The difficulties of rolling out 5G in Spain

Marc Pidelaserra
The lack of infrastructure and commitment by the public authorities will slow down the transition process and reduce the impact of the benefits of this technology.

The latest edition of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was the setting for the launch of 5G technologies, the evolution of connectivity to wireless internet. Companies such as Seat and SK Telecom presented prototypes of driverless vehicles, while Huawei unveiled the first domestic router to operate at 5G speed. The time horizon for the start-up of this technology in Europe is 2020. However, the multitude of changes to the network, the legislation and the infrastructure in order for it to function will make the implantation of 5G in Spain a major challenge.

What is 5G?

This innovation will result in three major improvements:

  • Connection speed: it is estimated that 5G could offer connection speeds one hundred times faster than current ones, allowing the downloading of data (films, music, streaming and documents) at a much higher speed.
  • Reduced delays: the time it takes to send a packet of data over the internet and receive a reply will be reduced drastically, and take only one millisecond. This will make it possible to perform telematic operations almost in real time, something which could benefit vehicle driving or surgical operations carried out remotely.
  • More devices connected at the same time: 5G will also make it possible for an increasing number of users and objects to be connected to the network at the same time, without signal losses and at high speeds. Consequently, telephones, electrical appliances, vehicles, smart watches, traffic lights, etc could be connected and constantly transmitting data.

“The new scenario is the internet of things: all the devices connected to the network, both at home and in the street”, explains the director of the UOC Master's Degree in Mobile Application Development, Carles Garrigues. “To meet this demand, we need the evolution towards this fifth generation”, he adds. However, there are several steps pending in order for Spain to be able to benefit from this technology like other countries. Carles Garrigues explains them below.

Moving the DTT channels

2020 is the year forecast for the start-up of 5G, the moment at which the technology will start to provide a real service to users. This will also be the moment at which DTT will have to move outside 700 MHz in order to allow space for 5G, which requires a lot of bandwidth in order to function. Therefore, the Ministry will have to reform the network, and operators will have to invest in order to renew their channels.

“During the first half of 2018, we should see the tender of licences to use the network spectrum”, Garrigues explains, adding that the first licences may be issued for the 1.5 and 3.6 GHz bands, “and later it will be necessary to tender the 700 MHz band too”.

Defining the 5G standard

Until now, the companies that have developed this technology have done so adopting their own criteria and without an agreed standard. “The publication of the 5G Standalone standard, which will define the characteristics of a totally 5G network, is forecast for late 2018”, explains Garrigues, who believes that operators and regulatory bodies will have to reach agreement in the early part of this year in order to comply with the time frame.

Investing in infrastructure

The mass roll-out of 5G is forecast to take place during 2019. This means that the operators will have to make the major investment required in order to cover a large area of the country: renewal and installation of aerials, definition of services offered with 5G, commercial policies, etc. Once again, operators and public authorities will have to reach agreement on how to make this investment, the costs to be borne by each party and the deadlines for execution.

Consolidation of pilot tests

Finally, in order to get the most from this new network, public authorities “have to go one step further and consolidate the numerous pilot tests we have seen in our cities, in order to develop smarter cities”, Garrigues explains. The management of transport, public lighting, public safety and water resources are aspects which could be “developed on a mass-scale thanks to this 5G network, although city councils have so far not gone much beyond initial projects without much continuity”, the expert points out.



Photograph of Carles Garrigues Olivella

Carles Garrigues Olivella

Lecturer in the IT, Multimedia and Telecommunications Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Mobile Application Development

Expert in: Expert in mobile technology, mobile development and computer network security.

Knowledge area: IT security and development for mobile devices.

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