Entering the 5G era: demand, deployment, and disquiet

Digital World 2020 Daily Highlights Day 2

The speed, reliability and capacity offered by 5G has the potential to change how we work and live in ways we cannot yet imagine. It is an essential part of the digital solution to post-COVID social and economic recovery, driving cost and energy efficiency at scale and bridging the digital divide. But 5G is only part of that solution. Much like the industry itself, 5G can only realize its full promise through collaboration – with different stakeholders, technologies, industries, and end-users.

This was one of the key findings from this highly-informative discussion on the edge of the 5G era, ably moderated by ITU’s Diana Tomimura.


Use cases: from consumer to industry, vertical sectors, private networks and beyond

In his opening contribution to the debate, Jeff Edlund, Chief Technology Officer, Communications Media & Solutions, Enterprise Services Hewlett-Packard, emphasized how 5G is revolutionising the way communications is delivered and to whom: “4G was technology designed to connect everyone. 5G is technology designed to connect everything.”  The goal is to connect everything, everywhere, all the time – and the convergence of IT and ICTs is at the heart of this revolution.

Current deployment is driven by consumer business, with end users enjoying enhanced speed and capacity as a largely premium-free add on to 4G, said Kai Sahala, Head of Global Sales Development, Mobile Networks, Nokia. Making good on the 5G promise of rich content requires investment, strategic orchestration and clear business cases. “Today the use is primarily for mobile broadband for consumers, but the big picture is the next phase which is industrial, IoT – and which is where 5G really fits,” he continued. Digital has replaced the physical in content and media; it cannot replace physical production in the same way, but it can enhance it, especially in combination with AI, machine learning, robotics and cloud. The recent Nokia 5G business readiness report anticipates a potential contribution to global GDP of some 8 trillion USD by 2030, an opportunity for enterprises, operators and vendors alike in industrial sites around the world.

Speaking on behalf of KT, an operator already advanced in its 5G deployment, Jemin Chung, Task Force Leader, Institute of Convergence Technology, saw two categories of use. Firstly, mobile broadband media streaming with multiple points of view broadcasting, high speed and lower delay, all of lends itself naturally to commercial use. User experience can be improved with head-mounted devices or smart glasses – likely to increase in relevance and uptake as so many conferences, meetings and educational events move online due to COVID-19.

The second main use case is in industrial and social infrastructure such as autonomous cars and smart factories, monitoring manufacturing processes and automating otherwise dangerous tasks. Here, network slicing and integrating public and private networks will enable new services attractive enterprise customers, Chung said, creating “a new approach to customers in building dedicated networks for enterprises.”

The move to enterprise use cases is already underway, pointed out Sanjay Kaul, President, Service Provider Business, Cisco Asia Pacific and Japan, with proof of concept and field trials underway in many companies. Network slicing, standalone 5G networks and networks combining 5G with existing LTE anchor layers provide different approaches to different sectors and industries. Logistics, manufacturing and transportation, for example, may benefit from deploying private networks (given suitable spectrum availability), whereas consumer use cases are likely to build on current 4G provisions. And there is a need to create awareness of the addition value of 5G, amongst both consumers and enterprises.

Kaul echoed the importance of 5G as a highly efficient architecture in industrial sectors such as smart manufacturing, highlighting how the automation of mining processes in Australia has already dramatically cut costs, increased efficiency and improved staff safety. The current pandemic has spurred the adoption of technology in healthcare, too, traditionally resistant to digitization due to the industry structure and regulatory system. Future use cases include remote diagnosis, treatment and even surgery to overcome the global shortage of doctors. Individual enterprises are also beginning to look at licencing their own small area networks to fast track digitization and increase efficiency. But there will not be one single killer app or leading country: instead, he urged, the whole ecosystem, including vendors, operators and app developers, should experiment and invest to create a whole range of individual killer cases.

