6G SYMPOSIUM: US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai (pictured) speculated the nature of future mobile networks and development of technologies including blockchain could make his job obsolete, noting 5G had already changed the regulator’s role.

Pai noted 6G “could be entirely virtualised” and unrecognisable from current networks comprised of “macro cell site towers intermittently dotting the landscape”.

He said it is “not inconceivable” a shift from physical to fully virtualised infrastructure could eliminate the need for the FCC to oversee network construction and spectrum allocation, suggesting blockchain could more efficiently manage some of these tasks.

“If you had a distributed ledger that was able to document” who had access to spectrum and for what period, “and everyone else necessarily recognises that because of the integrity of the blockchain, what role is there for a central regulator at that point?”

Pai said the FCC’s role had “changed substantially” since his appointment as a Commissioner in 2012, with domestic battles over 5G spectrum allocation and efforts to harmonise global band assignments turning the job into “much more one of a negotiator or diplomat, as opposed to a straightforward regulator”.

The chairman tipped 5G to boost competition as spectrum sharing schemes enable more companies to launch new services, pointing to a recent 3.5GHz auction which drew interest from the cable and utility sectors as an example. He argued “incumbents are going to have to really think hard and compete hard in the 5G environment…they can’t just sit on their laurels”.

He highlighted early work on applications spanning telehealth, remote learning and agriculture, concluding “5G will pop, but it’s too soon to say at this point exactly how, where or when”.