Our world may be fragmented, but we can still act together through standards
We have now enjoyed decades of a truly global mobile broadband communication ecosystem.
It’s already hard to remember the world of our initial digital cellular telephony with its plethora of incompatible standards. Europe played a pivotal role in this process by uniting behind one communication system (GSM) in 1987 that developed this vibrant ecosystem and which drew interest globally. 3G connectivity in 2000 was the steppingstone with 4G/LTE in 2010 and 5G in 2020 completing the journey to achieve global mobile broadband.
The European Telecommunication Standardization Institute (ETSI) was the rock of that development, allowing non-European players to take part in the process and later creating the successful model to further globalization - the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
At Nokia, we consider ETSI as a critical asset for its global influence in standardization with a clear rule-based open process and an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy that secured the development of this successful ecosystem.
A changing world
The world is changing, and geopolitical challenges create a stronger need for countries and regions to rethink their security and dependency, especially as communication networks become an ever-more critical infrastructure in the modern digital world. Actions relating to trustworthiness in the supply chain and requirements to harden and secure communication infrastructure are being taken by many countries and significant resources are being invested to try and gain technology leadership in future communications networks. This is true for the US, China, India or Europe. It is no surprise then that global cooperation in standardization is also coming under scrutiny, especially as governments have identified the strategic importance of standardization.
Standards organizations are therefore asked to review their governance to ensure that their standards are not against these local interests. The key point to make, however, is that in this review process we need to keep the democratic, inclusive nature of the standards organization and the benefits of global standards.
Take Europe, for example. The European Commission (EC) has identified Standardization as a strategic asset, and therefore initiated strategy and regulation initiatives. The 2022 EU Standardisation Strategy asked ETSI to review its governance and to ensure that decisions on standards in support of European regulation are under European control. Supported actively by Nokia, ETSI has approved several changes, including a re-balancing of the voting rights scheme and a stop to multiple voting memberships of corporate groups. It is now working on a more inclusive Board composition.
Nokia understands the geo-political realities and therefore the need for the top leadership positions of ETSI to be explicitly supported by European administrations. It is equally important that technical work is governed by the decisions of the whole membership.
Looking toward 6G
Will 6G be a global standard and provide the clear benefits we have seen with 4G and 5G? We say yes. At Nokia, we see no logic for anyone to block this. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is well advanced in its global definition of the 6G framework and while 3GPP has yet to formally embrace 6G to be the next step of its work program, we expect concrete announcements of such planning to happen after this year’s World Radio Conference in November 2023. Moreover, the experts in 3GPP working on Release 18 and soon Release 19 have already addressed technical aspects that bridge toward 6G, a prominent example being the use of Artificial Intelligence in the radio interface.
Besides outright incompatible standards like we had in the past, one could imagine attempted standardization of regional variants. India attempted that with 5Gi in the 5G era. However, forces should think twice before attempting the same in the future, as it typically results in limited availability of devices and network equipment. In 2023, India 5G is booming because it is back to using global 5G.
Even with a global pandemic and US administration export control, organizations like 3GPP, ITU or IETF have already demonstrated their resilience in recent years thanks to strong governance and in accordance with World Trade Organization Principles. Organizations with a less robust set up such as the O-RAN ALLIANCE were more susceptible to be impacted by geo-politics. This resilience will also prove important for technical work in the 6G era.
At Nokia, our purpose is to “create technology that helps the world act together”. We see global organizations and global standards as critical components to realizing this aspiration. As a trustworthy global partner, we are actively trying to facilitate the evolution of standardization to meet the needs of local geopolitical realities, while at the same time retaining the global standards and fair and globally compatible IPR policies that have been central to creating the modern digital society in which we live.
We want to enjoy the same seamless global mobile broadband experience with our smartphones (or other applications we have yet to imagine) in a future 6G enabled world as well, instead of going back to the fragmented landscape of the past.