Dialing into the 5G promise

24 Jan 2019

5G is touted as the revolutionary leap forward in mobile connectivity.

More than another "G", the new technology can create vertical-specific applications for vertical industries while forming the foundation for new ones such as smart cities, autonomous vehicles, smart manufacturing and more.

A recent TalkTech panel luncheon, organized by Telecom Asia and hosted by Oracle Communications, examined the challenges, opportunities and progress surrounding 5G. Representatives from operators and Oracle Communications shared how the new technology is about to shape the business landscape.

Designed for enterprises

For many years, mobile connectivity was a consumer play. Offering faster bandwidth allowed consumers to enjoy bandwidth-hungry apps that they could only previously access on their PCs. Untethered; they drove up demand and created the use cases for mobile operators to roll out higher “G” spectra.

5G will allow enterprises to join the fold. In fact, many proponents see the new technology being an enterprise-first play. “The focus for 5G will be shifting from consumer to B2B,” said Ivan Leung (pictured right), head of engineering at SmarTone Telecommunications.

He noted that 5G would allow mobile network operators (MNOs) and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to create specific solutions and services for specific industries and enterprises. It will also drive a new level of collaboration between enterprises and operators – one of the critical reasons why SmarTone launched its Innovation Hub with Ericsson in early 2017.

Other panelists agreed. Gary McLaren (pcitured left), chief technology officer & co-owner, Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) noted that 5G would see vertical industry segments working together with MVNOs, while Boudewijn Pesch, group vice president, Japan and Asia Pacific, Oracle Communications pointed out that 5G would shift the conversation of mobile connectivity from consumer to enterprises.

“When you look at the consumer market, how much more bandwidth will you need? It is a question mark. Yes, there is some capacity needed for data growth, but the use case for the consumers will be toward gamers. We believe that the enterprise is where the money is [for 5G]. That is why Oracle Communications is excited about 5G,” said Pesch (pictured right).

One attendee to TalkTech luncheon commented that 5G is altering the relationship between operators and enterprises permanently, the same way microservices has. “If you look at the enterprise microservices [design] and compare with the 5G Core [design specifications], they look very similar. And that is alignment to me. So, the operator needs to have closer relationship with the enterprise,” he added.

Opportunity in a slice

One of the key 5G features that will drive this close relationship is network slicing. It allows operators to split a physical network into multiple virtual networks for different applications and uses.

Leung of SmarTone noted that network slicing is an essential feature of 5G, along with capabilities of low latency and massive connectivity. “Most importantly, it can enable multi-industry and multitenant environments that can meet different requirements. It is all about flexibility.”

It can also reshape the entire industry.

An audience member commented that “One of the points that people do not realize is that operators are essentially communications service providers. With this [feature], they are going to become service providers.”

But there is a hidden cost – domain knowledge. To create the right services, operators need to gain the right industry knowledge and expertise. “It becomes much more complex than operating a network. Now you are operating a service. You need expertise. And a lot of operators are not thinking about it,” he continued.

Dan Bantukul (pictured left), senior principal member of technical staff, Oracle Communications agreed. “Selling solutions into vertical enterprises is a totally different ball game. And the mobile industry needs to think how [it will achieve this] in their operations, as it has been a very horizontal business so far.”

McLaren concurred suggesting that: “Traditional Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will need to consider broader channels for selling 5G into enterprise markets. MVNOs that specialize in specific enterprise segments will be one way for 5G enterprise applications to more effectively distributed into specific segments of the market.”

In the same vein, Oracle Communications sees this lack of expertise as an exciting opportunity. “So, for example, we can offer a service that is tailored for the healthcare industry, white label it and offer it through operators. It means operators do not have to develop such solutions themselves and leverage our knowledge in working with customers across the globe,” said Pesch.

Case for openness

5G allows companies to maximize their current investment. The panelists noted that the various architectures, as indicated in the 3GPP definitions, will enable enterprises to create the right framework that builds on current investments.

For example, SmarTone’s Leung noted that the 3GPP definition of 5G Option 3x, which uses a non-standalone architecture with a 4G core network, allows operators to have an early 5G launch before the standalone architecture becomes available.

“At the moment thought very few operators globally are doing radio and 5G Core. There are still outstanding questions to answer. Oracle Communications will be supplying key components for the specifications, but we do see new opportunities when we start building slices of the network,” said Pesch.

One such outstanding question surrounds latency.

Paul Berriman (pictured left), group chief technology officer, PCCW & HKT noted a scenario where two cars needed to communicate within 2ms (as per 5G design specifications) but were unable to do so because they used different networks. “You might get it on the same network. But this is one example where I believe an open shared network [can help to] drive down latency,” he said, highlighting the potential for operators to adopt open shared networks.

A mobile future

All panelists remarked that 5G uptake will definitely take off in Hong Kong. Part of this is due to the efforts by the Government to offer free spectrum.

“However, the government is only giving away the high band 26/28GHz free of charge. But once the 75-percent threshold is reached, we will need to pay,” said Leung of SmarTone.

But panelists noted that the lower end of the 5G spectrum is where it really matters. “Without having low bands like 3.5GHz, it is impossible to have coverage across Hong Kong. The 26/28GHz is mainly for hotspot implementation,” highlighted Leung.

He believed the "more realistic launch" of 5G would come in 2020 when operators have 3.5GHz spectrum, which they will need to auction for in the July-August 2019 timeframe.

Meanwhile, Pesch sees more collaboration between industry solution providers like Oracle Communications and tier 2 and 3 operators around 5G.

“If you look at the tier one operators that have deep pockets, they have a clear strategy of building out the 5G infrastructure, and then work with a lot of partners to come up with use cases. So, Oracle Communications sees opportunities to work with larger operators to offer building blocks. But we are equally excited to work with MVNOs to offer pre-packaged 5G slices as a service,” he said.

From left to right: Stefan Hammond, Telecom Asia; Dan Bantukul, Oracle Communications; Gary McLaren, Hong Kong Broadband Network; Boudewijn Pesch, Oracle Communications; Paul Berriman, HKT; and Ivan Leung, SmarTone Telecommunications.

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