5G’s pathway and how it unlocks business
As consumer demand continues to rise and the switch to 5G SA comes into focus, operators are preparing to transform their operating models. Enrico Salvatori, SVP and president of Qualcomm Technologies EMEA, writes
There is both a market push and pull for 5G, stemming from a need for enhanced network efficiencies in latency, bandwidth, throughput, and processing.
While 4G in itself has already reshaped how society functions at large — with entire new markets, business and consumption models changing what we expect from technology and our day to day lives — the changes to 3G’s network architecture were modest.
If you were to sum it up, the main difference was it was faster — it let you get more down the pipe. 5G on the other hand is something completely new, totally reimagining how we architect infrastructure and introducing significant innovations to radio technology to boot. So much so that it is a truly new innovation platform.
Yes, there is a lot of hype versus reality at the moment, but its potential will genuinely blossom once it reaches its maturation point: stand-alone networks and infrastructure.
This is largely due to its technology makeup.
As we enter 2021, 5G standalone (SA) networks are being built with virtualisation and network slicing capabilities by design. This will allow them to take advantage of the full bandwidth spectrum which in turn affords huge opportunity and flexibility in how that spectrum is used. Operators’ technology, businesses, and operating models are going through significant change as they set themselves up to be both primary benefactor and beneficiary of 5G as a platform. Recent modelling by analyst house Analysys Mason has estimated that post-network roll out, 5G enabled business and services will add 210€ billion* in benefits to Europe — spanning public and private sectors.
Currently, we have a system that is grounded in 4G hardware and software. Gradually this is being combined with an additional dedicated dual-band n78, 3.5GHz service which is responsible for a large portion of the 5G coverage we’ve seen so far. This is relatively costly and time intensive for the operators, requiring physical installations and with coverage limited by physical manpower. To get around this and drive network availability in the short-to-midterm, the solution and next step is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS).
DSS affords an accessible and substantial leap in coverage through relatively straightforward software deployments which allow 5G to run through the existing 4G network bands. This alone is having a profound impact on 5G adoption, as coverage is increased by orders of magnitude.
Yet, with all this considered, DSS has only achieved part of the exercise; improved coverage. It is only once we are running purely off a dedicated 5G Core (5GC) network that no longer switches back and forth between 4G and 5G, that 5G’s full capabilities come to the fore.
DSS’s second reason for being, therefore, is to lay the groundwork for a user switch to 5GC. DSS availability and coverage significantly helps drive initial user adoption of 5G by having 5G run concurrently with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) bands.
This allows a legacy LTE device to connect through a given band and base station to the existing 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC), while a new 5G device can connect through the same band and the same base station to the new 5G Core (5GC). This in turn allows operators to gradually switch said LTE dedicated bands to dedicated 5G without having to clear out all the LTE users in a “flag day”. Instead the can let the two technologies run concurrently until enough devices are 5G capable.
This ‘concurrency’ is a vital step, enabling 5G in frequency bands and marking an important market penetration milestone as when carriers switch to 5GC they are only able make use of bands that already run 5G.
It is also why consumer market adoption is so central to 5GC roll out as bands cannot be switched until the market is ready at large, not to mention the consumer revenue significantly helps toward this largely industry focused roll out of 5GC.
As such, there has been a concerted and deliberate effort by the entire industry — from network operators, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), reaching throughout the entire value chain — to bring 5G consumer technology down the price curve, and get 5G in the hands of as many people as possible.
The benefits of stand-alone
The true magic of stand-alone 5G, however, is in network slicing and virtualisation. Once the 5GC migration is complete, the vast breadth of available bands combined with 5G mmWave technology unlocks near unlimited network slicing, allowing for a much more modular operator service for both the consumer and private organisations alike.
With this shift will come a swathe of new business models and revenue stream opportunities for the operators, providing a menu of new connectivity options for customers to choose from.
Some instances will be use case specific, such as industrial automation. We know this requires dedicated, private network bands that can guarantee very high reliability, latency, security, and quality of service — all of which play to 5GC network strengths.
Those same demands have a large downstream benefit on production output. According to modelling by analyst house Analysys Mason, 5G enabled smart production and logistics is forecast to add €70 billion in benefits to Europe alone.
In short, 5G affords a wealth of opportunity for each and every stakeholder throughout the value chain, from consumer through to network operator. So, as consumer demand continues to rise and the switch to 5G standalone comes into focus, operators are primed and ready to pivot and transform their operating models.