5G: Why we need a Shared Infrastructure Model

March 4, 2019

Kate McKenzie, CEO Chorus, New Zealand

The key to driving investment in 5G mobile networks is a shared infrastructure approach, enabling operators to spread the considerable cost of these networks amongst the industry as a whole. This is all the more necessary in smaller economies such as new Zealand, which simply doesn’t have the population or the geography of larger countries, which would sustain a market-driven infrastructure approach to 5G.

A shared and regulated infrastructure model is what the New Zealand Government (and others around the world, including Australia) have used to promote the rollout of Ultra-Fast Broadband. In a 5G world, the amount of capital that will need to be spent – with small cells every couple of hundred metres – means that it would be both uneconomic and unsustainable for each of the three mobile operators (Spark, Vodafone and Two Degrees) to do this separately.

Mobile 5G technology will involve placing thousands of new, closely spaced cell sites around the country to help transmit data from the millions of internet-connected sensors that are already starting to control machines, automated systems and gather data as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) revolutionises efficiency and knowledge-gathering in a host of areas from urban planning to agriculture.

Leaving 5G infrastructure to the market would risk smaller countries like new Zealand being left behind because no one mobile network operators would be able to make the investment needed.

I am certain where we could end up if a shared approach to 5G infrastructure is not taken. While there is no immediate urgency for policy on this issue, we believe it is more likely to become pressing in the early part of the 2020s. However, in preparation for this, there needs to be a public policy debate and a readiness before you would do anything in that direction and you could get agreement between the mobile operators. It is not the case, as some have suggested, that a shared infrastructure model would slow down the rollout of 5G. on the contrary, such an approach will both lower the cost of the new technology, while also speeding up the build out of the new infrastructure, with resultant savings both to the economy as well as to mobile customers.

There is a growing level of understanding for the need for a shared approach to 5G infrastructure. Wireless and networking executives gathered at the 2017 Wireless Infrastructure Show in Orlando, Florida, for example, debated this issue and agreed that the spectrum needs of 5G, will require innovative approaches to both techology and policy. The Federal Communications Commission in the US has been working for several years on freeing up access to spectrum to enable 5G rollout, and has been examining the bene ts of a spectrum sharing approach.

New techniques such as ‘network slicing’, which is the ability to deliver multiple network occurrences over one shared infrastructure, will enable network operators to orchestrate speci c capabilities across their networks for the varying use cases 5G will bring. This means that network operators will be able to deploy different network slices: quickly and customize them depending on a system’s needs, providing much greater flexibility and elasticity to their operational response. So within a shared network infrastructure, a slice can be used for one industry, for a specific need, or even at a specific time. The best analogy is in computer networking, where we no longer have dedicated file servers, because servers are now virtualised. 5G network slicing will take this idea and extend it throughout the network architecture all the way to the radios in the cell sites.

There is no doubt that there will nonetheless be some challenges in getting agreement on the principles of infrastructure sharing for 5G. It will be a challenge that will test industry cooperation. However, I rmly believe this is a wonderful opportunity to show that as an industry we can actually come together and make this happen, and demonstrate that sharing is a really valuable technique to technology challenges going forward.

Kate was appointed in February 2017 as CEO of New Zealand infrastructure provider Chorus.

Before joining Chorus, Kate was most recently Chief Operating Officer of Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company. She joined Telstra in 2004 holding a range of senior executive roles in strategy, marketing, products, regulatory and wholesale. Prior to joining Telstra, Kate was a CEO in the NSW Government of the Departments of Commerce, Industrial Relations and the Workcover Authority. Kate also has significant corporate governance experience and is currently on the board of Allianz, having previously been on the boards of Foxtel, Sydney Water, Reach, CSL and Workcover. Kate is a qualified lawyer with a strong track record in understanding government and regulatory environments. Kate also has a passion for innovation and technology and for customer centricity. She is also is a member of Chief Executive Women, a member of the Board of the GTWN, and has served on the Telstra Foundation, Telstra’s philanthropic arm and has had a long history of involvement in promoting the interests of indigenous communities.