neXt Curve attended 5G Americas held in Dallas, Texas. 5G Americas is an industry trade organization headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, composed of leading telecommunications service providers and manufacturers with a mission to advocate for the advancement of LTE wireless technologies and their evolution to 5G. Attendees included the leadership of mobile carriers in the Americas, executives from the network equipment vendors, and leading analysts from the global analyst community.
Here are the key takeaways from this year’s 5G Americas Analyst Forum:
Different 5G Strokes for Different Operators
In the early days of the 5G race in the Americas, each of the major US carriers is approaching their 5G implementation differently based on their spectrum positions, the markets they are addressing, and their respective readiness to execute their 5G transformation. A successful 5G rollout will require getting an operator’s entire ecosystem from IoT devices, smartphones, small cells, macro base stations, mobile backhaul, and re-architected central offices, revamped with an organization ready to operate a new 5G infrastructure and deliver new services.
The competition and name-calling have already begun. AT&T will be deploying 5G mobile hotspots that look like “pucks”, leveraging 5G as backhaul and LTE and Wi-Fi as small cell access for 5G hotspots, and will be leveraging the Ericsson DOT. In reaction, John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, was quick to quip by deriding the form of AT&T’s 5G equipment. T-Mobile US is going after nationwide coverage and will leverage their lower frequency spectrum, which is good for in-building coverage. T-Mobile will be one of the first to use Wi-Fi-assisted LAA (license assisted access) given their existing WiFi partnerships. They apparently will not be deploying pucks like AT&T. While Verizon’s Fixed Wireless Broadband approach with Inseego’s home gateway was debated as well.
As carriers in the Americas move forward with the 5G strategies and implementations, there will be a need for harmonization of networks not only within the Americas but globally. The 5G Americas will be moderating a multi-year initiative to promote this harmonization that will enable many of the aspirational 5G use cases in the future.
AI – Making The 5G Network a Smart Pipe
What are the exciting possibilities for consumers with AI-enabled devices? What will AI mean for businesses? There is little argument that AI is going to change the way people live, work, and behave. What will today’s era of data operators do to become the catalyst of that change? How might AI transform mobile networks in the future? These are important question for operators to as they move forward with 5G.
AI is expected to have a wide range of impact on the business of a carrier. AI can be leveraged in the operations of a carrier to help analyze enormous log files and recommend or autonomously take corrective actions, help determine root causes of issues, or be leveraged for consumer-facing applications like AI conversational chatbots.
While the operational aspects of SON (self-organizing networks) leveraging algorithms and AI have been around even in LTE, it will be customer-facing innovations that will be transformative leveraging the real-time low latencies of 5G and its mobile edge computing capabilities.
Open Source is a Catalyst for 5G Edge
Many of the key 5G use cases are going to rely on interoperability and sharing of access and resources. In essence, each carrier’s network will need to be able to talk to each other at the Edge. Open source has the very good potential to moderate the cost and speed of 5G transformation at the Edge by establishing a standard for architectures, software, interfaces, service definition and operation.
AT&T open sourced its Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) software to the Linux Foundation. ECOMP will allow other operators and vendors to collaborate and evolve a common NFV (network function virtualization) platform that will be able to run on mass-produced, commodity telecom hardware.
We are also seeing the fast develop and promotion of ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform), which will establish a standard for developing product-independent network service design, creation and lifecycle management. ONAP is expected to be an important framework for promoting automation of 5G network management and VNF (virtual network function) service orchestration.
Spectrum for Sale – Low, Mid & High Band Spectrum for 5G
For 5G to be successful, today’s licensed-spectrum networks will have to be deployed and operated using a combination of low, mid and high bands. As technology improves, bands in 3 GHz to 100 GHz and eventually higher will be available and operators will be able to dramatically increase their network capacity. Lower bands offer better coverage and control. Through the use of carrier aggregation and a dual connectivity model, the varied spectrum bands will resolve the tremendous requirement for capacity in future 5G networks.
A healthy debate on MulteFire, and coexistence with Wi-Fi going from LBT (“Listen Before Talk”) to adaptive beaming, “Look Before Talk”, is emerging. Fortunately, the FCC has since agreed and approved several companies with the go-ahead to activate a wireless technology called LTE-U in their base stations and devices, based on LBT algorithms.
The basic idea behind LTE-U (and related techniques called License Assisted Access and MulteFire) is that some WiFi frequencies in the 5 GHz band that are unused, can now be leveraged by carriers and device makers to augment existing base stations’ signals, potentially improving short-range connection speeds, and offer more cost-effective deployments.
Security & 5G – Encryption, Authentication & More Needed
What additional security features will be implemented to secure user identity and authentication? The growing rate of encrypted transport protocols for traffic carried over mobile networks is causing fundamental shifts in content over mobile networks. Carriers’ general network management solutions, transparent value-add services (VAS), security services and monetization opportunities will become increasingly harder to manage.
Holistic security continues to be a significant gap with IoT and 5G. We didn’t see anything solved at 5G Americas. Standards and holistic frameworks for security are still a work in progress but 5G is rushing ahead of what current security solutions can handle. Cybersecurity will become an increasing risk for operators and a constraint on the services that they can provide with privacy enforced and secured.
Network Slicing – The Critical 5G Capability
Network slicing is considered to be one of the key capabilities that will provide 5G networks with future-proof scalability and flexibility. With network slicing technology, a single physical network can be partitioned into multiple virtual networks allowing the operator to offer optimal support for varying workloads and services for the numerous types of customer segments.
Network slicing technology enables operators to provide networks as-a-service, which enhances operational efficiency while reducing time-to-market for new services. Network slicing can support customized connectivity designed to benefit many industries by offering a smarter way to segment the network to support particular services or business segments.
Implication or Business Leaders
The 5G promise is broad and ambitious, but business leaders need to recognize that we are at the very beginning of this journey, and differences exist between the carrier strategies within the US and globally. Emerging technologies under the 5G umbrella are creating new opportunities, such as hybrid cloud services brokering, for new entrants to fill the gaps as the world moves toward the promise of 5G.
The question remains what are these killer applications? The $3.5 trillion opportunity is hypothetically there but is no guaranteed. Meaningful KPIs (key performance indicators) from quality of experience to business case monetization need to be developed to qualify opportunities along each operators’ 5G roadmap.
Vendors and service providers need to work with enterprise CXO’s to prioritize value-added applications and define their success metrics that will foster near-term monetization of the converged IT/CT infrastructure that will delivers the 5G promise.
If you are interested in my detailed insights and observations from the 5G Americas Analyst Forum, contact us for an inquiry.