The Race Toward 5G Is Afoot — But Are We Ready?

With 5G set to arrive within the next five years, accounting for as many as 1.1 billion connections by 2025, the telecoms industry has a lot of work to do in keeping up with the 5G overhaul. The industry has yet to fully implement a working and reliable 4G experience for users, which begs the question: can operators ensure 5G works sufficiently to provide a good consumer experience whilst making a profit?

The evolution through 2G to 4G has prompted rapidly increasing use of services and applications that are data heavy. Mobile data use has rocketed over the past five years — increasing 74 percent alone in 2015 — taking the overall global figure to around 3.7 exabytes per month. Behind this data explosion is the growth of streaming services, such as Netflix, and consumer’s growing use of apps — all underpinned by the expectation of having a high-speed data connection at all times.

This rising number of “always-connected” consumers and the proliferation of multiple connected devices including self-driving cars and delivery drones are driving service providers to take the lead in the 5G race. Similarly, 5G’s support of the Internet of Things (IoT) is another key driving factor for its high demand; after all, Gartner estimates that the amount of connected IoT devices will reach 26 billion by 2020.

Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax. Photo: Adax.

Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax. Photo: Adax.

Despite this data demand, there is still work to do in identifying the right business models and revenue opportunities to monetize 5G. With 5G theoretically 40-times faster than the hypothetical limit of 4G, it will take a great deal of expensive upgrading of the current infrastructure to fulfill its claims.

It is evident that the infrastructure overhaul will be huge — and expensive. The 5G roll out will require the current mobile networks to be more wired and the applications running on 5G need not just high bandwidth but low latency. Similarly, service providers must ensure they have the correct protocols in place to unlock the potential of 5G. Specifically, they will need to ensure they have an effective Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP) solution in place for diameter signaling. As implementations begin to roll out, the growth of diameter will continue to accelerate so the need for a good transport layer should be a priority. If service providers aren’t prepared, they could face not being able to carry the huge levels of traffic required by the host application to any and all of its possible destinations.

With this expensive upgrade in mind, will consumers be willing to pay more for 5G data to support this? If not, how will operators pay for this new infrastructure? There is no clear plan as yet as to who will pay for this or how 5G can be monetized. If you look at the traditional business model, the service provider makes money from the subscriber, which the service provider then invests in new equipment and services. Yet, there is a danger of this chain being broken with 5G roll out. Service providers cannot guarantee that they will make money out of the subscriber because they’re not developing the new services for consumers to increase revenue. If service providers are going to play the long game, they have to understand where that monetization can come from. If they get it wrong, it precludes them from making money further down the line.

Despite all this talk of 5G, there is still a lot that can be done to improve current 4G networks. Research from well-known consumer watchdog Which? in the U.K. found that the rest of the country is lagging behind London when it comes to accessing 4G data services, for example. Therefore, service providers perhaps should focus on developing a strong 4G service for subscribers and not believe the 5G hype coming from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who are desperate to develop new handset features that will require 5G capabilities. Service providers will need to have this front of mind when learning how the current 4G network can work alongside the development of 5G. In doing so, not only can they keep up-to-date with modern-day user demands, but also protect and improve their investment in 4G.

Don’t miss our upcoming DC5G Summit  where the worlds of telecom, satellite and policy will converge to delve into the opportunities of the upcoming 5G rollout. October 11, 2017 at the Renaissance Downtown Washington, D.C. Learn more

We have all experienced issues with the current 3G and 4G networks. The industry hasn’t fully utilized the technology yet, so the move to 5G isn’t necessarily going to be a smooth as some might think. It could be said that, at this point in time, users just want a good, reliable service. Do they really care if that service is delivered by 4G, 5G or XG? If not, then why would they be prepared to pay a premium for 5G service? It is, therefore, vital that service providers have the right infrastructure, monetization strategy and tools in place for 5G to be successfully implemented to deliver the right experience for consumers.

According to recent reports stating that every European town, city and village will deploy 5G networks by 2025, service providers will have their work cut out to provide a high level of service that end users have come to expect in recent years — as well as deep pockets. Although the telco industry has the challenge of keeping up with end-user demand and keeping eager 5G equipment manufacturers at bay, the focus should remain on ensuring that 4G works sufficiently before turning their attention to its successor: 5G.

Robin Kent is director of European operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, Wide Area Network (WAN), and office automation markets.  He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.  

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