Governments rely heavily on communications systems to serve their citizens. And so, from the earliest days of the telegraph and telephone to an era of the internet and smartphones, major shifts in communications technology have changed the ways in which governments operate, interact and deliver citizen services.
Without a doubt, 5G is poised to be one of those step changes. For government at all levels, 5G will play a critical role in the development of smart systems and smart infrastructure across the nation. The use cases for governments are nearly endless.
For example, in the realm of smarter cities, pervasive IoT sensors have the potential to create intelligent urban infrastructures that enable city authorities to trial new services that improve citizens’ quality of life and safety as well as stimulate local business growth.
This transformation is all part of a new, integrated approach to smarter cities – where 5G-enabled networks and analytics can be applied to information about transport and public services in a dynamic way. This development enables city leaders to take a more holistic view of situations and marshal services in real-time.
And this is thanks to a range of important new technologies that 5G will introduce. Beamforming and MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output), for example, will allow for higher bandwidths. Support for very high frequency spectrum will enable massive data transfers over short distances. Network slicing will enable virtual network resources to be specifically assigned — ensuring that performance characteristics are precisely determined per application, with complete security and isolation from other network users.
Also, 5G is the first wireless technology that is able to replace wired systems in terms of capacity, reliability, control and security. It has been designed to meet the need for time-sensitive, automated processes and massive numbers of low-powered industrial IoT sensors and devices in industries.
So, while consumers are excited about 5G for video and virtual reality gaming, the real 5G game changer is the range of use cases it supports that were not possible on previous networks.
Universal networking technology
Historically, networks tended to be purpose-built. The landline telephone network was for making calls from your home or office phone. Cable networks were for watching TV. Electrical utilities built specialized networks to control the grid. The internet was for email and web browsing. Defense systems had their own radio networks.
With the arrival of 5G, specialized hardware systems become obsolete. Designed as a universal networking technology, 5G can be integrated with mobile or wired systems. Depending on software configuration, it can fulfill virtually any communications task imaginable — from talking to a family member across the country to connecting IoT sensors and controlling the smart grid to providing extremely precise, low latency controls for a piece of sophisticated manufacturing machinery — all at the same time, on the same network and with complete security.
Along with all of these performance enhancements, 5G is also a fundamental change in the way that networks work. Because 5G networks are the first end-to-end implementation of software-defined networking, and they employ cloud and virtualization techniques, they enable entirely different capabilities than previous networks.
Adaptable and universal
The adaptability and universality of 5G is an important shift for governments as well as industries because it means that, for the first time, governments can fully leverage advances in an open, publicly shared communications platform.
Previously, the logical focus on security meant that government agencies tended to run purpose-built, specialized communications systems that were hardened to protect national interests. But with 5G, specialized hardware is no longer a necessity — cloud technologies are universal. Governments may still run private 5G networks, but the mission-critical requirements will all be embedded in software — meaning they can be updated, changed and radically overhauled very quickly, without having to re-invest in the network hardware.
This is exemplified by the CIPAC Cross-Sector Enduring Security Framework, which looks at threats, vulnerabilities and mitigations across all domains of communications infrastructure. The application orchestration of 5G across the entire end-to-end service, through open commercial communications platforms, introduces new adaptable and scalable security opportunities.
This is especially important because the already fast pace of innovation in the network communications arena is accelerating. Governments cannot afford to have stranded communications assets based on yesterday’s technologies; too expensive to abandon, but not keeping pace with the latest use cases.
Single communications system
Data now plays a critical role in many government operations, from administration and public safety to law enforcement and defense. For example, command and control decisions are based on layers of information streaming in from environmental sensors, field reports, body cams, mission-critical voice communications and drone and satellite feeds.
The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, clearly recognizes information as a separate warfighting domain, along with land, sea, air and space. Information, and the ability to process and make decisions, is king. Not only do 5G networks enable an advantage in the velocity of command and control, but they also enable decision making.
With 5G, all of these layers of information can now be supported by a single communications system that is capable of determining performance requirements, end-to-end, for each stream of information and then ensuring complete security for each data channel.
But the real revolution that 5G represents is the shift to a dynamic, software-based network that employs virtualization, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Because 5G provides a platform for innovation based in software, not hardware, it represents an opportunity for governments to become more agile, responsive and resilient in the face of rapid change, environmental challenges or security threats.
The implementation of 5G will revolutionize the collection, modeling, analyzing and learning from data of every description, thus radically changing the way all services will be delivered. If government is to keep pace and respond appropriately to the needs of businesses and interest groups, then it will have to be prepared to adapt to, and help lead, the development of 5G and related technologies to ensure the interests of the people that it serves.
Mike Calabrese is Senior Vice President of the Americas at Nokia Enterprise.