I had the opportunity over the Thanksgiving holiday to visit Riga, Latvia and attend the second annual 5G Techritory conference. Riga is a beautiful city—it was founded in 1201 and quickly grew to become one of the main centers of trade in the Baltic Sea region. Over the centuries Latvia has struggled under the control of conquering nations, culminating in an occupation by Russia that ended in the early 1990s. Now nearly thirty years later, Latvia is still on a path to rebuild its financial independence. Technology can serve as a powerful catalyst for economic expansion, and Latvia is embracing 5G on a number of fronts as a leader in the Baltic region. I would like to share my insights from the event.
A hackathon like no other
It’s no secret that Europe has unique challenges with respect to the deployment of 5G. Each individual country developed its own policies, regulations and spectrum allocation process. I researched the effect of 5G policy recently on a global basis, and if interested you can find that article here. With many borders in close proximity and strict privacy laws backed by GDPR compliance, technology is not the roadblock—it’s bureaucracy. For this reason, I was impressed that the conference sponsored a 5G policy hackathon. If you’re not familiar with the concept, hackathons are typically utilized by software developers to inspire innovation with an intense focus over a short period of time. The goal is to deliver tangible results towards solving a problem. I believe that the policy hackathon was the first of its kind and could go far in getting critical cross-border 5G European deployment challenges on the table. From my perspective, often times the hardest part is just starting the conversation, followed by properly educating lawmakers and politicians. In my mind, the hackathon and event accomplished both objectives.
5G use cases abound in the Baltics
The Baltic Sea region could be considered a “poster child” for 5G use cases. It counts agriculture, forestry and fishing among the top industries. The region has also served as a launching pad for incubating technology companies, the most notable success being Skype in Estonia. 5G has the potential to bring disruptive transformation to all of these sectors with its blazing fast speeds and ultra-low latency for tactile applications. In agriculture, autonomous drones could be deployed for crop mapping, planning and inspections. In forestry, autonomous operations could improve worker safety and drones could monitor growth, illegal deforestation and wildfires. In fishing, IoT sensors could be deployed to monitor fish health and help automate a quarantine process ensuring higher yields. Finally, for the technology sector, 5G can empower software developers to create next generation mobile applications that connect not only to smart phones and devices, but a myriad of sensors: roadways for traffic management, buildings for immersive experiences, even our clothing for biometric feedback. Another game changer in moving from 4G LTE to 5G is the ability to virtualize many aspects of 5G infrastructure to support network slicing. The benefit is the ability for carriers, such as Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), to guarantee quality of service levels and provide new services such as low latency mobile gaming for consumers and remote drone-based services for enterprises. On the latter use case, LMT conducted an impressive demo on the first day of the event—piloting a drone on stage well beyond our line of sight. It was the first ever flight of its kind in the region and supports the assertion that all of the aforementioned drone use cases will be available in the not so distant future.
In addition to spending time at the event and the LMT headquarters, I also hosted two panels at the event. The first focused on the intersection of 5G, AI and IoT and a second on smart mobility. What impressed me was the mix of industry and government participants and their insights into both the challenges and opportunities tied to the deployment of 5G in the Baltics, Nordics and Europe in general. I also came away with a profound sense of respect for Latvia’s journey as a country. Realizing its independence just thirty years ago was the first step, and it seems to me that Latvia is on a path to financial independence and prosperity with 5G.