It was no surprise that the overriding theme at this year's Mobile World Congress was 5G. Whereas last year’s conference reflected the first practical steps that were being taken to achieve 5G, this year we were able to assess what progress has been made and what challenges 5G appears to be presenting to the industry.
Several operators showcased their progress into 5G. In the US, AT&T, which has already launched a limited 5G network, announced a partnership with Vodafone business to drive their IoT connectivity in the automobiles business. Verizon who launched 5G Home in October of last year announced plans to launch 5G in 30 US cities in the first half of 2019 as well as demoing their AR and VR capabilities. Sprint updated its plans for an initial 5G roll-out as soon as May. However, Sprint doesn’t own any millimetre wave frequency bands and so will be deploying on its mid-band spectrum, making their trial interesting to the sector. In APAC, Telstra who launched 5G in Melbourne and Sydney in December announced a partnership with Ericsson to trial 5G banking and edge computing. SK Telecom commercially launched 5G in 2018, and at MWC they showcased with Deutsche Telekom Social VR the world’s first service that combines social VR platform and OTT service. We also saw the first 5G enabled devices from the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, LG, Nokia, and Samsung.
While 5G dominated the majority of the discussions taking place, it would be simplistic to suggest that the entire conference focused purely on this subject. Other themes included the massive growth of IoT and connected devices, security concerns, and how customer service becomes a key differentiator. 5G was still a factor within these other topics, and developments in the core network architecture will define their progress.
All roads lead to 5G
Operators announcing their progress with 5G certainly created a buzz. The exciting developments around partnerships with IoT and VR/AR will change the way we interact on a day-to-day basis. However, in order to deliver these services, certain capacity and performance demands will be required from the network, and for progress with 5G to continue, updates to the core network architecture and RAN are necessary. A true 5G architecture requires a cloud-based infrastructure to deliver the increased capacity, faster speeds, and lower latency that will usher in the next generation of exciting mobile services and use cases.
For RADCOM and its cloud-native portfolio, RADCOM Network Intelligence which uses a smart, on-demand approach to network monitoring, this was a positive message. Recognizing that operators understand that in order to transition to 5G they need to be functioning within a fully cloud-native environment, supported by SDN and NFV confirmed that RADCOM continues to lead the way with innovative approaches to delivering smart, on-demand network visibility, to understand the customer experience and troubleshoot service performance as operators transition to 5G.
Of course, this progress comes at a cost, and this was perhaps one of the reality checks that we heard throughout the week. Operators are acutely aware of the capital spend required for the development of 5G networks, especially in light of the low ROI seen from 4G and the intense regulation surrounding 5G. The race is not just around developing and releasing the technology, but a profits race and who will be able to deliver a strong, healthy return by enabling new 5G use cases.
The gap between the vision and the reality remains large, but one of the more exciting developments we are witnessing is with edge computing. With the understanding that delivering ultra-low latency will be a key driver to success, operators see that utilizing Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is the best way to achieve this. Verizon revealed that by using the edge for their facial recognition services they were able to identify individuals in half the time, versus the time it takes for the information to be processed when using its centralized data center. By running applications and performing tasks closer to the devices, or by going further and taking processing power and storage off the devices and moving them onto the cloud, operators will gain a scaling effect. This will create the network capabilities for super speed downloads and video streaming, autonomous vehicles, and gaming applications, to name a few, hugely impacting the growth of IoT devices and a smart, always connected world.
The path to IoT
The reality of IoT and how operators work to implement and manage its growth was another key area of discussion. According to the CEO of Cisco, Chuck Robbins, “In the year 2022, there will be more traffic created that there has been since the inception of the internet”. To put this into numbers, Cisco predicts 400 million 5G connections and 4 billion machine-to-machine connections. According to Ericsson, in its latest mobility report, a growth from 1 billion devices in 2018 to 4.2 billion in 2024 is predicted.
It will be some of the existing 4G and mostly future 5G networks that provide the infrastructure for these devices to run smoothly and enable growth opportunities as the industry moves into a digital age. For example, AT&T announced they are testing their edge capabilities using drones by detecting and geo-locating them in real time, a service which could be used by airports or police and government agencies. However, the message was that it is not just about 5G, but connecting the things that were never connected before, and what that means for the future. 5G promises to provide the necessary connection for these devices to run smoothly but to do this, operators require an end-to-end view of the network, reinforcing the importance of cloud-native service assurance and network visibility solution.
Customer Service and Experience Management
The show also constantly highlighted that at the core of it all is the experience for the end user. Operators are in an ongoing effort to continuously improve the experience for their customers. Whether that is achieved through improved network coverage, proactive handling of network issues and providing a more personalized experience; operators understand that they need to continue moving from a network-centric to a customer-centric approach.
AI will be a heavy driver in the development of Customer Experience and Service Management. Examples range from utilizing Machine Learning to understand encrypted traffic so that operators can detect anomalies in the network and proactively address any issues to implementing voice and chatbots so customers can resolve issues without having to call a customer service representative.
Operators have an opportunity here to maximize their network intelligence by utilizing the data available to them and using it to improve the customer experience. RADCOM’s intelligent solution achieves this by taking raw data from smart virtual probes, combining it with data from external systems through RADCOM Smart Mediation to deliver rich, actionable insights, which in turn improve the service delivered.
MWC19 has provided crucial input into our roadmap of future development, but what we have already announced, is that RADCOM is fully prepared to support operators in the challenges that tomorrow may bring with our 5G ready Network Intelligence portfolio. We are excited to be playing such a key role in the preparations for 5G and proud to be supporting operators as we all take significant strides towards delivering this revolution in connectivity.