Industry Voices—Schoolar: Industry taking more measured approach to 5G

The 5G World Summit was held in London. (Pixabay)

During the week of June 10, I attended the 5G World Summit held at the London ExCel center. (Full disclosure: Ovum, where I work, and Knect365, which puts on the 5G summit, are both owned by Informa.)

The 5G event was just one of several tech conferences held there concurrently by Knect365, making it difficult to judge the actual 5G attendance. From my time there, here are some of my observations on where 5G is in mid-2018.

Growing acceptance of a more realistic vision regarding the initial benefits of 5G

Vendors and operators are taking a more measured and conservative approach to what 5G will initially provide. Initial mobile-focused networks will be about adding network capacity to high traffic areas or enhancing mobile broadband.

5G can handle data traffic more efficiently than LTE, giving operators a better total cost of ownership. This will provide one of the initial drivers to deploy 5G. Sure, it isn’t near as exciting as talking about new use cases and network slices, but lowering network costs is important and measurable. The suits in the finance departments notice these things. 

Standalone 5G NR and nonstandalone 5G NR isn’t an either/or proposition

Operators have two options when it comes to deploying 5G radio access networks, standalone or nonstandalone. The difference between the two is that nonstandalone uses a 4G core and 4G radio for the control plane. Standalone uses a 5G core and a 5G radio does both control and data plane.

Until recently, when these two options were discussed it was an either/or proposition. Operators would either have standalone or nonstandalone. Now there appears to be possibly a third option: both.

Operators that start with nonstandalone may be in no hurry to migrate everything to standalone. Standalone could be just for certain use cases and bands initially—such as mmWave for fixed wireless access.

While I still think over time it will be more efficient for an operator to move everything to standalone, there very likely will be some operators comfortable in supporting both options for several years.

Industry opportunities are coming into a little sharper focus

Coming out of MWC this year, one of the big questions was how operators would make money from new 5G services, and specifically services aimed at new industry use cases. That question still isn’t fully answered, but the 5G Summit did leave me with the impression that it can be answered.

The Monday before the show, Nokia held an analyst event that included a presentation from CIO for the Port of Hamburg. The port has been running a 5G trial network that shows the future possibilities of the technology.  The trial includes such things as environmental sensors and road traffic management using network slicing.

While LTE can do much of what the port is trialing, the CIO sees benefit in 5G when it comes to scaling and latency. Manufacturing was another use case that came up several times during the Nokia event, where operators think there are real possibilities.

I think the obvious areas where 5G industry use cases will take hold are the same areas where enterprises are already running their own private wide area networks. I also think it is the converged operators that have a fixed enterprise services division that will have the best chance when it comes to pursuing these industry use cases. Deploying new industry-specific 5G networks will require many of the same skills as it takes to sell a fixed-line enterprise network.

Some operators are just going to do it so as not to be left behind

There are well-reasoned deployment plans for 5G like improved efficiency and new use cases, and then there are just plain competitive reasons. 

Mobile telecom is a very competitive business. Operators fight for every percentage point of share. With that in mind, some operators are just going to go to 5G because their competitor is planning to do the same.

From a marketing perspective, no operator wants to be a laggard. Once a Tier 1 operator launches a commercial 5G network, its competitors will follow as quickly as they can. Operators will launch 5G and figure out how to best monetize it as they go.

5G could just as well be called Long Term Evolution

It is a shame that 3GPP used Long Term Evolution on 4G, as it could apply just as well to 5G. Looking at current development time frames, we might not see our first commercial fully automated network slices with 5G until 2022. The common availability of low-latency services could take even longer than that.

Just like 4G, 5G has a long term evolutionary path of technology enhancements. The 5G we see at the end of 2018 will look very different from the 5G we see at the end of 2028. Remember, early LTE networks were sub-100 Mbps, now there are technology solutions than can push it to 2 Gbps.

Daryl Schoolar is principal analyst of wireless infrastructure for Ovum. Daryl's research includes not only what infrastructure vendors are developing in those areas, but how mobile operators are deploying and using those wireless networking solutions. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him at @DHSchoolar.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of the editorial board.