As a concept for running diverse logical networks over a common physical infrastructure, network slicing has been linked closely to 5G network transformations and 5G’s aspirations of servicing the needs of consumers alongside myriad industries.
As it gets put into practice, however, a number of questions around slicing still need to be resolved: How granular will slices be? Which networks and network elements will be sliced? How open will slicing be to third parties? What can network prioritization teach us? Most of these questions revolve around business considerations, not technology considerations.
The basic tenets of 5G are well understood: what we’ll use it for, when it will arrive, that it will be a major opportunity with a solid base of subscriptions within the next five years.
A number of other commonly held beliefs about 5G – that it will drive business innovation and core network transformations, introduce network slicing and represent a platform for spectrum innovation – must be questioned.
Last week, the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley convened a forum on “Network Transformation in 5G.” We had the honor of delivering the opening presentation. You can view a copy of it here.
AT&T and Verizon announced a joint venture with Tillman Infrastructure under which Tillman will build hundreds of cell towers across the country. Both AT&T and Verizon will lease and co-anchor towers built under the agreement.
The deal is likely designed to pressure ‘big three’ tower companies Crown Castle, American Tower and SBA Communications to negotiate more favorable terms, but it is not clear Tillman has the clout to have much of an impact on operators’ bargaining positions.
AT&T and Verizon announced a joint venture with Tillman Infrastructure on November 13th under which Tillman will build hundreds of cell towers across the country. Both AT&T and Verizon will lease and co-anchor towers built under the agreement. The operators indicate that the deal enables them to build towers exactly where they are needed; in practice, the Tillman deal provides AT&T and Verizon with an alternative to leasing space from tower companies such as Crown Castle, American Tower and SBA Communications. Continue reading “AT&T and Verizon Send Shot Across the Bow of TowerCos with Tillman Alliance”→
AT&T announced that it is building an “Edge Computing Test Zone” in Palo Alto, Calif to support developers and other AT&T partners in rolling out a diverse set of edge applications.
Given AT&T’s support for edge computing, the move isn’t surprising. However, it does raise questions about the set of use cases highlighted, and a specific call-out to wireless networks as well as the lack of any reference to network slicing are disappointing.
In very real terms, then, there’s nothing wrong with AT&T’s forthcoming “Test Zone” in Palo Alto, California. It aligns with AT&T’s interests and makes sense for any carrier planning to integrate edge computing into its network architecture in the future. It’s a good idea; getting developers engaged is critical for ensuring that they will be ready to support AT&T’s network evolution plans with compelling applications. But it also falls short in a number of fundamental ways. Continue reading “What’s Wrong with AT&T’s Silicon Valley Edge Computing Test Zone?”→
• 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 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.
• This week, the Small Cell Forum announced a set of new members as well as a newly elected Board.
• A shifting Board composition focused on service providers vs. vendors is a good sign, particularly the presence of tower and in-building deployment specialists; ultimately, they’re the companies who will be deploying small cells – or not.
When the Small Cell Forum announced new members and a newly elected Board, the news could easily have been ignored or seen as nothing more than “business as usual.” After all, a new Board is elected every year, and considering the various parts of the network that small cells touch, it’s only natural for a wide array of companies to be involved in the Forum’s activities.
But looking to the composition of the new Board tells an important story.
Broadly, the companies on the Board can be divided into three groups:
• Vendors that develop small cells and supporting network gear.
• Supporters – like Qualcomm and Node-H – that provide software and silicon components powering small cell technologies and services.
• Service providers delivering wireless services out to consumers and enterprises as well as those in the deployment services and siting business.
And, when looking at the composition of the 2016 vs. 2017 Board, a handful of encouraging facts emerge.
• Better Balance. With 60% of the Small Cell Forum board composed of vendors last year, it was clearly over-weighted. You could argue that this is only logical since small cell vendors have the best understanding of the technologies at play and have the greatest exposure to diverse customer demands. Circa 2017, however, a more balanced set of board members promises to help in capturing a more diverse set of market views and requirements in guiding the work of the Forum.
• Balance Where it Matters. Where the composition of the board shifted dramatically is on the service provider front. Small cell vendors will have their own agendas, but service providers will always be closer to market demands and the ways in which small cells will get deployed.
• The SPs that Matter. The definition of “service provider” here extends beyond carriers who deliver services out to consumer or enterprise end-users. The category also includes companies who deploy small cells for carriers – and they constitute 50% of the service providers on the Forum’s Board. Why is that important? Small cell technology is still evolving, but is fairly mature; the technology isn’t a check on market growth. But deployment dynamics – the time, cost and effort to get small cells deployed – could be. Whether indoors or out, they factor into the small cell RoI. To be sure, SPs like AT&T, Reliance Jio and Softbank understand those dynamics. But, if carrier-neutral deployments are seen as important to moving the market forward, a different set of services providers need to be included. Service providers like American Tower, Crown Castle and Extenet.
It would be naïve to think that an evolution of the Small Cell Forum’s Board would lead to massive new market growth. But, if the Forum’s leadership is meant to reflect the state of the industry and include the companies who understand its issues, the evolution of the Board is a good sign, highlighting shifts in the industry and signaling that the Forum is responding.
Ongoing questions around CBRS priority access license (PAL) terms suggest that licenses won’t likely be available until a year from now.
Without priority access, CBRS will still roll out; many use cases don’t require it. However, the sooner PAL terms are decided on and licenses auctioned, the better it will be for driving the industry forward.