Our 5G future begins now
By Navin Vohra February 7, 2019
- Private networks could give neutral hosts stronger plays in key vertical markets
- 5G will enable service providers to keep up with subscriber demand for wireless bandwidth
MOBILE penetration in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region has experienced the largest increase worldwide in recent years. According to GSM Association’s recent Mobile Economy report, APAC will have a pioneering position in the move to the next generation of wireless technology known as 5G, and Asia is set to become the world’s largest 5G region by 2025.
In 2019, we enter a cautious, early adoption phase of 5G. Initial pilot deployments are rolling out and a small number of users will get a first taste of 5G in specific geographic locations, using specific applications. Here are some of the major trends that will drive 5G innovation in 2019 and beyond.
Service providers and neutral hosts to utilise private networks
Mobile network operators (MNOs) spend a lot of time waiting for others – waiting for power companies to bring electricity to new sites, municipal planners to approve small cell locations, and in some cases, backhaul providers to hook up metro cells. These inhibitions on agile deployment make indoor private networks, where site access, power and backhaul already exist, very attractive.
5G is an enabler for service providers and neutral hosts to deploy private networks with highly reliable indoor wireless connectivity.
Private networks could give neutral hosts stronger plays in key vertical markets such as business enterprise, healthcare and manufacturing. For example, a business might utilise a private network offering from a neutral host for a totally wireless office space that offers higher quality and more reliability than WiFi.
In-house 5G provisioning will allow enterprises to define their own security implementations and parameters rather than relying on mobile network operators. It will also allow sensitive, proprietary data to stay local.
The annual investments globally in private LTE and 5G network infrastructure are on track to exceed US$5 billion by 2021, representing a key revenue opportunity for the telecommunications sector in the coming years.
Enhanced mobile and fixed wireless broadband
Mobile broadband is fundamentally what the wireless industry is all about. With 4G, LTE laid the foundation for exceptional mobile data speeds, and the LTE Advanced-Pro evolution will continue to be the workhorse of the industry, even as 5G matures.
We will continue to see investment in LTE for many years with 4G and 5G co-existing in the future. We will also continue to see new spectrums open up to enable continued mobile broadband growth.
5G will enable service providers to keep up with the intense subscriber demand for more wireless bandwidth by adding capacity to their networks. Technologically, achieving 5G performance requires providers to eliminate network bottlenecks by adding more small cells, more fibre and mobile edge computing to their networks.
The industry has been most successful with deploying and utilising more fibre. Many operators worldwide are committed to a fibre-heavy and fibre-deep future.
The deployment of outdoor small cells is proving to be more of a challenge due to zoning delays. But these metro cell deployments are increasing despite these issues, and we expect them to continue accelerating in urban and suburban areas, with the goal of densification, or bringing the fibre hop-off point as close to more users as possible. Interestingly enough, Asia-Pacific is the region where both 5G and densification will happen most quickly, so operators are deploying these small cells strategically with 5G migration in mind.
Mobile edge computing (MEC) is a bit of a laggard. This model envisions computing resources being brought out from central offices to Cloud-RAN (C-RAN) hubs closer to or at cell sites. What is occurring first is the actual build of the C-RAN hubs and centralizing of some radio capabilities. The next step will be an upgrade to MEC with more radio functions virtualized, which is a few years away.
Fixed wireless access (FWA) is among the first 5G applications to be deployed. FWA enables wireless carriers to compete for a larger share in the residential broadband market. 5G speeds are fast enough that FWA can be used for streaming home internet traffic, including over-the-top video. So, in addition to going to a traditional cable TV provider, you could have the choice to go to a wireless provider for home internet and television plus wireless voice services.
The first commercial services of FWA are becoming available in countries around the globe, including Australia, United States and Thailand. Thailand's state owned mobile operator TOT recently rolled out a fixed wireless broadband service for residential customers in the Bangkok metro area.
We expect the widespread deployment of mobile and fixed 5G broadband to take a few more years, with the technologies hitting maturity around 2025.
More 5G innovation via open interfaces
Operators are also beginning to show preference for open networks where they can have more flexibility to launch unique types of services. When we start talking about developing new markets with private networks or the Internet of Things (IoT), we also need more innovators in an empowered ecosystem. Instead of relying on just a few large players in wireless, we need small- and medium-sized companies to go after these vertical markets.
Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) will allow these small and medium-sized companies to go after these vertical markets. Open RAN is the mobile industry’s equivalent of open source. The way we can take chipsets to build a multitude of different devices is the same way we need open RAN interfaces and building blocks to create a multitude of networks.
Open RAN will enable a service creation environment that can help realize the more advanced 5G use cases such as IoT platforms for a healthcare system, autonomous robots for a manufacturing facility and even a fully wireless and connected smart city.
The ORAN Alliance, which promotes Open RAN standards, is making significant headway in realizing this vision. One of its key principles is to lead the industry toward open, interoperable interfaces, RAN virtualisation and big data-enabled RAN intelligence. The future of 5G will be more open and innovative if we are to realise the truly remarkable applications envisioned.
The wireless future is limitless
5G is taking wireless connectivity to new, unprecedented levels and this year we finally get a glimpse of what it can do. From enabling driverless vehicles to next-gen AI-powered robots in manufacturing, the possibilities are endless.
As fixed wireless access penetrates residential markets and open interfaces in 5G networks promise to make new vertical markets more accessible, we will see 5G become more widespread in the near future.
Navin Vohra is the vice president, service provider, Asia Pacific at CommScope.