What’s so good about 5G?

We recently asked 50 communications service providers (CSPs) and their suppliers what’s so great about 5G and what they will do with it? The two groups didn’t always agree, but the differing perspectives provide great insights.

Laurent Leboucher, Vice President, Architecture, Enablers and Security, Orange, says, “What makes 5G interesting is the fact that many use cases will need to be delivered on the same network with very different impacts on the way network resources will be consumed… From heavy throughput 4k video streamed to mobile users to real-time, low-latency information exchanged by autonomous vehicles, the cost per bit will be very different. This differentiation will need to be managed from end-to-end.”

“We’re dealing with several dimensions of QoS [quality of service],” he adds. “If you wanted to provide the highest QoS for every application, you would need to size the network capacity for the improbable worst case and the cost of the network would be enormous – it wouldn’t make any economic sense. So, there is an absolute need to manage the network – not only the resources but also the revenue – so that we can find the right balance between revenue and cost.”

What’s so great about 5G?

Why platforms?

Operators need the flexibility of multi-tenant platforms to manage and monetize these very different services, and with 5G this is expected to happen through network slicing. In today’s mobile networks, operators deliver a fixed set of services with service chains that essentially are defined by a specific standard (4G LTE, for example). These service chains are static and don’t require end-to-end orchestration. But in 5G they will not be static and they must be automated because we’re no longer talking about human communications but rather machine connectivity of billions of devices.

EvolutIon, not revolutIon

Even so, most CSPs see 5G as evolution, not revolution.

“5G is not going to become any kind of radical change in the network in the sense that many of the technologies or business models that we foresee for 5G would be applicable in the current network, and may in many cases be successful in the network before we call it 5G,” says Diego Lopez, Head of Technology exploration and Standards, Telefónica.

We gave 61 survey respondents (34 from CSPs and 27 from suppliers) a list of potential 5G services and asked them to rank them from most promising to least. The graph below shows the percentage of operators and suppliers who ranked each service in their top three choices.

CSPs’ top priorities for 5G are improved mobile broadband coverage (such as at events or on public transportation) and ultrahigh-definition video. This isn’t surprising given that a main reason or deploying 5G technology is to accommodate the ever-increasing number of mobile users and devices, and their always-on demand for data including video.

To link billions of connected devices, 5G is expected to use millimeter waves broadcast at higher frequencies in new high spectrum bands. These signals won’t travel as far and can’t easily pass through obstacles, so lots of new small cells will be required. In urban areas, for example, radio access equipment will be deployed on street furniture and atop buildings.

The result will be increased coverage and capacity. 5G also promises significantly higher data rates – at least 10Mbps in sparsely populated areas and up to 10Gbps is dense areas. Fixed wireless access is related to improved coverage, and CSPs ranked it as a likely first 5G service. This is a very popular application in the US. AT&T and Verizon are already installing non-standard 5G equipment for fixed wireless access, which they intend to roll out this year in the 28GHz spectrum, but in other regions there hasn’t been as much interest.

Connected vehicle disconnect?

Our survey finds discrepancy between CSPs and suppliers when it comes to connected vehicles, with suppliers more bullish about it as an early 5G service.

There is an even bigger disconnect between CSPs and suppliers when asked which of the potential 5G services are best suited to a platform model – 65 percent of suppliers put connected vehicles in their top three, whereas only 27 percent of operators did (see graphic below).

It’s easy to understand why suppliers ranked connected vehicles so highly. Of all the potential 5G services, it’s certainly the one that has received the most attention, particularly with the development of autonomous vehicles. Most of the CSPs we interviewed are optimistic about the platform potential for connected vehicles, but it’s possible that other operators are hearing from the large automakers that they want to run their own platforms or that they are already partnering with large platform providers like Apple and Microsoft to develop ecosystems.

Promising smart cities

We’re not surprised that most CSPs believe smart cities are promising for platform services. An ongoing TM Forum Catalyst in Milton Keynes in the UK has demonstrated that they are, indeed, an excellent opportunity for CSPs to play a platform curator role, with or without 5G.

What about digital health?

CSPs also appear to be a bit less certain than suppliers about the viability of platform services for digital health, and they’re much less confident about its deployment as a 5G service. Digital health should be a natural platform fit for CSPs because it demands reliability and availability,and is a market full of small startups with exciting technology but limited funds for ecosystem deployment.

This article is extracted from the Trend Analysis Report, 5G: Is platform the killer application?, which was published by TM Forum in June and is free for members to download. Non-members can access the Executive Summary free of charge.



    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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