Interview with Wassim CHOURBAJI


Published in DigiWorld Economic Journal DWEJ No. 102 
"Mobile dynamics: the path to 5G"

Interview with Wassim CHOURBAJI
Vice-President, Public Policy and Government Affairs, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Qualcomm

Conducted by Denis LESCOP, Télécom Ecole de Management, Evry, France



DW Economic Journal: "What do you really mean by 5G from a technology perspective?"

Wassim CHOURBAJI: As we did with 3G and 4G, Qualcomm is leading development of technologies for 5G. We are designing a unified, more capable 5G platform to meet expanded and radically diverse requirements. 5G will be much more than just a new generation with faster peak rates. We are building a 5G platform to connect new industries, enable new services and empower new user experiences in the next decade and beyond. The foundation of this platform is a new OFDM-based 5G Unified Air Interface that is scalable across all services and spectrum. 5G will usher in the next era of enhanced mobile broadband experience with more uniform high data rates everywhere, lower latency and lower cost per bit. It will connect massive numbers of things through the ability to scale down in data rates, power and mobility. It will enable new mission critical services with ultra-reliable low latency links. It will provide edgeless connectivity with new ways for devices and things to connect and interact. 5G will be also a platform for all spectrum bands and types, designed for licensed spectrum from below 1 GHz for coverage to mmWave for extreme bandwidth as well as for unlicensed and shared spectrum.

How will 5G impact the everyday life of people?

Wireless connectivity transformed human communication. With 5G, we're extending its reach and adding intelligence to transform everything else. 3G and 4G have enabled people to experience broadband on their smartphones and tablets, wherever they are, indelibly changing the way we communicate with one another. We take this for granted now, but it was actually science fiction less than two decades ago. The next step, which is quintessential to the long-term realisation of 5G, is the massive social and economic impact of the tens of billions of devices and things that will get connected to each other, to the cloud and to people, unlocking greater efficiencies, personalized services and new user experiences. This will profoundly change our lives.

Where devices such as smartphones and tablets are now still the endpoint of communication, countless methods of connectivity and interaction will emerge in homes, cars, cities, healthcare and more. Where data services are now limited to certain providers and insights, there will be near unlimited insight available thanks to a broad expansion of all kinds of discovery services. It will not just be devices that will be "smart", it will be the connectivity itself. Intelligence will be found at the place where interactions are happening and will no longer be buried in the data centre or confined to a wall garden – it will make those interactions more intuitive, immersive and secure for people.

How will 5G impact the everyday life of enterprises? Can we say that 5G will open tremendous business opportunities?

The transition that businesses will experience towards 5G will be as sweeping as that experienced by consumers, and arguably even more so because the stakes in terms of competitiveness, economic growth and job creation are extremely high. I think it is fair to say that there are tremendous opportunities for businesses big and small, but the value created by spurring technological innovation with 5G will strongly depend on the policies under which industry at large will digitize and evolve.

Businesses have so far had to adapt to a changing environment where the internet has expanded to cover most, although not all, processes related to selling and distributing goods and content. To name but two obvious examples: e-commerce has metamorphosed retail and wholesale distribution operations; and the web has completely revolutionised publishing and journalism. These changes were basically driven by the fact that people could suddenly buy things and access content online. It's a process that started in the early days of landline internet connectivity, but which has really been boosted by mobile thanks to anywhere, anytime connectivity.

But as I said, with 5G the change will not simply be about connecting people to the Internet – more people, in more places and at faster speeds – but crucially about bringing intelligent connectivity to everything. So it is not just the sale and distribution of goods that will come into play – it is the very products you are developing as a business that will be affected. You used to be a company that was top-notch at designing and manufacturing this great product, but now you need to think in terms of your connected product – what you want to do in this new environment is deliver greater efficiencies, personalised services and new user experiences. You need to stay relevant to the user or people will be drawn elsewhere. You need to be skilful in doing that because there are many other companies out there which will take any opportunity they have to disrupt your market.

How are regulators – and especially the European Union – supporting (or not) the emergence of 5G?

I think the European Commission has really embraced the vision of 5G as a cornerstone of Europe's competitiveness. In April, the Commission earmarked 5G as a technology standards priority. The fact that Europe has leadership positions in so many key industrial sectors and that European industry needs to take advantage of the business opportunities that will potentially be enabled by 5G connectivity is not lost on Vice President ANSIP, Commissioner OETTINGER and the Commission as a whole.

