Self-sufficient or self-defeating?

The ongoing pandemic has had some useful effects on the image of telecommunications, reminding even the most technophobic that properly functioning fixed and wireless networks can have an overwhelmingly positive effect during health emergencies.

Germany and South Korea have demonstrated the success of well-managed track and trace systems that are augmented by the use of mobile. Many of us are saving time and money by moving routine doctor’s visits online. Education has also moved online for the duration. And frontline workers are benefiting too. Just one example out of many comes from mobile satellite services company Thuraya, which has announced that it is providing always-on satellite connectivity to Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services.

The potential for ecosystems effectively harnessing 5G-era technologies to solve real-world problems and drive economic growth should inform policy and commercial strategy in many markets. But the pandemic has also unleashed populist dreams of self-sufficiency and suspicion of other countries, these sit uneasily with the present needs of a world where international cooperation could be a genuine lifesaver.

In India, a massive system of incentives aimed at smartphone and component production is being rolled out, effectively paying companies to move their production to India – or penalise them for not doing so.

Meanwhile the current trade war between China and the US is threatening everything from chipsets to interoperability and the implementation of standards. It’s a conflict that has no upside for either player. More importantly, however, this sort of trend is slowing innovation globally as various players target the worst sorts of self-sufficiency and its associated limitations, inefficiencies and vast price tags.

Such an approach also penalises developing economies in places like Africa which benefit enormously from a global telecommunications ecosystem and standards environment. Deciding an economically viable approach to telecommunications for the continent is hard enough without having to pick sides in a geopolitical technology tussle.

The economic impact of the pandemic will likely hold back 5G investment short- to medium-term. The inevitable fragmentation that will accompany regional technology development can only make matters worse.

Despite the recent sabre rattling, China, Europe, the US and Asia have all collaborated effectively in the past, through standards bodies, trade groups, and sharing of ideas, benefiting the whole world much more than they might have individually. Standards, regulation and certification processes can shape appropriate industry safeguards, ensuring concerns around security of citizens and supply of technology are recognised during the development of products and services.

Banning regions or companies from taking part will impact business models and supply chains, and threaten the pace of innovation. In a world where the global economy has benefited from the pace of innovation the negative economic impact is likely to be significant.

Experts at Real Wireless have supported the evolution of generations of wireless technologies, advising OEMs and service providers on strategies to strengthen commercial performance in downturns and governments and regulators about securing supply chains and avoiding the dangers of fragmentation that can accompany regionally-focused technology development.

This pandemic has shown the value of global technologies that work globally. We need to ensure this approach is sustainable going forward rather than discover our approaches to self-sufficiency become self-defeating.