World is going to be a very connected place where machines, equipment and other mechanical objects will interact with humans and with each other, that would require real-time communication with ultra-low latency and 5G networks are aimed to enable that communication. Take an example of modern-day manufacturing plants where humans work alongside robots in a coherent and collaborative environment. This facilitates industrial automation with increased productivity, worker safety alongside zero-defect manufacturing. To drive operational efficiency in manufacturing, it requires enterprise-wide transparency into business processes. Leveraging 5G industrial networks and reliable communications across factory floors enables seamless process integration and streamlined logistical movement which are only a few benefits of such a high degree of connectivity. There are multiple use cases of 5G not only in the field of manufacturing but also in video monitoring, sensor based technology, connected vehicles, real time monitoring of sensitive processes and moreover, immersive experiences.
Unlike the 2G, 3G, 4G technologies that have emerged out of needs such as faster and reliable internet, 5G is emerging more as an enabler and a catalyst for emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and Virtual Reality. 5G is anticipated to be the ultimate key for unlocking the potential of emerging technologies. 5G aims to create a network through which virtually everyone and everything can be connected including devices, machines, appliances and other objects. 5G is meant to enable the use cases of the future which may range from artificial/virtual reality (AR/VR), smart homes, smart factories, healthcare, autonomous cars, real time banking and widespread IoT in smart cities and agriculture. These use cases will be enabled through very high data speeds, lower latency, greater reliability and significantly increased network capacity which is available to everyone in a secure, uniform and economic manner.
As per Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), 5G-based use cases are expected to enable global economic output in excess of USD 2 trillion by 2035 across the overall 5G value chain which would include Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEMs), operators, content creators, app developers and consumers. Overall, global 5G connections are expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2025 and it will account for about 30 percent of connections in markets such as China and Europe and around 50 percent of the total market in US. It is expected that intelligent connectivity, enabled by 5G, will be a facilitator for socio-economic growth and in turn will result in significant growth of global GDP.
At present, over 30 countries have launched 5G with over 80 commercial network deployments. Interestingly, these deployments have vastly differed from each other in terms of technology and 3GPP standards, however, it is clear that as a catalyst to Industry 4.0 along with Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G is conceived not only as an improvement of the bandwidth capacity of current mobile broadband networks but as an extension into new capabilities forming the 5G triangle of:
- eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband)–An extension of current mobile broadband use case, with a greater emphasis on security;
- uMTC (ultra-reliable Machine Type Communication)– The ability to support a massive amount of connected object sensors with a strategic need of large area coverage, energy efficiency and low cost; and
- mMTC (massive Machine Type Communication)–Very low latency for real-time uses with high reliability and guaranteed quality of service with a multitude of use cases around
As of now, 5G network deployments are mostly service-based architectures (SBA) where almost all functions are deployed through open software on generic hardware rather than vendor grade hardware- software combination. Further, 3GPP has provided six 5G implementation strategies which can be broadly classified into:
- Non-Standalone–where 5G networks will be supported by existing 4G infrastructure primarily for signaling; and
- Standalone–employing 5G Core (5GC) for signaling and information
For deploying a successful 5G architecture and for it to be a commercial success, there are substantial challenges that the telco ecosystem must find a way to mitigate; some of the key ones include:
- Spectrum charges–Telcos are expecting very high fees for the 5G spectrum procurement due to competitive bidding and need for continuous spectrum. This may further push the telecom sector into substantial consolidation;
- Infrastructure–5G would require a substantial fiber backhaul and network capacity availability which would entail a high cost of deployment hence, there is a need for innovative commercial and funding models; so telcos are able to deploy fiber based Also, with the use of higher frequency spectrum, operators will have to set up multiple small cells to ensure coverage, capacity and Quality of Service (QoS). The transport layer will employ Software Defined Networking (SDN) to manage optimal data flow in real time and Network Slicing to create custom services through traffic segregation. The operator’s core network will need to evolve to Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) for decoupling network hardware and software and employ Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) to support computing and storage at the edge of the network i.e. closer to end users to reduce latency;
- OEMs–Radio equipment supporting Massive MIMO and advanced beamforming are required for 5G deployment, this is where OEMs will have a part to play. The industry is already drifting away from proprietary hardware and software and hence OEMs need to innovate to ensure that they continue to play a role in enablement of 5G networks;
- Devices–There is still no clear roadmap for device manufacturers so they can produce devices that are compatible with local spectrum allocations and in line with harmonized global standards. With a multitude of 5G use cases ranging from smart home to health monitoring, entailing different form factors, device manufacturers would need to cater to various 5G frequencies from sub 6 GHz to millimeter waves which would require innovation to ensure that devices of the future can cater for multiple use cases. Further, this may even lead to delay in adoption of 5G due to unavailability of right set of devices in the market;
- Ecosystem collaboration–Use cases of 5G are mainly arising as a result of integration of newer technologies however, this integration does not necessarily present a direct incentive for the various role players in the ecosystem to collaborate and strengthen the overall ecosystem through necessary investments;
- Security–5G has a potential of increasing the network and device related vulnerabilities due to a shift from proprietary to open source architecture, this may become a significant threat to protection of information and hence, it would entail significant investments in security operations center (SOCs) for the telcos; and
- Societal and environmental impacts–Small cell deployment which is an essential component of 5G deployment would require extensive town planning and local permits which would require collaboration with local authorities and inclusion of those authorities into the overall 5G ecosystem as primary stakeholders so the deployments can be made in a sustainable manner ensuring very little impact to the society and environment on a whole.
5G ecosystem would require massive technological upgrades along with defining and management of 5G ecosystem to overcome the challenges mentioned above. This would require an intensive review of the overall ecosystem right from the user devices used to connect on to the network to the setup of an all pervasive 5G network which may require innovation and investment across the ecosystem.
Though the above upgrades are essential to provide 5G specification speeds and latency, however, to realize 5G’s full potential, operators must also upgrade their operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS). The new OSS/BSS will have to be end to end, dynamic, on demand and automated as against the traditional siloed, static, scheduled and manual systems. The new OSS/BSS will need to use Open APIs to enable quick and easy integration of coherent systems, orchestrate technology and resource orchestrators, manage customer interactions, employ dynamic network planning and ensure automation of not just for provisioning and assurance but also for product lifecycle management.
With mobile operators being expected to spend USD 1.1 trillion worldwide between 2020 and 2025 in capital expenditure, roughly 80 percent of which will be on 5G networks, 5G adoption strategy and consideration will be vital for the success of telcos. 5G Core (5GC) and New Radio Stand Alone (NR SA) are the target network architecture for the mobile industry as this new architecture is key to addressing multiple vertical needs and opening new business opportunities for service providers. However, the operators need to devise a strategic implementation plan in line with their vision to truly reap the benefits for 5G and get the necessary returns on investment not only on the 5G deployment but also on legacy and 4G deployments.