5G: Modelling the social acceptance

The relevance of technological innovation that constitutes 5G is and will be significantly concrete and it will involve and affect the whole society and individuals. The first experiments with 5G technology, which will grow exponentially in the near future, already pose many problems and questions in terms of social acceptance. This article dives the reader into the comprehension of this fundamental aspect for the introduction of innovative technological solutions.

In this context, the European research project 5G-SOLUTIONS is going to setup and validate the paradigm of the hyper-connection through 5G technologies in 5 vertical sectors: Factories of the Future, Smart Energy, Smart Cities, Smart Ports, and Media & Entertainment.

CyberEthics Lab. is carrying out the social acceptance analysis of these disruptive technologies, indeed the lack of this important analysis can hide major risks that can threaten the projects, their results and their wider adoption. While a large and growing community against 5G is creating barriers, on the other hand the introduction of 5G can enable new solutions for improving the quality of life of citizens, as well as the environmental-socio-economic sustainability of cities.

5G: Main technology for life

Before explaining these problems, it is essential to clarify a conceptual premise that is also useful in building a methodological and research process. This premise concerns the idea that 5G is a technology directly conceived and aimed at the life of people, at their existence, to facilitate several processes, to reduce time and expectations, to make possible operations now too complex, and to bring a direct and concrete advantage in the existence of individuals and in professional, human, social, and cultural relationships. So, it could be said that 5G technology represents a capacity enabler in the life of everyone and of the whole society.

For this reason, it is of fundamental importance to assess the state of such social relations and possible changes due to the introduction of 5G technology, as this allows to better identify the most relevant accepted aspects. Consequently, wide and proper use of 5G will also bring the advantage of a better, faster and more efficient implementation, corresponding to the needs of users, society, market, and professions. Last but not least, understanding the needs of society has to be considered in terms of “what will be the needs in the next future”. This can be difficult to be imagined, as well as it can be difficult to imagine how in 2030 more than 60% of world’s[1] population will live in cities, and over a hundred new mega cities will arise.

In this perspective, new capabilities have to be considered to allow the sustainability of cities and quality of life in these new scenarios.

Innovation driven by Social Acceptance

It is important to analyse how project results and exploitation assets will impact the social acceptance challenges, by considering three main dimensions: (i) socio-political acceptance, (ii) community acceptance, and (iii) market acceptance. Factors influencing socio-political and community acceptance are increasingly recognised as being important for understanding the general 5G situation, both at the political level, as well as at national community level. The socio-political acceptance is social acceptance at the most general level and concerns the acceptance by key stakeholders and policy actors on the effectiveness of policies. Those policies require the institutionalisation of frameworks that effectively foster and enhance market and community acceptance, for example, the establishment of proper policies and guidelines that create a legal framework where citizens can recognise their right and the possibility to be considered as important actors of the scenario.

Due to their interdependency, community acceptance plays an important role as well and it can’t be forgotten in the analysis. Community acceptance refers to the specific acceptance of siting decisions and project results by local stakeholders, particularly residents and local authorities. Wrong communication approach, missing the engagement of specific groups of communities and lack of information on benefits for the local community may arise barriers to the acceptance of novel technologies, 5G technologies as well, and delay its successful implementation.

On the other hand, market acceptance has received less attention in the general technology social and ethical ecosystem, but it is fundamental for an industrial project, such as 5G-SOLUTIONS wants to be. In a complex value chain, including antennas producers, telco, system integrators, device producers, but also final end-users, i.e. consumers, the social acceptance can also be interpreted as market acceptance or the process of market adoption of an innovation. In this perspective, it could be interesting to consider the diffusion of innovation, which explains the adoption of innovative products by consumers through a communication process between individual adopters and their environment. In addition, the 5G scenarios are complicated by the proliferation of heterogeneous smart devices (e.g. IoV – Internet of Vehicles, IoT – Internet of Things, MMC – Mobile Cloud Computing, SG – Smart Grids, Big Data, and D2D – Device-to-Device communications) in the network and how these are instantiated and interconnected within scenarios.

The Close-the-Loop Model for Social Acceptance of 5G Technology

CyberEthics Lab. suggests a model that identifies factors of all the three acceptance dimensions.

The analysis of these factors has led to what is called as “The hexagon of social acceptance”: a model of observation, understanding and evaluation, structured in 6 fundamental steps, which includes the main aspects of 5G technology and its use on a large scale:

  • Perception;
  • Motivation;
  • Awareness;
  • Trust;
  • Capacity Enabling;
  • Accountability

This model is able to identify the main critical aspects and to track better societal feedback. A greater understanding is reflected in greater confidence, which is reflected in greater willingness to use technologies, in the reduction of barriers of diffidence and fear.

CyberEthics Lab. is analysing the application of this model in different domains as well.

[1] United Nations, “World Population Prospect 2019: Highlights” (2019) – https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2019_Highlights.pdf