I see the Digital Single Market as essentially a statement that Europe cannot afford to waste this opportunity. I like the fact that it goes back to the concept of the Single Market, one of the greatest achievements not just for Europe but arguably for humanity – there is no other place that equals Europe's level of social and economic unity, imperfect though it may be, between peoples, countries and interests that used to be so disparate. Implicitly, what it says is that the key to making the Single Market stronger for Europe and the world in the 5G digital era is to stay true to its core values of integrating differences.

When you transpose integration from different countries to different industrial players, the process is actually not that different. And when you translate integration into digital terms, you are talking about interoperability. That is why I think we see a strong emphasis on facilitating more cross-sector partnerships in the European Commission's recent Communication on ICT Standardisation Priorities for the Digital Single Market. We need more collaboration and strategic vision to bring together "traditional" non-ICT industries, the telecoms industry and the rest of the value chain to deliver on the promise of interoperable 5G connectivity. Europe can turn its apparent complexity into an asset.

There are a lot of initiatives that the Commission is facilitating with a view to 5G, such as the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) and the 5G Action Plan. Where I think Europe needs to act more quickly is spectrum and the review of the regulatory framework. Notably, I think Europe should decide fast and by 2017 on a list of "pioneering" 5G bands in the low, mid and high ranges, as well as a roadmap for the harmonisation and coordinated release of these bands across Europe. This will help industry players to invest and develop interoperable 5G standards globally and pave the way for commercial deployment in 2020. In Europe, there is a lot of potential in bands such as 700 MHz and 3.4-3.8 GHz, which are suited for IoT and "Industry 4.0"-type deployments, as well as in the 24 GHz and 31 GHz bands, which can deliver extreme mobile broadband bandwidth.

How should the framework be modified to better support 5G initiatives?

In terms of policy direction, I think we need to be aware of the paradigm shift between the old Digital Agenda for Europe and the new Digital Single Market strategy, which should very much reflect the shift from connecting people to connecting everything that I've talked about earlier.

We are used to having Digital Agenda targets that are linked exclusively to "fast internet access for all", called broadband objectives, like for instance 30 Mbps for 99% of people. That is good if you are trying to connect more people, in more places and at faster speeds, but if our aim is to bring, with 5G, intelligent, reliable and secure connectivity to new industries, which have different kinds of requirements, then these targets are no longer sufficient and we need new ones. These new targets should also address the vicious circle of the 3 "lows" the mobile industry is facing in Europe, and which I and others have talked extensively about. Low revenues, low use and thus low investment. The current targets solely address the supply side, with network coverage and speed obligations, and I think new targets should also address the demand side. This is key for takeup and revenues, bringing both the mobile industry and verticals together.

So I think the Digital Single Market targets should be specified for example as 1-Gigabit connectivity by 2030; 70% penetration of connected vehicles by 2025 and 100% by 2030; 100% road coverage by 2025; 60% penetration of remote monitoring for chronic patients in 2025 and 100% of low latency, very high data rate cloud access by the same date. I think these targets are far more meaningful from both a societal and economic perspective. I believe there are ways to incorporate these new elements in the upcoming review of the EU telecoms regulatory framework to make it futureproof and 5G-ready.

Does 5G raise issues pertaining to standardisation?

Yes, the main issue being that we'll need standardisation like we've never needed it before. As you expand the need for connectivity beyond people to literally everything, you can easily imagine that there is going to be a need to invest billions and billions of euros to create and evolve interoperable solutions that can cater to the many different requirements coming from the different sectors. The 5G platform is expected to be introduced with 3GPP release 15, forecast to be complete in 2018 for 5G commercial launches in the 2020 timeframe.

We will need high-performance standards, incorporating intensive levels of interoperability. If we only end up with extremely basic functionality incorporated in standards, we'll see much less interoperability, follow-on innovation and competition along the value chain. The bulk of the technology that consumers will be interested in may end up being developed by one or a very limited number of players that will control it in full. That is going to be bad for consumers and the rest of the market.

