• 5G will not be about consumers, devices, and video but rather about enterprises, connected things, and platforms; however the industry is still in a hype phase.
• In order to move hype to reality, operators, vendors, and industry need to collaborate around solutions and virtualize 5G networks, open them up to APIs and co-develop from the ground up.
From people to things
From attending 5G Asia last week, which was held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo Centre in Singapore, it is clear that 5G will mean something very different to the world than 4G LTE. The defining attributes of the LTE era is bringing mobile video to the masses and bringing many online for the first time. While 4G was about mass market consumer access to videos and applications from anywhere, 5G will be more about enterprises and governments transforming how we live and work. This also means 5G will be about connected things, machines, buildings, and cities, rather than connecting people with smartphones. 5G will also be about the power of analytics driven insights and automation.
5G has not quite arrived
Listening to speakers from across the technology industry from telcos to vendors to integrators to government agencies to independent software suppliers, it was clear that 5G will be all those things, but it also became abundantly clear that today 5G is not there yet. The telco and technology industries have a lot of work to do before the potential of 5G can really be unlocked. Outside of a handful of MNOs in US, South Korea, Australia, and EMEA, there are very few networks live today and coverage is very limited. Further, what is being offered so far are simply handset plans, not the society-changer that some have billed 5G as. Much of the buzz around early launches is really just hype, and current 5G services are simply a slightly faster LTE.
Telecoms & IT
Collaboration between telcos, IT and software vendors, industry, and government needs to continue and accelerate in order for 5G to reach its potential. Traditionally mobile service providers have sold handheld devices with a connection to voice and Internet, however 5G, paired with IoT can enable new services and business models that align more to products from the IT and software world than telecom. As telco networks evolve to become virtualized and cloud based, with more compute and storage at edge nodes, network management and service delivery will look more like an IT environment than a telco one. For telecom companies to be successful they need to move from connections and devices to software and platforms, and they best way to do that is working with companies already established in this space to develop mutually beneficial solutions and services. MNOs need to expose their 5G networks to systems integrators, analytics providers and other specialist software vendors. Enabling APIs for network services, and opening this up to the software community will be critical for the development of next generation 5G solutions. Moving from a walled garden network approach to mobile services to one that embraces open and service oriented architecture will enable radio networks to evolve from infrastructure that provides connectivity to platforms that provide solutions.
Tech and industry
Downstream consumers of next generation 5G IoT solutions, largely enterprise and government, should also be proactive in collaboration with the telcos and IoT solutions providers, in order to get the most benefit from 5G. Connecting and exposing new systems, platforms and things to external networks through radio access technology will require rigorous testing and certification to ensure efficiency and safety of 5G IoT solutions before they can be deployed. Telcos and equipment vendors are the most fitting partners to help during this process, and industry given their extensive experience in this area. Further collaboration with telcos and vendors can help them better understand operational challenges faced by various industries and lead to better outcomes in final products.
Ultimately the most effective 5G IoT solutions will arise from end to end collaboration between enterprise and government, telco and vendor, and software and systems integrators. One operator who is currently taking this approach is NTT Docomo in Japan. Beginning in February 2018, Docomo invited other Japanese companies to participate in its Docomo 5G Open Partner program wherein the MNO provided access to 5G testing environments, verification centers, and telco cloud at several centers around Japan. The partner program has attracted over 2,200 participants from over a dozen verticals and from some of the largest technology vendors in Japan and Globally like NEC, Sony, Nokia, Fujitsu, and more. The most recent announcement from Docomo’s industry collaboration is around a partnership between Docomo, Nokia Solutions and OMRON, a Japanese electronics manufacturer. The three companies are collaborating on a 5G automated factory using autonomous mobile robots and real time video analytics to automate the production process, reducing time to market and increasing safety and efficiency. This showcases a 5G solution that is actually transformative in how it relates to business operations, made possible by an open network and industry collaboration.
While more providers are building innovation labs (e.g., Singtel 5G Garage) to drive collaboration and promote solution co-creation, more operators, vendors, and enterprises around the world should embrace the open and collaborative approach like Docomo if they want to develop meaningful solutions. While many in the ecosystem are concerned with their place in the value chain, the size of the 5G IoT market overall can only grow larger as a result of more partnerships. Operators should focus on trialing virtualization in their network and exposing network services to APIs in order to offer developers more tools and resources to create innovative mobile services. The 5G IoT world will depend on openness and collaboration to reach its potential.