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Mobile networks are rapidly becoming the backbone of today’s connected society. 4G mobile networks are bringing mobile broadband to millions of new users and devices. Watches, cars, tablets, and even unmanned aerial vehicles are now connected to the Internet via mobile networks. The advanced capabilities of networks based upon the 4G LTE wireless standard are facilitating ballooning demand for mobile broadband. Cisco estimates that almost half a billion new mobile devices and connections came online in 2016. As demand for mobile data continues to explode, however, legacy 4G networks are becoming more and more saturated; with some suggesting that average data rates may be beginning to slow.
By employing new spectrum bands, advanced air interfaces, and promoting spectrum reuse, network operators are planning for the next generation of mobile wireless. Alongside improved performance for existing mobile customers, network operators hope that the combination of reduced latency, improved coverage, and increased bandwidth provided by 5G and advanced 4G networks will allow mobile services to replace wireline networks as the primary broadband service for most consumers.
Before 5G networks are deployed, however, international organizations will need to complete the standards that will ensure compatibility among the billions of 5G devices that will be deployed. The growing importance of mobile networks and the vastly complicated process of standardizing network technologies poses a key question: What public policy role should governments and public interest organizations play in the development of such critical technology?
The roundtable participants explored precisely this question. To provide a platform to begin discussion, Silicon Flatirons distributed Dale Hatfield’s paper, entitled “Addressing Public Policy Goals in the Standards Setting Process: The Case of 5G Wireless Standards,” plus a list of background material to all participants. Professor Phil Weiser opened and moderated the three-hour, free-ranging discussion as participants explored how public policy goals might be addressed in the 5G standards setting process. This roundtable report summarizes the roundtable proceedings in the following three sections: I) What is 5G and Who is Developing 5G Standards?, II) Public Values in 5G Standards, and III) Public Input and Engagement In 5G Standards Bodies. The report concludes with a discussion of questions identified for further research and a summary of recommended steps going forward.