In April, UK regulator Ofcom announced that the auction of frequencies for 5G mobile networks had raised £1.36bn – even though 5G isn’t expected to launch until 2020. However, several US telecom operators are planning to launch their 5G services by the end of the year, writes Michal Medrala, the head of OSS Project Management at Comarch.
It’s no surprise that operators are keen to get the technology up and running – ABI Research predicts that mobile broadband operators will see 5G revenues of US$247bn by 2025. The move to 5G will not be a smooth process. Yes, 5G is within reach, but there are significant preparations to make, and challenges to overcome, before we see 5G in the UK.
What is the point of 5G?
As Deloitte argues, 5G is a “critical enabler to new technology adoption”. As our world becomes more connected, and we come to depend on connected devices in our everyday lives, we need wireless technology that can increase the speed of communication. We also need systems that can handle the demand without causing a significant drain on resources.
One of the goals of 5G is to reduce how much power network devices consume. This will be achieved by virtualising network resources, and by implementing intelligent network management systems that are constantly monitoring the use of resources. When resource utilisation is low, the software can optimise the network by moving services from several resources to a single one, powering off anything that isn’t being used.
Ofcom also predicts that 5G will enable greater innovation. As it said in its recent report Enabling 5G in the UK: “The greater versatility and capability of 5G means that it will likely be used for a much wider range of purposes than mobile broadband for businesses and consumers, and by a diverse set of providers beyond the mobile network operators.”
5G is an essential step towards managing an increasingly connected world.
The challenges of 5G roll-out
While we may be technologically capable of delivering 5G, there are some challenges the industry must overcome before it’s ready to implement the technology.
Regulations must be changed
Governments around the world are reviewing their existing telecom regulations to benefit 5G and optimise the process of site provisioning.
Current regulations are strict and will cause problems getting some of these new services to market. Commissioning a new site usually takes months. Unless these regulations are changed, it will be a real challenge to ensure adequate provision for 5G – and we need to put thousands of small or micro-sites in big cities).
The UK government has created the National 5G Innovation Network and is working with regulators to smooth the way for a successful launch of the service.
Operators need to increase investment in infrastructure
Network operators are preparing themselves too. There are massive investments all over the world in optical fibre networks which are required for ultra-high capacity 5G services.
Of course, operators monetise this network by delivering fixed services, but those same networks will be used soon as mobile network backhaul, and so they will monetise them again. Mobile broadband services will provide the same quality of service as fixed services, but with higher flexibility and customer experience.
Hardware and software vendors are investing heavily in new solutions and conducting their first field tests. They are investing in design and production of smart antennas supporting beam forming techniques; wireless fibres which allow high capacity communication in hard-to-access areas; low-energy wireless modules; high efficiency micro solar cells for powering IoT devices; and many more.
Networks must be optimised to work with 5G
Industries are developing technology built to run on 5G. This means one thing: networks must be optimised, and quickly, as the explosion of IoT has already started.
Investments are huge in software, too. One of the biggest and never-ending challenges for network operators is the high operational costs. They’re looking to reduce these by optimising resources utilisation; and automating network management processes.
Every resource in the network – whether that’s a connection or equipment device – should be used. Resources which are up and running but are not used to deliver services are nothing but a waste of money.
Do OTTs have the advantage?
Over-the-top providers (OTTs) were in a winning position because they could deliver services to end customers without the need to have their own infrastructure. This allowed them to introduce service changes smoothly and with low risk.
It’s more difficult for mobile and fixed service providers. Rolling out services to new locations requires construction, the manual installation of equipment and a lot of field tests. Of course, owning infrastructure requires significant investment in managing it, and squeezing every last drop of revenue from it.
Operators are looking to new ways of monetisation, such as using network virtualisation, and infrastructure can now be shared dynamically, automatically optimising all parts of the infrastructure and keeping costs low. This automation may level the playing field.
Now, the infrastructure can be owned by one company while another provides the customer service. The same infrastructure can easily be used by anyone, whether they’re a mobile network operator, an internet company such as an OTT or video service provider, or a driverless car company.
The rollout of 5G is essential to support the connected world we now live in. For operators, the focus has shifted to the most effective way to provide services that customer’s want, irrespective of who owns the infrastructure. There are still goals to meet before 5G can be successfully deployed, but operators and governments are working together to meet them.