I recently returned to Riga, Latvia, for 5G Techritory and its return to an in-person gathering post-pandemic. The event has put the Baltic region squarely on the technology map in its fifth year. I have had the pleasure of being involved as a speaker since its inception – serving as a moderator on a multitude of topics tied to 5G use cases and applications. Event organizers have positioned it as a platform for partnerships; from my perspective, it delivers. Over 2,200 participants from almost 70 countries gathered onsite and online this year. Subsequently, it is not a niche regional event. Instead, it is becoming a relevant show stepping out of the shadows of larger events such as the GSMA Mobile World Congress series.
The topics at this year’s event spanned what one would expect from 5G policy, strategy, innovation, and technology. If interested, you can view the recorded sessions here. With that said, I want to dive into the two topic areas that I moderated at the event – OTT regulation and digital accessibility for the disabled.
The OTT – MNO Debate
Before diving into my first panel and providing insights, it would make sense to define an OTT. OTT is a common abbreviation used in telecommunications to refer to an Over-the-Top player. OTTs typically provide access to content and services via an app. These companies take advantage of the mobile networks built by LMT in Latvia, AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States, and others. Mobile network operators (MNOs) spend billions of euros and dollars procuring the needed licensed spectrum, deploying the requisite infrastructure, and footing operational costs to run them. However, net-neutrality often dictates unencumbered access, which presents a sticky problem in ensuring that networks can handle the traffic resulting from new 5G services delivered by both.
My first panel focused on this provocative topic, and it was a spirited debate. The need for regulation was at the forefront of our discussion, but regulation tends to stifle innovation. The OTT panel participants Sky UK and Meta spoke about the investments in mobile edge computing and content delivery caching to address the network load concerns and ensure improved service delivery. I see similar OTT investments being made in other global markets as well as by the MNOs themselves with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. MNOs can find novel ways to monetize network investments beyond access – especially with 5G enterprise services focused on improving use cases such as manufacturing automation, transportation and logistics, and more through private wireless offerings. T-Mobile US is a great example, delivering a hybrid public and private offering through its Advanced Industry Solutions portfolio. I’ve written recently about the offering, and you can learn more here.
Digital accessibility beyond the digital divide
My second panel was decidedly less controversial but equally compelling. The discussion centered on digital accessibility for the disabled, and it is close to my heart. I have a nephew and godson who have disabilities and face an uphill battle assimilating into society daily. Many experience temporary disabilities that present unique challenges. The resulting "disability divide" must be addressed in parallel to the “digital divide” affecting a broader segment of the population that doesn't have access to fixed and wireless broadband services in rural and lower socioeconomic areas.
To this end, panel participants Microsoft and Latvian-based Tilde are making great strides in addressing digital accessibility through products and services, but tech companies cannot do it alone. Governmental agencies need to set standards and requirements, and that is what is happening in the European Union. The European Accessibility Act (EAA) aims to make digital inclusion for the disabled a reality by 2025. It is a model for other parts of the world, and I am encouraged by the private-public partnership model across the pond.
I enjoyed my recent visit to Riga and the panel discussions that I had the honor of moderating at 5G Techritory. When I speak with journalists, I often remind them that the deployment of 5G is not a light switch. It is a journey. The best is yet to come despite the early hype cycle, and 2023 should begin to highlight disruptive use cases with many MNOs. The event this year went far to highlight compelling 5G use cases and policy considerations – and I look forward to returning to Riga next October!