What this means is that standardisation needs to remain a priority for Europe. As I said, given that 5G will be about complexity, thanks to its leadership in standards Europe has a real chance of turning what many perceive as a weakness – the need to intermediate between contrasting interests, be it Member States or industrial sectors in our case – into an asset. So I welcome the Commission's intention of facilitating cross-sector partnerships for standardisation – I think this initiative can unlock situations where market players aren't naturally inclined to sit together at the table, which results in them losing commercial opportunities and the entire market not moving forward.

At the same time, one cannot forget that the investment needed to develop and evolve highly interoperable standards will come first and foremost from industry players. If standardisation is not an appealing option for them, they will not participate and we won't have the standards we need. And as one can easily imagine, fair return on investment is a top priority for businesses, including when the decision has to be made as to whether or not they want to contribute their inventions to standards and thus allow access to those inventions. There is always the option of going proprietary if participating in standardisation is not generating fair value for you. And, as I said, this would represent a risk for society in that it would lead to less interoperability, less follow-on innovation and less competition.

How are actors positioning themselves around the question of standardisation and intellectual property?

Balanced and effective intellectual property rules are essential, on the one hand, to incentivise companies to contribute their technology to standards and, on the other, to enable access to standardised technology. It is a balance that we absolutely need to get right as there is too much at stake.

I think the dynamics of the IP and standards debate haven't fundamentally changed in the last few years. Repeatedly, concerns are raised about Standard-Essential Patents (SEPs) and Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) licensing. These concerns, which took centre stage during the ill-famed "smartphone wars", have proven to be tragically unfounded when it comes to smartphones and tablets. As mobile communications standards have improved and included more and more patented technology in the various iterations of 3G and 4G, average device prices have been falling dramatically and we have witnessed a proliferation of new products with new features. Irrespective of any theoretical debate about "patent thickets" and "royalty stacking", it is quite clear we simply haven't seen any thickets or stacking in the actual market, which on the contrary has been incredibly successful in achieving innovation, competition and consumer choice.

That being said, there are now what I think are valid discussions about standards and intellectual property in the new context of the IoT. As the number of players who will need to implement standards in their different industrial products grows, including SMEs, there is a need to simplify access to standards for them. In this context, the Commission has announced plans in its Communication on ICT Standardisation Priorities to facilitate fast, predictable and efficient access that can keep in place the right incentives for companies to contribute technology to standards. We welcome this approach, which I think is shared among the major standards contributors, and we look forward to working with the Commission and other stakeholders to this end.

Key to a balanced environment for investment in and access to IoT and 5G standards is flexibility. The IoT and 5G are going to be new markets, and the different parts of the value chain are still in the process of figuring out how best to structure new business models and how to create and reward value. The proverbial "one size fits all" will really not work here. However, some vested interests are promoting inflexible interpretations of FRAND that would force companies to license their technology to lower parts of the value chain or at the level of the smallest-saleable unit. This would for sure devalue standardisation – what it amounts to is guaranteed destruction of value for technology contributors to standards. And as I said earlier, companies will not contribute their technology to standards if standardisation is not generating fair value for them. If we in Europe care about interoperability, we really shouldn't go down that route.


Wassim CHOURBAJI is Vice President and head of Government Affairs for Europe, the EU and MENA. He is the Managing Director of the EU Brussels Office and oversees Qualcomm's public policy, regulatory affairs and senior government relations. Wassim is member of Qualcomm Europe leadership. He leads an EMENA-wide senior team responsible for innovation, technology, intellectual property, telecoms & digital economy, spectrum, standardization, security, data protection and antitrust policy. Wassim is chairman of the Communication Policy Council of TechUK, the policy arm of the UK digital industry. He was previously chairman of the spectrum group at DigitalEurope, the Brussels-based EU industry association, and chairman of the European spectrum group at the GSMA. Prior to joining Qualcomm in 2006, Wassim was the head of spectrum for the France Telecom Group, overseeing the group's fixed, mobile and satellite spectrum strategy across its operating companies. He was also designated by European administrations as lead coordinator on 4G spectrum for Europe at the ITU World Radio Conference. Previously, he served as regulatory manager for SkyBridge, Alcatel Space global Internet satellite project. He started his career as a spectrum engineer at French mobile operator Bouygues Telecom. Wassim holds a master's degree in wireless communications and is a graduate engineer from Supelec France.
Twitter @WassimChourbaji

More information on DigiWorld Economic Journal No. 102 "What do you really mean by 5G from a technology perspective? on our website

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