Identifying and talking about trends is a popular activity in many fields, including the mobile industry. So, what is trending now for mobile service providers?
Well, automation is definitely a headline topic. To address complexity and meet customer expectations efficiently, service providers must automate their network and service operations. These efforts inevitably rely on intelligence/analytics and on key automation enablers, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Undoubtedly, network and customer intelligence has become essential for mobile service providers in the era of 5G. For example, 5G accentuates the need for predictive and prescriptive insights.
Another interesting trend would be the rising importance of fiber. 5G’s promise of exciting new services and innovative business models (built upon end-to-end network slicing) cannot materialize without a strong transport network. The significance of testing and monitoring the underlying fiber network infrastructure should not be underestimated in preparing for and assuring 5G. But this does not mean that other network domains should be ignored.
On the contrary, 5G necessitates domain-specific and (multidomain) end-to-end visibility based on accurate knowledge of network and service topology. This should also be seen in the context of continuing investments in 4G evolution. As most 5G networks will initially be non-standalone – i.e., dependent on 4G radio (partially) and core capabilities – the legacy network remains a vital part of mobile service providers’ strategy.
This strategy is related to technology trends, such as network virtualization, which will help service providers become more agile and more efficient. Is virtualization part of the 5G discussion? Of course. In practice, technologies, such as network functions virtualization (NFV), are frequently discussed together with other IT concepts and 5G pillars, including cloud and softwarization.
In addition, 5G rollout plans dominate the headlines. In fact, we have already seen a number of commercial 5G launches. The availability and cost of spectrum, the performance of 5G new radio (NR) and – for 5G standalone – core, or the identification of 5G site candidates (which would potentially require massive MIMO antenna deployment) are only some of the topics keeping mobile service providers awake at night.
On a more generic level, service providers remain focused on customer experience. This focus is to become more use-case-specific as 5G enables the launch of new services – with distinct throughput, latency, reliability, and other key requirements – for different vertical industries. Many 5G use cases will be IoT-related and aim to provide a foundation for smart applications on a personal, home, neighborhood, city, or higher level.
The category of generic trends also comprises cooperation (for all players in the 5G ecosystem) and convergence (of fixed-line and mobile networks, for example). To be precise, there are many trends for mobile service providers to highlight and discuss here. However, it should be clear from the previous paragraphs that most – if not all – of these trends would be directly/indirectly linked with 5G. In other words, 5G is effectively the umbrella or master trend.
So, is the title of this article right? Well, it may be a bit exaggerated. And do we still need to discuss each individual trend in isolation? Probably. But there is now a catalyst for mobile industry change that encompasses the main trends for service providers and holds great promise for the future. It is up to all relevant industry players to ensure that 5G is more than a buzzword, a mobile industry fad, or even an umbrella/master trend –and that 5G delivers. Long live 5G!