we are promoting are good,” he explained. The second threat, according to Vidal, is the presence of inherited, heterogeneous networks using 5G, 4G and other devices. The third threat, according to this expert, is regulations, and he highlighted the need for standards.

Michele Zarri brought the first round of speeches to a close. Zarri explained that GSMA is working on a list of the countries most prepared to roll out 5G. “Spain will be one of the first,” he affirmed. He also pointed out that, in addition to the benefits of 5G in boosting connectivity, improving business processes and connection quality for users, this technology “will play a key role in facilitating artificial intelligence, which in turn will boost development of smarter cities.” He also highlighted the role this standard plays in virtual and augmented reality services, and in absorbing the number of new users not yet connected to the network that will soon join. Zarri remarked that 5G will also be key in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2033.

The expert summed up what MWC will bring in 5G this year, in addition to the list above. “There will be devices and use cases. We’ll see what 5G can do and how it can foster growth in the industry and the market.” Baselga went into more detail: “We’ll see pilot programmes in healthcare, even remote surgery. There will also be some cases of connected vehicles, fire-control drones and other examples coming from Spain thanks to the role of organisations like ours.”

In the question and answer session, Federico Ruiz predicted that 5G will be broadly rolled out in Spain by 2021, and will be part of our daily lives. Both he and the rest of the speakers highlighted that all the stakeholders involved must work together to make this happen: academia, industry, telecommunications companies, entrepreneurs and the government. 5G reaching its expectations depends on all of us.

Here is a video summary of the highlights of the session: