Mobile World Congress 2019 fanned the flames of excitement swirling around enterprise 5G, offering attendees a tantalising glimpse of the new revenue opportunities promised by the likes of mobile edge computing (MEC), massive machine-type communications (MTC), virtualization, automation and network slicing.
There was plenty of love for the 5G radio interface and the benefits that come with all that bandwidth, but many TelecomTV interviewees at the show were particularly keen to talk about this supporting cast of network assets. What comes across in the interviews is that the industry has a much clearer idea of how these different network elements will work in concert with one another to give telcos the tools they need to offer new types of services to corporate clients, and how they will enable them to extract maximum value from the massive volume of data that 5G networks are expected to carry.
5G is “more than a technology play, it’s a business play,” said Amol Phadke, MD, global network strategy and portfolio, Accenture. He explained that businesses are looking to 5G to create a connectivity paradigm that supports not just platform players like Amazon and Google, but individual industries.
As a result, “there is a new ecosystem and a new value chain that’s going to be created,” he said.
Helmut Reisinger, CEO of Orange Business Services, is understandably very bullish on 5G, which he says will enable the kind of smart mobility services that will underpin what he calls the Internet of Enterprises, and all the related, interconnected ecosystems
“That is the promise of 5G: collecting the data; storing and computing, [and] analysing the data; bringing value to the data. Then of course it’s about using this data to collaborate and to create something,” he said.
When it comes to verticals, Reisinger sees demand wherever there is a requirement for some kind of real-time solution. For example, OBS is doing field trials with connected drones that can detect and observe wildfires, he said. Another example he gave was one of his mining clients in Australia, which has deployed self-driving trucks.
“They are producing Terabytes of data per day. Not per year, per day. This needs to be managed,” Reisinger said, adding that having the capability to send that data to the cloud to be analysed as quickly as possible is critical.
Reisinger’s sentiments were echoed by Martin Bäckström, head of technology and portfolio, BDGS, at Ericsson.
While the radio is a fundamental element of enterprise 5G, it is also “the network slicing, it’s the cloud, it’s a data centre, it’s the virtual nodes, the ability to create parts of an ecosystem for other industries that can benefit from it,” Bäckström said. “All of these will contribute to and open up new revenue streams for operators and these industries.”
For BT Global Services, 5G technologies promise further improvements to reliability and availability.
“If we really want to embrace Industry 4.0, having a network that’s truly available every millisecond of the day is super important,” explained Neil McRae, managing director and chief architect, BT Global Services. “That’s why we’re deploying all this automation, virtualisation, [and getting] cloud-ready, so that the network is self-healing, self-repairing.”.
All this excitement is perfectly understandable at a show the size of MWC, where bold proclamations are much more likely to be heard amid the cacophony of announcements and conference sessions. However, the problem is that it sometimes paints an inaccurate picture of where the industry stands today and where it is headed in the near term.
“The capabilities that 5G promises are going to come out in a series of phases: massive machine type communications, network slicing, and so-on are all on the horizon. None of those things are going to happen for the next couple of years,” said John Delaney, associate VP of mobility at IDC.
He was keen to point out that the industry is right to explore 5G’s diverse use cases, because it will stand telcos in good stead when their networks are ready to support them.
“But I do wonder whether they are paying not enough attention to the short-term. For the next two years, the return on investment in 5G networks is going to come almost exclusively from revenues enabled by the eMBB use case,” he said.
“Yet I didn’t hear very much about how they’re planning to market that. It was all about controlling drones and autonomous cars.”―Telecom TV