Sure we see a daily flood of stories around 5G, but there remains a sense that the it’s still many business cycles away from anything like a zinger Hollywood pitch. Rather it feels more like another unnecessary Star Wars instalment that may well have gone with the wrong director.
BY MIKA SKARP
Sunny days are now upon us, and with them, a generalized decompression as global industry moves toward the summer vacation period.
Telecom is no exception, particularly in Europe. Still, one can’t help but notice that in spite of a busy spring for telecom – some good (AT&T / Time Warner), some bad (BT), there’s a real sense that 5G talk is entering a calmer, one could even say cooler phase. The last few months have delivered very little that’s new related to the next big G.
5G – A Summer Blockbuster or Straight-to-Video Snooze
By all accounts, the PyeongChang Olympics went fairly well from a 5G perspective and gave it a modest bounce. Still, there was little WOW factor for a globally visible event in such a tech hotbed, where arguably there really should have been.
On this side of the Urals, European operators are girding for frequency auctions, but still there’s next to no buzz about it; certainly, nothing that would compare to the frenzy around 3G spectrum auctions.
Sure we see a daily flood of stories around 5G PoCs, and many operators, especially in the US, making their 5G proclamations, but from the carriers to industry to consumers and media there remains a sense that the 5G is still many business cycles away from anything like a zinger Hollywood pitch.
Rather it feels more like another unnecessary Star Wars instalment that may well have gone with the wrong director. So where’s the Incredibles 2 story line that will once and for all vanquish the Underminer? As these things tend to go, we’ll all suddenly (some more suddenly than others) realize that it was right there in front of us all the time.
Missing the 5G Forest for the Trees
While nothing much to write home to mother about, it’s clear that at its outset, somewhere between 2020 and 2021, we’ll see 5G as a capacity enhancement atop 4G. And, of course, like standard theatre release patterns of any high budget / low certainty blockbuster, 5G will begin its box office play in bustling metropoles, particularly densely populated areas like the Astrodomes and Piccadilly Circuses of the world.
There will be hype, and most of it you can bet will be about swaying subscribers to part with their pay checks for the first wave of 5G devices, and then ideally rinse and repeat as often as possible. After all, Who doesn’t want a new 1000 dollar phone every year? But like Star Wars’ failed Solo tour, consumers need a lot of good reasons to go for it, and only one reason not to.
“Just like the falling costs of film and TV production lowered the barrier of entry for waves of smaller producers, virtualization simultaneously democratizes the telecom supply chain while accelerating innovation and even reducing risk.”
And while on the sell side the 5G push will about getting consumers to pay more, on the operator side it has been almost all about saving money on what promises to be a much less hardware-focused G.
And while this sounds great, our new Software Defined Networks will be anything but a cakewalk. The 5G network will be factors more complex than any previous generations, and that only means a bigger vendor work force.
The difference here, however, is that for the first time it won’t be concentrated amoung the big 3 or 4 equipment vendors, but across an expanded ecosystem of smaller players. Just like the falling costs of film and TV production lowered the barrier of entry for waves of smaller producers, virtualization simultaneously democratizes the telecom supply chain while accelerating innovation and even reducing risk.
Walk Softly and Carry Many Baskets – The Challenge of Network Virtualization
Already carriers are seeing the benefit of not having all of their network eggs in one or two baskets. But this also means that on top of running dramatically more systems, they will be dealing with an increasingly heterogeneous stable of vendors.
And while smaller companies will deliver increasingly larger parts of the network, and at a lower cost, Carriers will also have the tricky challenge of ensuring proper integration. This suggests that more vendor integration partnerships develop (OSS/BSS with Network Slicing providers and Orchestrators for example) to provide, to whatever extent possible, reasonably turnkey solutions.
This is important as carriers are already struggling to get their 5G strategies and architectures into a cohesive blueprint, and there is a wide range of integration capability among operators worldwide.
But before sounding our own Wilhelm scream, let’s look at what the 5G story is really about. Sure savings are great, complexity is not and there’s lot of work still to do, but that’s all inside ball and not very interesting to the average investor.
Yes, 5G will deliver more capacity, but its really a story of business transformation and growth, and Network Slicing is at the very centre stage of that. It’s been predicted that by 2026 mobile market could be 34% larger than it is today if the industry can once and for all get off the Best Effort pipe and start delivering SLAs.
Global Digital Transformation & Network Slicing
Going down the line from industry to government to consumers the ability to introduce true choice within mobile networks carries near estimable value in driving global digital transformation. And with that shift comes a great many positive side effects that on their own outstrip the current, capacity-focused pitch line for 5G.
Take video alone, though it’s a doozy. Today it runs like a phalanx out of the film 300 down the mobile broadband superhighway, eating up between 50 and 70% of mobile network traffic. What many don’t know is that a whopping 20 to 30% of that video is bucketed within buffers that never get watched as rightly impatient video hoppers move on to the next clip.
Network Slicing, where applied to OTT services like, say Youtube and Netflix, can reduce buffering significantly, to provide networks with an additional 10 to 20% more capacity. Interestingly that’s about the same capacity gain 5G air interfaces promise to provide on top of 4G. So if capacity gains are your primary 5G strategy driver, you can get there much less expensively with 4G LTE Network Slicing.
And there are other reasonably easily plucked fruit within our current networks. Simply integrating communications between the mobile network and application servers to establish static bit rates would also conserve traffic, boost network performance and most importantly, improve customer satisfaction by ensuring consistent QoE levels across multiple screen sizes.
“So if capacity gains are your primary 5G strategy driver, you can get there much less expensively with 4G LTE Network Slicing.”
So while 5G continues to struggle to tell its own story as it relates to top line revenue, Network Slicing delivers a triple threat, reducing capex as well as opex and the cost of delivering a bit from A to B, but most importantly adding instant new revenues from a raft of SLA-ready government, business and consumer microsegments.
So while the stock market has yet to suit up for the 5G gala ball, seeing it as yet another sequel, they may miss the forest for the trees, that award-winning short feature that everyone’s talking about called Network Slicing.