Net Transformation tackles a broad set of topics around operator efforts to evolve and otherwise transform their telecom networks in an effort to reduce complexity, keep costs in check and earn new revenues.
• Gogo announced it will build out an air-to-ground 5G network supported by 250 towers in the U.S. Gogo expects the network to be available for business and commercial aviation in 2021, at which time all the major U.S. operators will be on their way to widespread 5G.
• Unfortunately, the number of customers that will benefit from 5G will remain small, and in many cases “elite.” Gogo continues to see strong ATG traction in the private jet segment, and those jets will be the first to benefit from Gogo’s new 5G network.
Gogo, which provides in-flight WiFi, announced plans to build a 5G network to support in-flight services. However, despite the headline, it’s clear from the announcement that most air travelers won’t see the benefit anytime soon.
Gogo announced in May that it will build out an air-to-ground 5G network supported by 250 towers in the U.S. Gogo expects the network to be available for business and commercial aviation in 2021, which aligns well with mobile operator deployment plans. All the major U.S. network operators, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint (alone or as part of T-Mobile USA if that proposed merger is consummated) are likely to be well on their way with 5G deployments by then. Continue reading “5G is Coming to Planes but Probably Not Yours Anytime Soon”→
• At this year’s analyst event, Huawei provided additional background on its approach to 5G core.
• Looking at the measured pace of 5G deployment expected from many operators, and the continued importance of VoLTE, Huawei has wisely stressed long-term LTE support alongside the new 5G core.
Huawei has devoted significant focus the last few months to providing the details about the architecture underpinning its common core solution, originally launched in February at MWC 2019. At its annual analyst conference last month in Shenzhen, China, Huawei provided additional details on the underlying architecture. While GlobalData has not yet rated emerging 5G core portfolios (watch this space), it appears at first blush that Huawei’s core-related R&D has resulted in a robust 5G core platform that focuses on the “three Cs”: “Cloud + Connectivity + Computing.”
All of these “Cs” are vital to the 5G core of course. A cloud-native architecture enables stateless operations and facilitates control/user plane separation. A 5G core platform must flexibly support multi-edge computing (MEC) and strike the right balance between placing computing power at the network edge and at the core. And – perhaps most importantly – the 5G core must support all of the other Gs – including 4G/LTE, 3G, and even 2G. (Ironically 2G support may emerge as more significant than 3G support as many operators appear likely to decommission 3G while maintaining 2G connectivity to support legacy M2M deployments.
Ultimately, the most important aspect of Huawei’s approach to the 5G core comes from the fact that it correctly recognizes that – for all the current 5G hype – 4G/LTE is and will continue to be the workhorse for most operator networks for the next five years. GlobalData estimates that 4G/LTE will grow to a majority of total wireless customers this year, and will continue to grow to nearly 2/3 of the total customer base by 2023. We expect that the 2G customer base will still be larger than the 5G base in 2023.
GLOBALDATA MOBILE BROADBAND FORECAST (March 2019)
One other important feature that stands out is its robust support for voice – and specifically voice over LTE. Operators of all stripes are quick to point out that, despite 20 years of speculation that voice is “going to free” – customers are still willing to pay for reliable, high-quality voice services. Eventually, that will mean 5G voice (voice over NR) but considering that 5G is likely to be deployed in a much more limited fashion than LTE for most operators, VoLTE will be the primary vehicle for most operators to transition away from circuit-switched voice services. This in turn means that IMS will continue to play a vital role in the carrier network for the next five to ten years to support VoLTE deployments.
Huawei’s strong foundation in VoLTE and IMS support plays to one of its strengths. GlobalData ranks Huawei as Leader in IMS, citing a solid customer base and success in offering virtualized IMS deployments supporting VoLTE. This should provide a solid base of customers looking to balance the desire for new 5G services with the need to maintain solid 4G core support for the foreseeable future.
Both 4G and 5G will co-evolve in mobile operator networks for years.
Even standalone 5G will coexist alongside 4G/5G networks, as operators further monetize 4G investments.
For some time now, the telecom industry has been heralding the dawn of the 5G era, the time when operators are deploying 5G networks and launching 5G services. But, it would be more accurate to say we’re at the dawn of the 4G/5G era, as this is what operators are actually deploying. Both technologies will co-evolve in operator networks for years. And as operators ramp up 5G network investment, they can’t neglect LTE. Continue reading “We’re Not Entering the 5G Era; This Is the Age of 4G/5G”→
• A robust ecosystem is driving 5G deployments to support enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA) use cases, which sets the stage for sophisticated 5G applications requiring low latency and high reliability.
• The 5G device ecosystem is being driven by timely investment in new chipsets and terminals to support new services and drive opportunities – the 5G device ecosystem includes multiple form factors and end user devices, which are ready or near ready for commercial deployment.
The Well Developed 5G Device Ecosystem, Simplifies and Accelerates Deployment:
There is a clear correlation between the maturity of the device ecosystem and the time it takes for the market to deliver on the goals and business objectives. For example, the 3rd generation (3G) buildout, required five years to build a sufficient supply of affordable devices, and the 4th generation (4G) buildout, required just two years. The availability of 5G devices now, enables the market to mature in concert with the underlying infrastructure buildout. Continue reading “The Vibrant 5G Ecosystem is Shortening Adoption Cycles to Two Years”→
• Common telco transformation goals of efficiency, agility, and customer experience obscure a variety of interim approaches and roadmaps.
• Vendors must be prepared to support each telco’s diverse product, operations, and procurement strategies.
Telecommunications vendors talk a lot about digital transformation, mostly in similar terms: Customer experience must improve; OpEx must fall; cloudified 5G networks must be planned, built, and automated; services must get to market more rapidly; and organizational culture must become more agile. Worthy goals all, but after 20 or so meetings at Mobile World Congress or similar industry gatherings, they can seem like a catechism instead of a roadmap. Every telco is in a different position, and needs to set its own plan for transformation.
Often network and IT vendors rely on their global services departments to help customers transform, so services events are good places to see the actual work that telcos are doing. One recent example was Huawei’s Operations Transformation Summit, held the day before MWC. Four operators presented to the vendor’s Open ROADS community: Axiata Group, China Mobile Pakistan (doing business under the Zong brand), Sunrise Switzerland, and Viva Kuwait. All have made progress toward automated, efficient, and agile operations and great customer experience, but each is taking a different path. Each operator also exemplifies one or more real results that telcos can achieve today:
• Agility enabled: Digital transformation must slash any new offering’s time to market and opportunity cost. Doing so requires a combination of technology and process work: in Sunrise’s case, process automation and resource modularization combine with a new abstraction layer between back-end systems and customer channels to enable scrum-based service development. Like cloud-native OTT players, Sunrise now provides frequent feature updates rather than aggregating changes into infrequent point releases.
• APIs and ecosystems: For a few years now, it’s been an article of faith that telcos will someday use a platform ecosystem to bring more services to market a la Salesforce.com or Google. Axiata started in 2012. It began with the long tail, publishing simple APIs and using crowdsourcing to introduce 3,000 apps between 2012 and 2014. It then industrialized its APIs into a single hub and cloud-native architecture to accommodate larger partners, other telcos, and more complicated services, resulting in 11,000 ecosystem developers, 200+ service partners, and 17,000 apps developed. Just as important as the technological components is Axiata’s governance model, which requires code reuse, microservices, documentation, and APIs that can be exposed externally.
• AI-assisted investment: Artificial intelligence is aiding improvements in both traditional capacity planning – where it can forecast cell-level traffic and performance three months in advance – and in prioritizing investment. Zong is one of the operators that uses AI to help it prioritize upgrades in a very low-ARPU market by analyzing which cells will be most used by high-value customers.
• Procurement efficiency. Although rarely mentioned in industry discussions, procurement is the subject of renewed focus as traditional cost management procedures and per-component RFPs run up against software-style licensing models and the need for transformation partnerships. The improved planning we mention in the previous bullet combines with standardized equipment definitions to enable efficient capital use via just-in-time procurement: Viva noted that purchase order processing has gone from 15 to five days, while Zong has seen its contract approval time drop by 59% and its implementation time drop by 53%.
These are just four examples from one event, but they underscore the diversity of operator approaches: even if their goals are similar, a full-service vendor must be able to aid each operator on its unique journey. A comprehensive services approach is essential to handle this diversity.
ZTE has completed a 5G New Radio (NR) field test with China Mobile in the Chinese province of Guangdong.
This tests demonstrates ZTE’s readiness to supply large-scale 5G rollouts and take advantage of the unique opportunities posed by standalone 5G in particular.
Network equipment vendors have been promoting their progress in 5G for years. So, when a vendor announces the completion of yet another 5G field test in early 2019 – many months past widespread industry pronouncements that “5G is here!” – it’s easy to casually disregard. It’s also easy to miss the real significance of this activity. Continue reading “ZTE’s 5G Field Test with China Mobile and Why It Matters”→
As the telecom industry gathers at this year’s Mobile World Congress, we’re sure to hear that “5G is here!” and “5G is real!” – just as we have in previous years. But as the real-world challenges of 5G deployments draw nearer for operators, RAN vendors will need to devote some messaging to assuaging operators’ fears. In fact, this has already begun, and it takes the form of RAN vendors emphasizing 5G benefits that are, in fact, more like remedies to problems posed by 5G itself. Continue reading “MWC19: 5G Promises to Solve the Problems Caused by, Um, 5G”→