5G, somewhere between a myth and a reality
Transport and smart cities, industries of the future, telemedicine... The playgrounds of 5G are numerous and attract as much as they scare. While the network is being rolled out, the number of projects in companies is increasing. They open the way to new services. Here is an overview.
Worried about the arrival of 5G, are the French? In a particularly anxiety-provoking context, it seems that they are waiting for "guarantees on the environmental and health impact", says Erwan Lestrohan, director of research at Odoxa, which published the Observatoire de la tech in the autumn of 2020(1). This does not prevent the French, according to this Observatory, from considering the uses that the network could facilitate: thanks to 5G, they would like to make greater use of large file sharing (57%), telemedicine (56%), connected home services (49%), autonomous vehicles (38%) and fully immersive video games (24%). The outlook is mitigated by the fears shared by one out of two French people: risks of personal data being hacked and spied on by foreign states or organisations.
3.5 GHz frequency band
The implementation of 5G (for 5th generation mobile telephony network) is being discussed. "5G is a marketing term, a wrapper for the network developments and improvements that operators are trying to promote," says Georges Karam, president of Sequans, a specialist in 4G and 5G radio communication circuits and modules.
5G brings speed improvements (initially up to three to four times faster than 4G, then up to 10 times), with a latency time of around one millisecond. It should boost the amount of data exchanged without clogging up the networks: it does not replace 4G, but instead adds to it.
This advancement is enabling innovative services and infrastructure to be introduced. "To those who say that 4G is enough, I say, until when? Because the switch to 5G is a necessity, given the new needs and the growing number of connected objects. In addition, its speed will absorb peak loads," argues Georges Karam.
From a technical point of view, the current experiments are testing the 3.5 GHz frequency band, with the second band (26 GHz) to be studied at a later date. "It has not been allocated by Arcep," says Olivier Wioland, Mobile Network Marketing Director at Orange Business Services. 5G combined with Edge computing, which moves online storage closer to the source (and no longer in the cloud, as with the cloud), meets the needs of real time. "Regardless of the operator, the network is evolving because consumption is increasing, driven by the wealth of content. 5G will free up space on the 4G network," confirms Olivier Wioland.
Given the risks to the environment, Orange's position can be found in its corporate purpose: "The operator has the will to be sustainable, Stéphane Richard, its CEO, has set objectives to achieve carbon neutrality," says Olivier Wioland. Moreover, he adds, "with 5G, the energy efficiency of the network will improve, with the same consumption, the cost per gigabit will be lower compared to 4G".
Although 5G appears to consume less energy than 4G on a constant use basis, by improving traffic, it should increase consumption... As regards health, the Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail (Anses) is conducting expert studies on the exposure of the population to the electromagnetic fields of 5G. Its report is expected in 2021. "A pre-report does not mention any proven effects, but the precautionary principle remains applicable," says Sabine Marcellin, a lawyer at DLGA, an expert in digital law.
For its part, in September 2020, the French National Frequency Agency (ANFR) published a simulation of exposure to waves created by mobile telephony in a dense urban area (the 14th arrondissement of Paris), taking into account the planned evolution between 4G and 5G. It shows that without 5G, public exposure to waves would continue to increase due to the increase in demand for connectivity, and that the increase in exposure due to 5G in the 3.5 GHz band would remain moderate thanks to steerable beam antennas.
Another risk is that 5G could exacerbate inequalities. First and foremost, access to the network. "SMEs do not have the resources of large companies to influence the choice of installations in the regions, and those based in rural areas will be largely penalised," says Sabine Marcellin. There are other barriers for small businesses, such as the need to renew the terminal stock. Finally, cybersecurity issues are a concern. "How can small, inexpensive connected objects that capture data guarantee a sufficient level of security that complies with the RGPD? "asks Sabine Marcellin.
Tomorrow, cybersecurity could become a commercial argument... Especially as the company's responsibility could be called into question. "SMEs should make sure they put the service providers who set up the IoT (Internet of Things) systems in competition with each other and be vigilant about the evolution of contracts," recommends this lawyer.