The world’s biggest telcos believe that 5G is a technology in search of killer use cases.

That summed up the general mood on Day One of the Total Telecom Congress Oct. 29, a two-day industry event in London, where industry executives shared strategies and complaints about the 5G rollout process to date.

5G opportunities

“You need to start early to understand the architecture, backhaul, analytics, and optimization of radio access” for 5G, said Christoph Aeschlimann, CTO and CIO at Switzerland‘s Swisscom AG.

Swisscom switched on Switzerland’s first 5G network in April and plans to bring next-gen connectivity to 90% of the country by the end of this year.

Aeschlimann said 5G is “overhyped” today given that most of its often-cited use cases, such as self-driving cars to smart cities, are at five to 10 years away from reaching fruition. In the interim, he and other executives said telcos should focus on identifying the biggest 5G applications for businesses and consumers.

Takehiro Nakamura, senior vice president of 5G Labs at Japan‘s NTT Docomo Inc., said his firm is working with cross-industry business partners to pinpoint enterprise use cases via its 5G Open Partner Program. Launched in 2018, the initiative now has more than 3,000 members including local businesses, government and academic partners.

Nakamura said telcos need to leverage assets beyond their networks to fuel innovation. In NTT Docomo’s case, the executive said this means using its artificial intelligence and big data prowess. NTT Docomo is pairing 5G with artificial intelligence to offer remote golf lessons and monitor factory workers for some of its early 5G use cases. The Japanese company is investing ¥1 trillion (US$10 billion) in 5G by 2023, Nakamura said. It switched on its 5G trial service in September and plans to launch a commercial network in the spring.

5G challenges

Total Telecom Congress chair Tony Lavender, a partner at telecom industry consulting firm Plum Consulting Ltd., said telcos today face a variety of challenges with 5G, including difficulties related to the rollout of the necessary technology and corresponding devices as well as pricing.

Several conference attendees also spoke critically of regulatory issues surrounding next-generation wireless rollouts.

Altice Portugal CEO Alexandre Fonseca accused the country’s telecom watchdog of “inadequacy and incompetency” during a keynote speech. Portugal is set to hold 5G spectrum auctions between April and June of next year, putting it behind fellow European nations such as Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Swisscom’s Aeschlimann said Switzerland has its own unique regulatory hurdles, pointing to stricter domestic limits on non-ionizing radiation than those applied by European Union regulations. The rules relate to radiation from connectivity equipment in select frequency ranges.

Swisscom executives called for a “moderate adjustment in environmental law” to reduce impediments to 5G network rollouts.