There isn’t a US$1bn 5G use case, says Accenture 5G lead
Although we’ve missed out on the trumpets heralding the continued roll-out of 5G thanks to the cancellation of MWC 2020, there are significant early milestones to the full deployment of the technology being passed. The road is long, though, Tejas Rao, the managing director and global 5G offering lead at Accenture, tells George Malim.
As is usual when a new generation of technology is introduced, reality lags behind the hype and although there’s plenty of data providing insight into a growing list of apparently commercial deployments of 5G, it’s still early even for the pioneers.
“There is hype around 5G today but people aren’t seeing the differentiated 5G capabilities that LTE couldn’t do today – yet,” says Rao. “The challenge is to get the networks deployed and we’ve been helping three of the four operators in the US accelerate their deployments. They’re typically spending US$10bn on a capital basis every 10-18 months but this hasn’t really delivered the capability for 5G. Our perspective is that the roll-out is in the very, very early stages, although in the US and China the network has been lit up.”
“Most are thinking of deploying 5G in a similar way to 3G or 4G but this isn’t the right way to think about the software [based] network,” he adds. “What does the segmentation look like, what are the right opportunities to go an invest in and what does the ROI curve look like are vital considerations. The cost has to come down to get to the densification that 5G demands.”
Cost is one side of the coin and it needs to be offset by the monetisation capability of 5G. Yet that’s still at best hazy. “People ask us what’s the billion dollar use case for 5G and we say there isn’t one,” confirms Rao. “It’s about a communality of applications and services that 5G’s high speed and low latency enables.”
Full 5G in its near-final state offers a compelling vision of a hyper-connected future but, in the meantime, CSPs are looking for areas in which 5G attributes can be monetised.
“The lead time for deploying networks is so long that we see acceleration happening in a couple of areas,” he says. “One is the stadium experience in the consumer market where we see a lot of innovative experience design for sports and music events. You could parlay this and take it to campuses for enterprises or hospitals. We see this area driving an innovative set of 5G use cases to take to other markets.”
“The second area is private networks,” he adds. “5G networks and mobile edge computing at the RAN or in enterprise campuses or corporate offices involves achieving 5G in-building coverage for high speed low latency apps. We see a drive towards this and, instead of full coverage, if coverage can be got to the edge compute networks, opportunities will open.”
“It’s early days in terms of deployments – most are at the early adoption, pilot use cases still – and it will take three-to-four years,” he adds. “Even for 3G and 4G, deployment has been a five to seven year project, largely based on population density so the early 5G deployments of 2019 and 2020 will help us get to the 5G network.”
However, it’s not simply a case of building another cellular network. 5G has substantial differences and brings in very different performance compared to previous generations both in terms of high speed and low latency. These provide a foundation for the new 5G-related ecosystem of services and apps which will go far beyond a communications service provider’s traditional model of network provision.
“The enablers needed in the market place are digital transformation, the virtualisation of the network,” says Rao. “New, greenfield operators are really adopting cloud – private or public – to get the agility they need, but the challenges include how to create the currencies that 5G can offer in a way that is accelerated and in model where everything is cloud native.”
Rao points out that network slicing and other techniques will truly unlock the capabilities and possibilities of 5G but many operators simply haven’t turned their attention to these yet. These will bring in significant cultural change that could take several years to reconcile.
“How does the move to non-standalone 5G radio and the adoption of the all the techniques associated it, including the significant investment in fibre just to get to the cell towers, sit alongside the cultural change of virtualisation and the introduction of DevOps capabilities?” he asks. “You have to go around all the challenges and understand what you have and what you need, this drives a subset of innovative 5G use cases.”
There may not be a US$1bn single use case but it’s the subset of many, lucrative and innovative 5G use cases that will make up the business case for 5G and take the pressure off those who have made the massive infrastructure investment decisions.