5G is the next frontier in digital communication. In Lithuania, however, several obstacles stand in the way – the Russian military and national rules on public health.
The 5G technology is expected to come into its own within the next decade, as super fast internet connections, internet of things, and self-driving cars require more connectivity than the current generation of networks can offer.
“5G is not about phones. It is a technology for business, since a very short signal delay allows autonomous devices to communicate with one another,” said Andrius Baranauskas, corporate communication chief at Tele 2. Logistics companies, for example, would be able to fully automate their warehouses and operate them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Lithuania, which prides itself on having one of the fastest wi-fi networks in the world, is eager not to fall behind.
The country’s Communications Regulatory Authority is planning to start offering radio frequencies for 5G network developers by the end of this year. A second auction is planned for 2020 and the third, no later than 2022.
Kaliningrad in the way
However, several serious issues remain to be solved. One obstacle to 5G in Lithuania is that the Russian military is using the 3.5 GHz frequency for its radars in Kaliningrad and the signal seeps into parts of Lithuanian territory.
Lithuanian representatives plan to meet their Russian counterparts in the second half of this year to try and sort out the issue.
However, Čėsna says, Russia has not decided yet whether it is going to use the 3.5 GHz frequency band for its 5G network, so he does not put too much hope into reaching an agreement.
“If we don't solve the problem before calling the auction, we will be offering frequencies from the 3,5 GHz radio frequency band under the condition that their users will have to take into account communication systems in the neighbouring country, which would limit the possibilities of their networks,” Čėsna explained.
Strict health requirements
Another hurdle is that the current public health standards in Lithuania put a limit on allowed electromagnetic radiation that is much too low for 5G development.
Čėsna says that the standards can only be changed by the Ministry of Health.
Public health officials are already in talks with telecommunication service providers and are willing to revise the regulation, according to Lina Bušinskaitė-Šriubienė, an adviser to the minister of health.
“There has been a meeting with mobile service providers operating in Lithuania which were attended by specialists from the Ministry [of Healthcare] and the National Public Health Centre,” she said.
Still, regulators will have to make sure that the new technology does not compromise people's health, she insisted.
There has been a precedent, according to her. In 2015, the electromagnetic radiation limits were raised ten times to allow for new technology.
“Now, in order to ensure that the 5G connection works in Lithuania, the allowed levels of electromagnetic radiation would have to be raised a similar amount,” Bušinskaitė-Šriubienė said.
While the current regulations are quite tight in Lithuania, she noted, some other countries in the EU are even stricter.
Still a lab technology
Meanwhile, telecommunication service providers say that the speed and breadth of 5G network development depends on a number of factors.
“It is not just about the availability of radio frequencies, EMF regulations, readiness of countries' infrastructures and ‘5G-friendliness’, but also about developing the entire 5G ecosystem: to what extent it will be adopted by businesses and so on,” said Telia technology director Andrius Šemeškevičius.
“Both the businesses and private users will have to pay for the massive investment into 5G,” he added.
Moreover, doubts about using equipment produced by China's Huawei in the EU adds to the uncertainty.
“The situation burdens and delays decisions on huge and long-term investment,” Šemeškevičius said.
Pranas Kuisys, director of the telecommunication company Bitė Lietuva claimed that adopting 5G will take much more time than it took to switch to 4G.
“There are many potential areas, but a practical effective application is still lacking. So far, 5G remains mostly a lab technology. But the potential is huge,” he said.
Kuisys predicted that the mass adoption of 5G technology is unlikely to come before 2027.