As communications industry stakeholders work to define new standards and innovative business approaches for 5G, they must consider multiple categories of use cases: from high-definition multimedia and virtual/augmented reality, which require high capacity (“extreme Mobile Broadband”); to Internet of Things and sensor networks, which represent high-quantity applications (“massive Machine Type Communications”); to self-driving autos and other robotic applications of high criticality, which require mission-critical connectivity (“Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications”).
For all these use cases, there are increasing consumer expectations that the 5G network will deliver the highest-quality service and speed. Yet for telcos seeking to cope with the 5G revolution, transforming themselves from network centric to customer centric will not be enough. For the network will need to cater not just to customers in the classic meaning of the word, but also to new, sophisticated categories of defined and non-defined users—machines, vehicles, sensors, hot spots, things—in an orchestrated ecosystem that will have connectivity as a core component and that will be delivered across multiple vertical industries and devices.
The move to 5G will therefore demand telcos’ transformation in multiple dimensions:
1. Network Infrastructure Evolution. The next-generation convergent network will constitute the infrastructure into which diverse and varying use cases will be delivered and will require a dense set-up, including smaller elements in bigger quantities, and encompassing such technologies as software-defined radio, with centralized Radio Access Networks (c-RAN) and remote radio transceivers; next-generation WiFi; and multiple-antenna systems such as Massive MIMO. To manage the deployment of such complex scenarios, a range of Digital Network Deployment Solutions (DNDS) will be required.
2. Network Control & Virtualization. Use cases’ proliferation will require virtually dedicated networks to cope with specific requirements and service levels, and new strategies will be needed to manage the quantity and variety of network elements with flexible services: Software-Defined Network (SDN) approaches enabling Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and extensive use of the Telco Cloud. Networks will increasingly need to become self-organizing, self-healing entities that respond directly to user requirements.
3. Service Aware Delivery & Management. Expansion of the traditional customer focus will require the development of real-time service delivery and management, evolving from Business Support Systems and Operations Support Systems, and transformation of the field installation and repair organization responsible for users’ provisioning, fulfillment and assurance. Service Experience Engineering Management will be an increasingly critical function, as the network will need to be continuously engineered to address evolving use cases.
In order to successfully navigate the transformation, we believe two critical capabilities are needed:
1. Integration agility. To satisfy different industries’ expectations when collecting specifications, validating provisions, and activating client orders, 5G services will require not just connectivity, but also a solution / integrator mindset. The service catalogue of telco providers will be more diverse and tailor made.
2. Standardization & Regulatory mastership. Requirements for future telecommunication systems were plotted by ITU in its IMT 2020 program. For telcos, it is crucial to ensure that the standardization process is fully harmonized and timely, with no unexpected regulatory constraints, and managed across a wider ecosystem that involves new industries and public institutions. Open source is also increasingly relevant, particularly with NFV and infrastructure softwarization, as programmable platforms with open interfaces are crucial for network automation and service orchestration.
Driven by the market's "always connected" and "things to come" models in the last four years, forward-looking telcos have already begun to pursue the transformational approaches touched upon in this document.
The challenge is that expectations for the arriving technology are growing faster and spreading wider. Effective coordination among all transformational aspects will require the unprecedented heavy use of data analytics and continuous, insight-driven reconfiguration.