5G deployments will accelerate to support continued digital transformation (Reader Forum)

5G has quickly become a technology that will affect everyone everywhere. While networks are still in the early deployment phase, the worldwide rollout has already begun. Almost every day we see a new announcement on another 5G deployment. GSMA Intelligence has reported that almost 110 operators in almost 50 countries will have launched new 5G networks by the end of 2020. 

In tandem, as we enter 2021 mobile operators will soon be running full cloud-native networks to enable the full potential of 5G. Cloud providers such as Amazon, Google and Oracle, are partnering with mobile operators to rollout Open radio access networks (ORAN) and bring edge technology to enterprises. In fact, ORAN and edge computing platforms’ availability are driving growth worldwide. Multiple suppliers are beginning to offer innovative solutions, while continuing to reduce their costs as they are expanding services.

The first ORAN based network have been announced and started deployment. Back in April, DISH announced its greenfield wireless network, which will deploy a 5G standalone (SA) network using ORAN architecture. While in Japan, Rakuten upgraded consumers in major cities with access to ORAN 5G network capabilities. A wide range of new uses based on low latency and high bandwidth will allow consumers to quickly access and experience new applications. The success of those deployments is leading more businesses to consider adopting open networks as opposed to the traditional proprietary models. 

Counterintuitively, most operators have realized that these new 5G networks will not drive consumer interest or directly lead to a higher revenue per user. Straightforward consumer adoption and proliferation will not lead to immediate revenue increases. So then why continue to invest so heavily in 5G deployments? It’s because 5G growth for operators will be driven by the huge demand for new enterprise applications. Due to the growth in digital transformation and trend to software-defined networking, businesses will increasingly pay for private networks, higher speeds, new functionalities, network slicing, and other capabilities offered by 5G networks. 

This is being driven even further due to the pandemic. Many businesses have had to embrace digital transformation to support or enforce remote working policies during the last nine months. With the global workforce now incredibly dependent on new digital services and collaboration tools, this has had a major affect on the global internet infrastructure. Networking and telecom companies have been heavily building out new networking infrastructure to support these increasing data demands – and 5G deployments has been a key part of this. 

At the moment, there are several particular countries where 5G efforts and deployments are being focused. This is simply because the current spectrum needed for 5G deployments is only available in about 35 markets, with trials beginning by almost 220 operators worldwide in those particular regions. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently resumed spectrum auctions to support additional deployments, which is critical to coordinated networks across many states.

The initial deployments are currently focused on implementing low-band 5G capacity nationwide. Mid-band 5G deployments will be utilized to serve higher-density and urban areas, where more connectivity is needed to support higher speeds for more people. As 5G expands, high-band coverage will serve extreme-density areas, such as stadia, transportation hubs and enterprises, where network demands will be the most intense. These environments that are seeing new use cases custom-made for 5G network capabilities will allow mmWave technology to shine. 

For example, several new edge applications will take advantage of and 5G’s low latency and high speed to offer new capabilities and video solutions for businesses. As sports are beginning to return to swing, many stadia plan to utilize 5G solutions to bring consumers back together to enjoy their favorite teams and other outdoor events. Nokia has taken the lead here by providing consumers with ultra HD live broadcasting and 5G VR/AR for an unparallel spectator experience. These will be leveraged for new drone-filmed UHD video of stadia games – and special VR filmed events to sell live tickets to remote viewers.

Through private 5G network deployments, smart manufacturing, hospitals and several other industries will be able to create a high efficiency and performance network bubble. Furthermore, neutral host networks will allow full coverage in less populated areas that are not well served by fiber. 5G’s wide range will benefit rural communities and the operational needs of businesses in more rural locations, such as farming and oil or mining. In these areas, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) will garner a significant slice of The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund with $9.23 billion in subsidies over the next decade to support high-speed rural broadband deployment.

Simultaneously with these developments, computing technology is also evolving to adapt to 5G deployments. As businesses plan for new 5G applications offering virtual shopping experiences for retailers or connected wearable and internal health devices, improved computing hardware at the edge is needed to support these use cases. 

New, smaller form factor edge servers and micro data center solutions have started to appear on the market. Some are similar to a refrigerator, making it easy for businesses to build and manage localized data centers in areas with limited space. Others are more like a “server on a pole” that can be built into urban small cells and rural cell towers themselves – allowing for widespread computing networks that are designed to operate in harsh environments. These allow new opportunities for telco operators or businesses to effectively deploy and manage widespread deployments and networks across the cloud and customer environments. 

Within the next few years we’ll continue to see operators collaborating with cloud providers to offer consumers and businesses access to new services, entertainment enhancements, and the capabilities to increase productivity and autonomous processes.  

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