There is no single killer app, agreed Mohamed Madkour, VP Global Wireless & Cloud Core Networks Marketing & Solutions, Huawei, but there might be a killer experience or killer business model.  And 5G alone will not create the revolution. Digital transformation and the creation of super powerful, deterministic, secure and reliable networks, will come about through 5G along with distributed computing, AI, cloud, industry applications – and people with skills, talent and creativity.


The value of networks

Beyond the core attributes of massive connectivity, capacity and low latency, Kaul sees the true significance of 5G in the network architecture. Creating intelligent, efficient, programmable networks, will enable the extreme automation of processes, reduced costs and increased efficiency – releasing enormous additional value. The first priority should be flattening the network, removing the complexities accrued over generations of technological development and moving the point of consumption closer to the intelligent core. Using modulization and cloudification, and treating data as it is produced, will enable the instant gratification that 5G offers – and thereby maximise monetization.

Creating a new set of services and apps will be part of that monetization, he continued. Network slicing to meet the needs of vertical sectors and enterprise will reduce up to 40% of production costs – but “it takes the full ecosystem to draw out the value of the technology”. Fully exploiting the power of 5G means developing core applications for industry specialists, government and consumers.

Thomas Sennhauser, Chief Technologist and Business Lead, Network and Communication Business APJ, Intel Corporation, agreed that “5G gives an opportunity to really drive technologies such as cloudification and virtualization to the next level, providing the opportunity to open up the network, which is critical to success.” It is the open ecosystem that will drive growth, enable software development and open up markets, he stressed.


It’s all in the technology mix

For Ryan Johnson, Senior Director, Global Market Access & Government Affairs, Viasat, “5G is a network of networks,” with significant architectural changes at its core and edge, but operating as part of a family of technologies including mobile, fixed wireless access, satellite, wifi and small cells. Network diversity will improve service, security and resilience as we move more and more of our lives and livelihoods onto digital architecture. Wifi will remain a critical complimentary partner in reaching ubiquitous connectivity, as well as satellites used to connect remote sensor networks, smart factories or 5G services on the move on trains, buses or ships.

Satellite is an integral part of the 5G promise, continued Johnson, but its maximum potential is as part of a heterogeneous network (HetNet), extending the reach of the network over large, remote and otherwise difficult to reach areas, connecting machines and vehicles on the move, and providing connectivity directly to the end user in millions of homes, as well as in IoT applications such as smart cities, telehealth, and precision agriculture. “Satellite can ensure all the gains of 5G are evenly distributed, making cloudification concepts available to all” as part of a set of networks, he added.

HP’s Edlund emphasized the need to use multiple different networks and technology solutions to provide seamless connectivity. A HetNet should include wifi as the predominant technology inside buildings, with enabling standards and gateways allowing multiple het nets to cooperate, keep devices (and users) always connected and provide some of the massive bandwidth capabilities needed for 5G to deliver. Wifi, wifi 6, 4G and satellites are all important parts of this: “All of this one big heterogeneous network play is needed to meet the demands of enterprise, industry and consumers to stay on the network all of the time and access services all of the time”.

5G is not driving digital transformation by itself. It is part of a suite of new technologies in which carriers are investing, including AI, cloud computing, edge computing, and industrial applications according to Madkour. “It is rare to see a 5G user case or business model without AI or edge computing, so to see value for 5G, ICT is essential,” he said. And the rapid deployment of 5G should be accompanied by continued investment in 4G networks as the current basis of universal connectivity, with carriers looking to add on 5G where and when it makes commercial sense. “The synergy and coordination of 4G and 5G is important,” he stressed, also mentioning the demand for fixed wireless access systems to both complement and compete with fibre networks, reducing the cost per bit.

Speaking of the upcoming launch of the first 5G commercial network in Vietnam, Le Ba Tan, Deputy Director General of Viettel Net, echoed the importance of retaining and maintaining current 4G networks whilst deploying 5G in parallel. 5G “will be the fundamental network architecture serving the digital economy” – but as part of an ecosystem of governments  issuing relevant policies, operators –deploying networks in a cost-efficient way, vendors – developing the technology, and, finally, the end users driving demand for new services.

