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.


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dave ask

@analysisbranch for latest updates


Welcome  Asia is installing hundreds of thousands of 5G radios and adding 5G subs by the tens of millions. The west is far behind. 200,000,000 in 2020

The demand is there, and most of the technology works. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

I'm Dave Burstein, Editor. I've been reporting telecom since 1999. I love to hear from readers and say thank you when you find an error.

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