The potential for 5G with its seemingly limitless list of use cases is something that service providers have teased for a number of years. 5G represents a significant network evolution and there is far greater contrast in the step up from 4G to 5G than was experienced during the rollout of LTE networks. Across the next 12-18 months, standalone 5G will be rolled out enabling service providers to start to see a return on 5G infrastructure and spectrum investments. This will be a year for telecoms re-invention.
At the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Verizon CEO and Chairman, Hans Vestberg, delivered a keynote showcasing examples of how a service provider could use 5G’s unique capabilities to enable innovation, change telecoms and also provide advancement in society. Some of the highlights included how Verizon would work with partners Skyward and UPS to build the new smart city, leveraging the 5G network as a core backbone for use cases in robotics and drone management. Additionally, Verizon outlined how 5G can support digital inclusion and education through its innovative learning program.
With a whole host of partnerships in sports, education, smart cities and entertainment—with companies including the NFL, The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution—leading organisations are working with Verizon to use 5G to change how they operate. Be it to leverage 5G’s low latency and edge compute capabilities for use cases like remote surgery, autonomous vehicles or even cloud gaming, organisations of all types are confident about the improvements that 5G can deliver. The telecoms industry must now capitalise on these opportunities and use 5G as a platform to reach new customers with new types of services, and ultimately reshape the telco business model.
The power of the 5G network
To marry promise with reality and deliver the services that standalone 5G will enable, a change in mindset will be critical. The danger is that we think of 5G as faster 4G. With 4G, service providers invested in building networks but didn’t see the best return on investment. The OTTs used these networks to deliver their services and content which generated a lot of revenue for them, while the service providers got connectivity revenue and that was about it. With 5G service providers can change the game. They will need to go beyond connectivity and adapt to play a central role in delivering true value from 5G and a key way to do this is to leverage the power of the 5G network.
The introduction of network-embedded services
With 5G and its network slicing capabilities, we will see different network characteristics such as speed and latency be applied to different services on a per-use basis. These services can be described as network-embedded services. Service providers will have more options to offer services based on specific, dynamic network requirements. Adopting a model similar to the hyperscalers, allowing them to offer flexible packages that can be dialled up or dialled down in a way that has never been done before in the telecoms world.
A prime example of a use case that is often cited as one where customers would pay a premium is 5G cloud gaming. In online gaming milliseconds of latency can be the difference between winning or losing. Through network slicing, gamers can be offered a superior service with reliable latency and bandwidth to stay ahead of the curve. And there are many, many more examples where the best 5G network experience is mission critical—from autonomous vehicles all the way to remote surgery. To ensure the right 5G network quality of service (QoS) service providers need to apply the right rules on a slice by slice basis in the 5G policy control function. The next step is to monetise this experience, by applying charging rules in the 5G charging system to turn high value services into revenue.
As 5G network characteristics become part of the use cases and offers that service providers deliver, it’s essential that the 5G network is tightly integrated with IT and business, and this is especially important with network-embedded services because they’re varied and dynamic. A bridge between business, IT and the 5G network is needed to ensure management, delivery and monetisation of all the new 5G use cases that will be rolled out.
The 5G value plane
The 5G value plane is a good example of how to bridge the gap between business and IT. It combines service catalogues with charging and policy systems to link new digital experiences back to the layers of the very complex 5G network. Having this foundation for 5G management and monetisation also opens up new opportunities to update adjacent solutions – such as digital customer experience management on the business side and network optimisation on the network side.
Network optimisation used to be all about managing capacity, keeping costs down and ensuring that the network was working optimally. While these are still very important, with 5G network optimisation also should include network monetisation and experience management; for example, are cell sites delivering the best level of profitability they could? The best way to ensure network monetisation is to roll out high value 5G Network Embedded Services where the network quality is a fundamental part of the offer and the customer experience.
2021 is set to be a defining year for telecoms and 5G. Service providers have an opportunity to support a wide range of new customers as they realise their 5G ambitions. By re-inventing themselves, telecoms service providers will enter entirely new domains, even launching non-telco services for the first time. 5G represents a crucial inflexion point for the telco to innovate and adapt to stay at pace with the increasing demands and rapid technological innovation. 5G is set to enable the economics of this new marketplace, built around service models and agile businesses.
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