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ICT – Emerging technologies and standardization

In the backdrop of coronavirus pandemic, there has been a complete shift in the traditional way that businesses and enterprises have run for the last century. The nature of trade and businesses is undergoing a profound shift toward an increasingly digital and interconnected way in the cyber world. Resilience and connectivity are the new watchwords as organizations seek adjusting to this unpredictable future.

Digital technologies have played a significant role in creation of this new normal, and will continue to do so in near future with new and emerging technologies, such as 5G and beyond, AI, Blockchain, etc. These new and emerging technologies have been earmarked by the governments to drive national economies as they offer important prospects for growth.

Workable technologies, viable applications, marketable products are fostering the right environment for each stage of this journey, and have become a priority for governments all over the world. To this regard, not only has there been an increasing interest in advanced understanding of the effect of standards on these emerging technologies but also of the appropriate roles of government and innovation system’s actors in support of their standardization activities. Through this article, I intend to give you a glimpse into the background and latest status of standardization and the related policy work carried out by the European Standards Organization (CEN, CENELEC and ETSI) along with European Commission (EC) around few of these emerging technologies.

5G or the 5th generation enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. With enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type connectivity, and ultra-reliable low-latency communications, the impact of 5G will extend far beyond conventional cellular applications.

The European Commission identified 5G opportunities quite early, and established a public-private partnership on 5G (5G-PPP) back in 2013, to accelerate research and innovation in 5G technology. A 5G action plan was adopted in 2016 to ensure the early deployment of 5G infrastructure and start launching 5G services in all EU member states by the end of 2020.

To support and complement Europe’s vision and goal of 5G deployment, 3GPP kickstarted the standardization efforts. Defining an entire new standard for 5G was a large undertaking, hence 3GPP divided the 5G standard into its two releases: Release 15, which corresponds to New Radio (NR) Phase 1, and Release 16, which corresponds to NR Phase 2. In NR Phase 1, there are common elements between LTE and NR, such as both use orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM). Many commercial rollouts have already happened on Release 15.

Recently, after 3GPP meeting in December 2020, the planned dates for Release 17’s physical layer, functionalities, and protocol work freezes have been agreed for December 2021, March 2022, and June 2022, respectively. ETSI also has a number of component technologies around 5G, which will be integrated into 5G systems through 3GPP, such as enhancements to network functions virtualization (NFV), multi-access edge computing (MEC), millimeter wave transmission (mWT), non-IP networking (NIN), etc.

The next step toward further digitization of our society and economy, where objects and people are interconnected through communication networks and report their status and the surrounding environment is with machine-to-machine (M2M)/Internet of Things (IoT), which is also a technology about merging the physical and the virtual worlds. Under the digitizing European industry, EC have published Advancing the Internet of Things in Europe that specifies the EU’s IoT vision.

In 2015, EC also established Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) to open a stream of dialogue among IoT players to foster experimentation, replication, deployment of IoT, supporting convergence, and interoperability of IoT standards; gathering evidence on market obstacles for IoT deployment; and mapping and bridging global, EU, and member states’ IoT innovation activities. There are currently 12 large-scale pilot projects under the focus area of Digitizing European Industry through research program Horizon 2020 with a financial contribution of more than €200 million supported by the EC.

The IoT standardization activities are carried out at radio layer in 3GPP (LTE-M, NB-IoT, and EC-GSM-IoT) and at service layer in oneM2M. ETSI is also involved in standardizing many of these technologies along with 3GPP and oneM2M, such as, the Smart Applications REFerence (SAREF) that allows connected devices to exchange semantic information in many applications’ domains and industry-specific groups (ISGs) on context information management (NGSI-LD), running on top of IoT platforms and allowing exchange of data together with its context dramatically extending the intero­perability of applications, integrating their existing services and enabling new third-party services.

The first globally applicable cyber security standards (ETSI EN 303 645) for consumer IoT devices were also released by the ETSI technical committee on cybersecurity.

The policy and standardi­zation activities for artificial intelligence (AI) and Block­chain are also gaining momentum. EC has introduced several initiatives covering different aspects of AI, such as the coordinated plan on AI, the ethics guidelines for a trustworthy AI, the declaration of cooperation on artificial intelligence, and the new rules and actions for the excellence and trust in AI including a proposal for a regulation.

For the development and deployment of blockchain technologies, the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP) was created through a signed declaration in April 2018, which cooperates in the establishment of European Blockchain services infrastructure (EBSI) that will support the delivery of cross-border digital public services, with the highest standards of security and privacy.

European Blockchain Observatory Forum is also present to accelerate blockchain innovation and development of blockchain ecosystem within the EU.

The main industry-led working groups at ETSI, in the domain of AI are ETSI Industry Specification Group on Securing AI (ISG AI), responsible for developing technical specifications to mitigate threats arising from deployment of AI throughout multiple ICT-related industries, and ETSI ISG under the label Experiential Networked Intelligence (ENI) to help operators in facilitating their network deployment by using AI techniques.

Beginning 2019, Technical boards of CEN and CENELEC also established a Focus Group on AI to develop an AI standardization roadmap for Europe.

Based on the recommendations presented in CEN-CENELEC response to the EC White Paper on AI and the German Standardization Roadmap for AI, CEN/CENELEC established a JTC 21 Artificial Intelligence, which is responsible for development and adoption of standards for AI and related data, as well as provide guidance to other technical committees concerned with AI.

For blockchain techno­logy, which is essentially distributed digital data­base or, more broadly, a digital ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity, ETSI ISG PDL is responsible for analyzing and providing the foundations for the operation of permissioned distributed ledgers, with the ultimate purpose of creating an open ecosystem of industrial solutions to be deployed by different sectors.

CEN and CENELEC in 2017 established a Focus Group on Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) to identify specific European needs and require­ments for the implementation of Blockchain and DLT in Europe, and to map these needs against the work items of ISO/TC 307 blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

The identification of specific requirements have been formalized in the CEN-CENELEC white paper Recommendations for Successful Adoption in Europe of Emerging Technical Standards on Distributed Ledger/Blockchain Technologies. CEN/CLC/JTC 19 is responsible for the development and adoption of standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

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