Fibre infrastructure is also important in both backhaul and fronthaul to support increase in data. KT’s Chung explained how most of Korea Telecom’s 5G cells are built on 4G sites to reduce costs, with fibre, 4G-5G sharing mechanisms and infrastructure sharing within and between operators key to rolling out 5G networks beyond densely-populated urban centres.


The role of government

“We are living in a time of pandemic which has highlighted the important role of connectivity in keeping economies and societies ticking, so now governments are taking more interest in digital infrastructure and 5G as the next generation,” stated Mani Manimohan, Head of Digital Infrastructure Policy & Regulation GSMA. He outlined four principal stakeholders for 5G: mobile industry operators embracing 5G innovation in response to ever-increasing consumer demands; other industry sectors exploring digital transformation and looking to add 5G to the mix of new technologies; governments viewing 5G as a driver of sustainable economic growth and key to 4th industrial revolution policies; and consumers demanding higher data throughputs.

Government has a key role to play in supporting the private sector in 5G deployment, particularly as high levels of investment are required before enabling services and industrial application business cases have solidified. Manimohan recommended that policy makers adopt a range of measures including ensuring optimal deployment conditions by facilitating site access planning approval, regulatory flexibility on infrastructure sharing and the monetization of different services, and taxation and pricing policies to incentivize investment. Digital infrastructure policies should be actionable, streamlined and clearly harmonize EMF limits in accordance with international guidelines, he continued, emphasizing once again that there is no scientific evidence of any harmful effects of 5G and related EMF transmissions within those guidelines.

Phan Tam, Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, Vietnam, agreed on the role of national administrations, asking that “5G deployment be driven by consumer and business needs. The government must just enable process, safeguard competition and technology neutrality, and ensure the overall efficiency of the 5G process.”


5G for social responsibility

Madkour pointed out that the success of 5G depends on the cost, experience and efficiency of 5G. And efficiency does not just mean only improving the cost per bit ratio – it also means improving spectrum efficiency and reducing high energy consumption. 5G may be much more efficient than 4G, but it is still part of an industry which consumes 20% of total electricity. Building an intelligent digital platform at component, site, network and services level will make 5G environmentally sustainable as well as economically valuable – after all, “5G energy efficiency is not just a business issue, but also a social responsibility.”

As is bridging the digital divide. Viasat’s Johnson reminded participants that satellites will serve humanitarian purposes and ensure that millions of people are not left behind without connectivity. All stakeholders need to consider how the network of networks can be deployed globally for everyone, including ensuring regulatory stability, hybrid networks and conducive business environments as “with the right mix of technology, we can achieve the promise of 5G and close the digital divide, making sure technology can bring about a more equitable society.”

And in the light of the global economic downturn following the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that technology is affordable and its benefits available to all – critical to take into account when designing 5G.


Final 5G takeaways

5G is not just another generation, it is a technology with a promise for new revenue creation for telcos and the entire ecosystem, said Kaul. 5G architecture will help operators to increase efficiency, and hyper data will breed amazing amounts of innovation. “When 5G comes into force it will be a critical technology to enable the new normal – a digital and efficient normal,” he added.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao reminded participants that despite common agreement on 5G’s suitability for industrial applications, “we have 7 billion mobile phone users who will become 5G users in the future” – a huge market with wide-ranging expectations and market opportunities that both SMEs and large companies will be able to meet.

The panelists stressed once more the importance of collaboration, with policy makers, operators, vendors and customers working together with network operators, device manufacturers, service providers and vertical industry sectors to “build a common platform on which to build the new normal for personal, industrial, social and economic transformation,” according to Chung.

“The technology is ready, but without cooperation between government, citizens and the private sector, we won’t be able to make it available to everyone, everywhere,” agreed moderator Tomimura.

Summing up the session, Edlund concluded: “5G will touch every facet of digital life, it will affect the way we work, how we work and where we work – and be a catalyst for innovation we have not yet dreamed of. So let’s embrace it, and go on this journey together.”

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