Wireless technologies have been available since 1990s. With every generation, the capability and the promise seem ever increasing. 1G brought in voice communication, 2G introduced data communication, 3G raised the bar for internet speeds, 4G pretty much laid the foundation for smartphone revolution and is still predominantly used across the world; so what is it that is so exciting about 5G? Simply put, it gives us lightning speed as compared to previous generations (in Gbps), lower latency (~10 ms), and more capacity (millions of devices).
Customers buy the applications and solutions that any technology brings, and not the technology. In case of enterprise customers, they want to see the return on investment (ROI) rather than seeing multiple proof of concepts (POCs). POCs need to see the light of the day and be scaled to production. The value proposition needs to be weighed against the cost of deployment of the service. This is critical when thinking about plausible use cases.
Why has use case become such an important topic now? Any breakthrough comes through convergence of multiple technologies. There are many transformational components that are enabling use cases, which otherwise would be quite limited. Interaction of these components, in addition to wireless technologies (both 4G and 5G) are driving the development of multiple use cases.
Access to large amounts of spectrum in licensed, unlicensed (like LTE license-assisted access [LTE-LAA]) and shared spectrum (like CBRS) results in wider channels increasing capacity and throughput. With 5G, there will be sub-6GHz, mid-band spectrum and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.
Massive MIMO will not only overcome the propagation and penetration challenges of higher frequency use but will also give room for more efficient transfer of data to multiple devices at once and ensure a better quality of experience.
Internet of things (IoT), which is one of the main drivers the use cases by connecting endpoints (devices) to the internet. It is already seeing rapid adoption and is poised for wide-scale adoption. While many IoT use cases might not immediately require higher bandwidth, lower latency, or connection-density capabilities but as use cases scale, the network traffic and number of connections will expand dramatically.
Increase in densification of network using macro, micro, and small cells to fill coverage gaps and augment capacity leading to seamless connectivity, better throughput, and lower latencies. Challenges like regulatory policies, site acquisition, backhaul and power are slowly but steadily being overcome.
Wireless infrastructure is the largest segment of the virtual network function (VNF) market today, and is expected to remain the largest segment as network virtualization penetration grows in support of use cases. As the mobile core network becomes increasingly virtualized with network function virtualization (NFV), service providers can utilize containers for new applications, making it possible to move NFVs quickly from one location to another. This, along with the rise of new applications and use cases, is also pushing the network further out toward the edge. NFV also enables communication service providers reduce network costs simply and scale deployments and enable faster go-to-market strategies.
Edge computing reduces the traffic on the network by running workloads on the closest server, hence reducing latency. The appeal of edge computing is rising and is closely linked to fundamental changes in the types of applications and business cases that the industry is driving toward.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) enable efficient scheduling, automating management, and orchestrating tasks. Leveraging AI/ML for route and capacity planning and predictive service/maintenance is quite common. Enterprises across industries and geographies are increasingly adopting AI/ML technologies to enable innovative use cases, improve customer experience, enhance employee experience, and accelerate innovation as part of their digital transformational journeys.