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5G private networks are the killer application

5G is five years old.

Every new technology has at least one killer application, and if after five years you are still scratching your head when asked what it is for 5G then Santiago ‘Yago’ Tenorio, Vodafone’s Director of Network Architecture, has five very strong contenders.

Earlier this week at the DSP Leaders World Forum 2024 in the UK, he predicted five key applications will dominate over the next two to three years.

Top of his list is 5G Mobile Private Networks (MPNs). He also championed Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), Artificial Intelligence (AI) over networks, Network Application Protocol Interfaces (APIs) and direct-to-smartphone satellite communications.

Private 5G
MPNs are making inroads among large corporates. Designed for the security conscious business or public sector organisation, they allow a customer to ring fence their data and more easily control critical factory robots, autonomous vehicles, and healthcare systems, to name but a few. 5G provides the necessary speed and low latency required to run these services without downtime.

Whilst safety and security are the main metrics enterprises use to assess the success of a MPN according to a survey conducted by global research firm, Omdia, MPNs are seen as a key driver towards widespread digitalisation, from assembly plants to health monitoring. Together with advanced 5G connectivity, they represent the ‘fourth wave’ of the industrial revolution – worth an estimated $2 trillion annually for the manufacturing sector alone, according to Vodafone’s report, Why Telecoms Matters.

Vodafone expects the number of 5G private sites across its core European markets to grow to many thousands in a couple of years from a few hundred today. Businesses are not just looking to automate their many labour-intensive and expensive processes; they realise that innovative technology is an operational asset. For example, Porsche is using an MPN from Vodafone to test and validate fast and safe connected vehicle technologies. This gives them greater control and bandwidth, and the improved security and reliability that a private channel brings.

How to democratise 5G
Having established a strong foothold with larger businesses, Yago sees an opportunity to democratise 5G private networks. Enter the 5G Network in a Box, which this week became commercially available through UK-based company Lime Microsystems. The size of a Wi-Fi router, it is ideal for smaller businesses, or any organisation wishing to link a campus or department to a private 5G network almost instantly.

Another key area for 5G is AI. The massive advances in computation seen in new technologies like generative AI (GenAI) will require faster and more responsive networks. 5G Standalone (5GSA), which upgrades the telecoms network core as well as the radio antennas, will provide the infrastructure, powered by advanced silicon chipsets needed to support AI computation, which alone is doubling around every three and half months.

5G Network APIs
5G can also breathe new life into Europe’s developer incubators. Yago explained that exposure of advanced 5G functionality through common Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) will enable operators to help third party companies develop services for specific industry sectors such as banking, financial services, and online retail. Vodafone already provides a Network API to combat online financial fraud. More generally, third-party companies, developers and operators can find new ways to monetise 5G and to quickly deliver new services at scale.

New 5G Frontiers
Vodafone is also pioneering the rollout of 5G using new technologies, like Open RAN, which offers a mix of different vendor hardware and software. Vodafone and its partners have nurtured Open RAN to commercial deployment in Europe and elsewhere. It not only promotes enhanced innovation through the introduction of new features and services, such as 5G network slicing, it also paves the way for greater use of automated and virtualisation techniques, replacing manual tasks associated with traditional networks.

Further from home is direct-to-device satellite. Vodafone is a key partner of AST SpaceMobile, the company building the first space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by everyday smartphones. Vodafone and AST SpaceMobile successfully completed a space-based 5G voice call last year and the companies continue to test the technology. It has the potential to be a disruptive technology, establishing satellite delivery mechanisms by offering 5G broadband from space to people in unserved and underserved geographical areas.

Industrial Internet Era
It may be five years old but 5G has a long way to go yet. 4G revolutionised the mobile internet while Yago’s five killer 5G apps looks set to bring about a second industrial revolution.

CT Bureau

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