No matter how fast networks are evolving, they seem to fall short of keeping up with either the content that can be delivered through them or the hardware that runs on them. Although low latency mobile data might not be something that subscribers are crying out loud for right now, it is clear that 5G technology will be crucial to enable the next generation of high definition video streaming, content and advanced IoT applications.
The truth is, there is no escape to the ambitious 5G project, especially for telecom operators (Figure 1 supports this sentence, look at the 5G connections and data traffic by 2021).
The 5G technology that requires operators to develop and deploy multiple new technologies, and carry out significant financial investments, has already gained momentum. Operators around the globe have accelerated their preparations for 5G (78 per cent as compared to 32 per cent last year). Also, if operators want to monetize 5G, they must involve in plans to expand their enterprise and industry market segments. In addition, 5G will lead to large data generation, which will be unmatched. Here are the statistics to support this:
- It will lead to increase in data volume: up to 1,000x over current levels- Qualcomm
- It will lead to faster data-transfer speed: up to 10-100x higher- Techworld
- There will be more connected devices: 10-100x devices- GSMA Intelligence
So, looking at the amount of data generated, courtesy-5G, big data will play a significant role in monetizing data. It will become a substantial factor for telecom revenue generation by increasing the market share, migrating the 4G subscribers, and providing higher prices for new services.
Role of big data and 5G for improving network and application intelligence
Introduction of new emerging multimedia applications, ever-increasing proliferation of smart devices, coupled with an exponential rise in wireless data demand and usage is creating a significant burden on existing cellular networks. 5G technology, along with its improved data rates, latency, capacity, and QoS is expected to be the panacea of most of the current cellular network’s problems.
But simply updating software and hardware won’t be enough. With the advent of 5G, mountains of unstructured mobile internet data will be available to operators, and IoT will become an important part of the story. As billions of sensors will send back all types of data to the network, the opportunity here will be to use this data to improve the network operation and help better working of the key new applications that will emerge in 5G. The intelligence provided by big data analytics can be used to correlate information from network elements helping operators to more accurately ‘predict the uptake’ and ‘plan the capacity’ accordingly.
Big data intelligence will help improve:
- Network and application performance
- Recover from error conditions
- Provide improved end-user experience by analysing context and location
Big data and 5G together, will enable operators to analyse network traffic to identify security threats and trigger real-time corrective actions. This will aid in updating the routing protocols and dynamically re-route traffic (temporarily) away from at-risk parts of the network. Also, telecom operators will be able to perform big data analysis at the edge of the network, allowing processing and filtering at the edge.
With the growth in 5G, operators will be bombarded with the vast amount of video data. Big data analytics and 5G will also provide a helping hand here. Operators will be able to leverage the 5G network to automatically detect a trending viral video and dynamically bring more virtual network resources in line before the peak viewing period of the viral video. This could avoid network congestion.
Impact of 5G on telecom operators
Although telecom operators have lost the 3G and 4G wars in terms of revenue, they will have a new playing field when 5G technology rolls out. Using the powerful capabilities of 5G, operators can offer new services with the right level of customisation to each industry (rather than relying on service charges for data and voice – as is the current situation).
To make this possible, the dynamic network slicing of 5G will be of much use, that will enable the creation of differentiated, customised “slices” running on a common network infrastructure. Software-defined networking, network functions virtualisation, and other software capabilities will make this possible.
Thus, 5G will let operators divide up the network into a consumer service that will continue to operate as it always has and in addition as a specialised service for IoT markets such as smart cities or automotive.
Mobile operators can then create a “dedicated” network for each vertical industry, and it will be customised and optimised, including pricing. For instance, if a family is travelling in its autonomous car, the kids can use the regular network for watching movies videos and movies while the car will use a special mission-critical network within the 5G spectrum for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
New revenue streams will thus open up as operators can set themselves to benefit from 5G in the autonomous car market. For example, operators can likely play a bigger role in providing remote diagnostics, remote support, remote software updates and other services to these autonomous vehicles. With the capabilities of 5G and no person in the middle, it will give operators actionable insights and bump up their profit margins.
Also, to gain actionable insights, telecom operators will need to know what to do with the extensive data. Hence, operators need get their hands on the right and meaningful data, which will help them to develop better networks for high-quality and consistent service and personalise the offering to increase ARPU.
5G challenges for telecom operators
Operators will need to address the issues surrounding 5G infrastructure and deployment. Challenges involving regulatory policies, investments and infrastructure readiness will be a top priority. Diverse geography, disparate population and disparity in economic distribution among the rich and the poor will pose serious challenges to operators, preventing uniform investments across different telecom circles. For instance, in India, the issue such as ‘Right of Way’ (RoW) has created uncertainty in fibre investments across different states.
Apart from this, the rising cost of air waves and the challenges involved in migrating to new technologies will bring additional challenges. The telecom industry will have to overcome the lack of diversity in 5G network densification, uncertainties around backhaul technologies, and disparate data offload strategies.
Many operators find that fibre is an important backhaul and transport technology for 5G, however, its costly implementation is not economical for many deployment scenarios. Millimeter wave backhaul technology can save the day, but again it is challenged by operational complexities.
Also, the requirement of narrow coverage means that any service with the required latency requirement will have to be addressed very close to the customer and the radio base stations. This will require deployment of multiple small cells to meet density requirements to ensure comprehensive coverage cells. Most likely it will require a large investment in additional infrastructure for content distribution and management equipment such as content servers or content delivery system (CDS).
On the other hand, the service that requires 1-millisecond delay will generate the need to move this requirement latency interconnection between operators (this level of interconnectivity must occur in ranges below 1 km coverage). However, currently, the points of interconnection between operators are relatively few. To support the deployment of networks and 5G services latency of 1 millisecond, the interconnection will have to be made at the level of base radio stations, which will also impact infrastructure network topology and network CORE. In fact, this single aspect will pose challenges for the customers when travelling or roaming within the network.
No doubt, 5G has serious promise to live up to its sky-high expectations, but operators need to figure out how to make all the systems work together. The key will be in delivering an experience that raises the bar on data speed, and reliable communication, if we are looking at 24 million 5G subscriptions worldwide at the end of 2021 (Ovum).
A crucial element for a successful shift to 5G will be the strong partnerships between mobile operators and providers of mobile data solutions. This synergy will not only allow a visible improvement in reliable connectivity and speed for mobile communications, but it will also result in a more efficient 5G monetization. As per Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G’s full economic benefit should be realised globally and could produce up to $13.3 trillion worth of goods and services.