The 5G ecosystem has gained momentum over the last few months, and at NTT DATA, we consider that the main factors behind this to be:
- 5G standards released at the end of 2017
- American operators announcing commercial launches
- South Korea Winter Olympics showing “real” use cases
European governments are taking the next steps towards a 5G future beyond announcing their strategic visions for the development of the Gigabit and Digital Society, be it through infrastructure investment programmes or technology-driven trials.
At the MWC in Barcelona, we saw vendors with more commercial-grade solutions, big announcements, some 5G-ready terminals and a myriad of new technologies and applications.
The reality however is that there is still a way to go before we can start enjoying all the new features and dynamic applications 5G will afford us at scale. The business case for most of the use cases and scenarios is not straightforward if feasible at all, possibly the reason we have seen some big chief execs, (i.e. BT and Vodafone) call for more realism around all this hype. Vendors are pushing hard to get 5G technology out and monetised, however not all CSPs have the pressing desire to be early adopters, nor do they have the money to invest in it by themselves.
Technology is progressing, and will keep doing so; new radios, core technologies, SDN/NFV, AI, edge computing, OSS architectures, and network slicing to name but a few will be part of the converged system of systems that will form the 5G era. However, it is not just about technology, the CSPs will have to make important strategic decisions with respect to their business models and propositions. They will also have to decide who and how to partner with organisations, which countries, regions, cities or towns they address and prioritise and with which use cases. There is lots to consider, and a large cost associated with this, not to mention the level of complexity across all domains that should not to be underestimated.
With all these factors taken into account, some of our recommendations for CSPs in the short term are as follows:
- Strengthen your current networks: drive current LTE network to its maximum performance and reliability, as 5G will rely on them for quite some time
- Define your role and position with respect to fibre expansion: build, buy, share or subsidise but take it as one of the foundations for the future
- Get your virtualisation right: this is one of the main drivers for agility, efficiency and flexibility that will be required moving forward
- Select and prioritise your use cases and associated services, because in the “connected everything” world, CSPs will not be able to cope with “everything”, and definitely not by themselves.
- Finally, let us not forget the laws of Mother Nature, as spectrum is a finite and scarce resource and consequently very expensive. Competition is fierce, plan ahead, re-farm, and prepare your deep pockets.