With services already launching, it’s safe to say that 5G considerations are mounting. With all the industry excitement there is an understandable tendency to focus on what will happen at a local and individual use-case level as a result of improvements to: latency, speed, coverage, capacity and density. Most operators are looking forward to improved revenue as they provide a wider range of services for ever more devices. It seems like my kitchen is going to need more shelf space for dozens of additional devices.
But some other things are going on that haven’t always gotten the same media coverage and that some established operators will be considering in terms of their own diversification strategies as well as in terms of potential competition.
Firstly, end-to-end software disruption continues. Operators that are fully cloud-based and “software only” through to the virtual RAN (radio) are emerging as disruptive alternatives, or potential partners. Rakuten, a Japan-based media and e-commerce company is one such disruptive company that has received a huge amount of media coverage with their cloud based approach to 4G and 5G. With a global, internet perspective they see mobile as ripe for disruption. They are starting with Japan, already one of the most progressive mobile markets on the planet. The ability of such companies to scale rapidly (and automatically), means they will have ambitions to be preferred international enablers of other operators. Their customers, or targets, may be other, more local operators with less scale and lower levels of flexibility that continue to struggle with digitising their networks, often after many years of painful effort.
Secondly, satellite communications providers such as Iridium will be aiming to support 5G services over satellite, and ubiquitous coverage in the coming years. Companies such as LeoSat are aiming to launch large numbers of low earth orbit satellites, initially catering for 5G traffic backhaul, just more efficiently than fiber. Telesat is reportedly planning to produce over 20 low earth orbit satellites per month. As standards evolve such companies will also be able to offer 5G services directly or in wholesale partnership with existing providers. