How to Make the Case for 5G? Techno-Economic Modeling of Course!

John Byrne

John Byrne – Service Director, Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

• The economics of 5G are different than previous radio technology upgrades; CSPs need to be convinced of the business case(s) supporting 5G deployments.

• A multitude of supporting hardware, software and services vendors understand this imperative; Nokia’s Bell Labs-infused “techno-economic modeling” is one of the more forward-leaning approaches in driving 5G investment..

Network technology vendors all seem to reach the same conclusions at the same time.

In the case of 5G, every vendor in the space has figured out – seemingly simultaneously – that 5G is different from earlier iterations. In the case of 3G, CSPs were eager to deploy the technology in order to address rapidly increasing demand for mobile data, fueled in turn by the first iPhone in 2007 and a host of other touchscreen smartphones that made it very easy to access Internet services. This in turn led to some high-profile network degradations as CSPs struggled to keep pace with demand. Similarly, 4G addressed the need by operators to keep pace with video traffic, both in downlink throughput required to stream video but also in the uplink throughput required for everyone to send videos, e.g., from the Super Bowl, where traffic leaving the stadium now exceeds download traffic by a wide margin. 4G also was crucial to improve the latency surrounding both data and video traffic. As a result, market forces drove LTE deployment far more quickly than originally expected, even for reluctant European operators with significant budget constraints.

But 5G is different. Technology vendors have spent the last few years hyping the coming of 5G as a transformative event for the industry. Meanwhile, CSPs, most of which are seeing flat or declining revenue and shrinking margins, face an environment where, frankly, continued evolution of the LTE standard (think 4.5G, 4.9G, 4.99G?) will continue to improve performance on bread-and-butter requirements like throughput and latency. Which begs the question: Why 5G?

Nokia is attempting to answer the “Why 5G” question with 5G “techno-economic modeling” to showcase the benefits of 5G deployment. Taken at the generic level, Nokia is offering key benefits for 5G that previous technologies can’t provide, for example:

• 24x improvement in capacity compared to 4.5G networks

• 50%-75% reduction in network operational cost compared to 4.5G and even 4.9G networks

• 99.999% network reliability, enabling SLAs that far exceed any previous technologies

For all vendors in the 5G space, providing the big picture behind 5G – essentially making the case that 5G performance and efficiency is improved by orders of magnitude over 4G/LTE – is an important step on the way to 5G. And the claims by Nokia are compelling for sure. However, ultimately they do not identify the benefits from specific 5G use cases. To address this, Nokia has introduced specific benefits of investing in 5G, initially honing in on three use case scenarios:

• Connected events – Enabling 360-degree, immersive virtual reality experiences in connected stadiums

• Connected industries – Creating the factory of the future (Factory 4.0)

• Connected cities – supporting multiple connected devices in ultra-high density areas where 4G/LTE will not provide the necessary scale; Bell Labs modeling indicates 5G reduces signaling load and related costs by 65% compared to LTE

Of course, the fact that Nokia (and other vendors) need to work so hard to make the case for “Why 5G” points out the different marketplace dynamics compared to previous technology iterations. However, with that challenge acknowledged, the next step is to take the guesswork out of 5G business planning by combining an understanding of emerging 5G technology with a deep understanding of CSP operating environments and business models.

With that in mind, the next step for Nokia, and for its competitors, will be to provide dozens more use case models that can support the 5G investment case. Specifically, modeling around network slicing will be crucial. That’s easier said than done, but is crucial: getting operators to buy into the numbers will be the key to getting them to stop kicking the tires on 5G and start investing more aggressively.

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