Sustainable Development Prepared for the ITU Focus Group on Technologies for Network 2030. Technology plans should be designed to advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Will the design produce robust infrastructure, everywhere?  Will the proposed networks be affordable for all? What will be the requirements for investment and are they realistic for developing nations? What is the impact on competition and the resulting effect on consumer costs?

People more qualified than I will be discussing possibilities like terahertz spectrum and microscopic antennae. What I want to do is put some questions on the table crucial to the cost of access and deploying everywhere. These are questions, not conclusive opinions. The groups making standards very rarely have considered the requirements of the developing world, which include low costs and simple deployment.

Some issues that might arise in coming wireless networks include:

  1. Possible obstacles to shared, multi-tenant systems. Consider a rural road system which requires many small cells. In many cases, it's unrealistic for three or four wireless networks to build separately. Sharing networks has become common from Canada to England to India. Fewer towers also means less pollution.
    One network is cheaper than two. Two is cheaper than the four to seven often required for strong competition.
  2. Requirements in the standard that drive up costs significantly without benefits for all. While some countries and carriers can afford networks with expensive features, others are held back by the expense. Simpler networks are cheaper to build and to operate. Costly advanced features could be made optional. Huawei has been working on inexpensive units easily deployable. Bringing down the costs is particularly important in less developed areas. In practice, nearly all standards have been controlled by developed countries and CJK. I believe the interests of other countries should come to the heart of the discussion, ideally by stronger participation from around the world.
  3. Coexistence and efficient coordination with other technologies that share the medium. In particular, Wi-Fi and 4G/5G may share spectrum. There are major efficiencies to use the cloud to reduce interference, often requiring information about the environment. A way for both to communicate would have substantial advantages. Currently, 3GPP and 802.11 have battled over how to keep out of each others' way in 4G & 5G. Both lose capacity. Twelve years should be enough to move from theoretical discussions to field deployments. 
  4. Low energy requirements. The majority of Africa is not covered by electric grids, nor are many sparsely populated rural areas in the developed world. Systems that can work with solar power are ideal. All energy reductions are important and reduce costs.
  5. Royalties should be reasonable. While there is no international standard, I believe ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré's suggestion of 5-10% for the total retail price is a good guideline. This is particularly relevant to high volume communication devices, such as cell phones. Three years ago, Carlos Slim told me US$50 smartphones would connect the next two billion people. The current royalties demanded would raise the retail cost by at least half. Korea and China have ruled that Qualcomm royalties disrupted crucial markets and Qualcomm has since paid US$1 billion in fines. Qualcomm has since raised the royalty rate from 3.3% to 5%. Clearly, the existing ITU/3GPP system to ensure reasonable royalties is insufficient. The IEEE system that bases royalties on the price of the relevant part (e.g. a 4G chip) rather than the the total price of the cellphone is an interesting approach, but far from sufficient. Standards already consider whether a proposal unreasonably raises costs. High royalties need to be part of that discussion. (They may require a new understanding of competition policy but that needs to be reconsidered.)
  6. SDN, NFV, and Open Source are proving to reduce network costs. Technology submissions should clearly be able to function in a vendor neutral network. Whether that should be implemented with YANG models, Open Daylight, CORD or whatever, the capability must be there.
  7. Standards-based networks must be deployable by more than a very few big companies. 3GPP, ATIS, and the companies involved probably breached competition law with 5G NSA. They wanted something giant telcos could deploy two years before the complete 5G standard would be ready. 3GPP hived off the air interface and some mmWave solutions into the 5G NSA release. For practical purposes, 5G NSA could not be deployed except by those with a 4G network in place. In many countries, that meant only 3 or 4 giants. New entrants were essentially impossible.

This is a first draft to get discussion started. I'm asking some of the most qualified people I know for more ideas. Improvements welcome.

 Some references.


Expand / Contract


dave ask


The 3.3-4.2 spectrum should be shared, not exclusively used by one company, concludes an important U.S. Defense Innovation Board report. If more wireless broadband is important, sharing is of course right because shared networks can yield far more

It does work! Verizon's mmWave tests over a gigabit in the real world. 
The $669 OnePlus 7 Pro outclasses the best Apples and probably the new Galaxy 10 or Huawei P30 Pro. Optical zoom, three cameras, liquid cooling, Qualcomm 855 and more.
Korea at 400,000 5G May 15. Chinese "pre-commercial" signing customers, 60,000-120,000 base stations in 2019, million+ remarkable soon. 
5G phones Huawei Mate 20, Samsung Galaxy 10, ZTE Nubia, LG V50, and OPPO are all on sale at China Unicom. All cost US$1,000 to 1,500 before subsidy. Xiaomi promises US$600.
Natural monopoly? Vodafone & Telecom Italia to share 5G, invite all other companies to join.
Huawei predicts 5G phones for US$200 in 2021, $300 even earlier
NY Times says "5G is dangerous" is a Russian plot. Really.
Althiostar raised US$114 million for a virtual RAN system in the cloud. Rakuten, Japan's new #4, is using it and invested.
Ireland is proposing a US$3 billion subsidy for rural fibre that will be much too expensive. Politics.
Telefonica Brazil has 9M FTTH homes passed and will add 6M more within two years. Adjusted for population, that's more than the U.S. The CEO publicly urged other carriers to raise prices together.
CableLabs and Cisco have developed Low Latency XHaul (LLX) with 5-15 ms latency for 5G backhaul,  U.S. cable is soon to come in very strong in wireless. Details 
Korea Telecom won 100,000 5G customers in the first month. SK & LG added 150,000 more. KT has 37,500 cells. planning 90% of the country by yearend. 
The Chinese giants expect 60,000 to 90,000 5G cells by the end of 2019.
China Telecom's Yang Xin warns, "Real large-scale deployment of operators' edge computing may be after 2021." Customers are hard to find.
Reliance Jio registered 97.5% 4G availability across India in Open Signal testing. Best in world.

More newsfeed


Welcome On Oct 1, 2019 Verizon turned on the first $20B 5G mmWave network with extraordinary hopes. The actual early results have been dismal. Good engineers tell me that will change. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while reducing capex. Deutsche Telekom and Orange/France Telecom also confirm they won't raise capex.

Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 3X to 7X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Carrier Aggregation, 256 QAM, and other tools double and triple that. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year.

Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less.  I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

Believe it or not, 80% of 5G (mid-band) for several years will be slower than good 4G, which is more developed.