Imagining 5G Networks: Infrastructure and Public Accountability

Robin Mansell, Jean-Christophe Plantin


This study explores the social imaginaries influencing choices about the architectural design and standards for the 5G mobile network to identify how the network level of the communication infrastructure is implicated in the commercial datafication process. We focus on ambitions to establish global market leadership in the provision of the 5G infrastructure. Based on a multimethod analysis of documentation, press coverage, and a case study of 5G’s radio access network standardization, the analysis provides insight into contradictions within a dominant digital innovation social imaginary that privileges national or regional economic 5G strategies and externalizes risks and threats around 5G networks to foreign actors (mainly China). It also shows how public values, including privacy and freedom from surveillance, as well as transparent public accountability, characteristics of an alternative social imaginary of digital innovation, are suppressed in the process of materializing a new communication infrastructure.


artificial intelligence, datafication, 5G, mobile communication, standards, social imaginary

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