Vodafone argues for more government involvement in 5G

Vodafone Australia's head of strategy and corporate affairs has argued that there is a 'really clear role' for every level of government to help shape the rollout of 5G across the nation.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government lacks vision on 5G, with industry continually getting bogged down in arguing over the smaller details of deployment, according to Vodafone Australia chief strategy officer and director of Corporate Affairs Dan Lloyd.

Speaking during the CommsDay Unwired conference on Wednesday, Lloyd argued that all levels of government should be involved in the discussion, and led by an overarching strategy from the federal leaders.

"There's a really clear appreciation -- and I think the US-China debate at the moment about this is a symptom of that -- a really clear appreciation that we're looking at a massive technological transformation with huge benefits for productivity, for innovation, for intellectual property. And I'm not quite sure what Australia's answer to that is," Lloyd said.

"We always end up arguing about whether the competition limit for this particular piece of spectrum that's on the table at this time is right or not, rather than the much bigger question of what are we actually trying to achieve here, and how do we get a common vision between government, between industry, at federal, state, local level that actually allows us to really deliver on what I think is the bigger question, which is do we really want to accelerate this and capture the benefits or are we happy with just doing the next thing and the next thing and the next thing?"

According to Lloyd, there is a "really clear role" within the complex 5G environment for government at all levels: Broader policy decisions from the federal level; state government initiatives; and planning decisions from the local level.

"This is why for me that overarching vision is just so critical, because otherwise you can't really assure yourself that you're aligning across the multiple parts of government that need to deliver their part of the solution," he added.

"We need that vision, and we need multiple levels of government understanding aligned to that vision so they can deliver their part of the puzzle."

Telstra executive director of Regulatory Affairs Jane van Beelen agreed, saying what is needed is "energy" from the federal government, including more "urgency" on identifying and making available spectrum for 5G.

"5G potential is so high ... what we need is really the vision and energy from government to really understand how this technology can be transformative in so many industries, and then to have these clear priorities actually paving the way," she said.

The comments from Lloyd and van Beelen followed Australian Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland's criticisms a day earlier on the government's lack of 5G vision.

"People are hungry for vision in this country ... neither technology alone nor acknowledging the logic of universal design is enough. We need comprehensive joined-up strategies for the digital economy, inclusive of 5G, founded on a clear vision of the fair and equal society we want to be," she said.

"We also need effective implementation of those strategies so that we realise the benefits of the digital age across the general population, as well as the vulnerable and excluded ... the year 2020 is less than a year and a half away. We actually need comprehensive plans that look to 2030 and beyond to guide Australia's transition to an economy and society that's prosperous and fair in a world enabled by 5G, rather than a policy void or a piecemeal reactive plans that tinker at the edges.

"We need a fair go by design. And that is Labor's agenda."

Speaking earlier on Wednesday at CommsDay Unwired, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield provided an update on the government's work on 5G, saying the Department of Communications is in the "final stages" of rewriting the 25-year-old Radiocommunications Act.

"We expect to release a second exposure draft of the Bill shortly, along with associated materials on taxation arrangements and transitional arrangements," Fifield revealed.

The government is additionally working on streamlining infrastructure arrangements to enable carriers to deploy networks faster.

"5G requires new and different infrastructure to previous generations of mobile technology; one of our immediate challenges is to deal with regulations that could hamper this," Fifield said.

"So in June last year, we embarked on a public consultation for possible changes to carriers' powers and immunities. Of the 24 reforms canvassed in the consultation paper, we've already implemented 10, and we're continuing to work on a range of further reforms."

The 5G World Alliance had earlier this week criticised Australia's progress on 5G, with chair Latif Ladid suggesting improvements to the situation including developing more experts, formulating pressure groups to face government, and a more detailed technology roadmap.

Speaking at a roundtable during the 5G Business Summit on Monday, Ladid said Australia needs an expert group made up of carrier and networking CTOs, and a working group for every 5G vertical to ensure businesses in sectors such as mining will take up and pay for such technologies.

In order to develop future local experts, Ladid said it is important to introduce a university curriculum because "there is zero in this country".

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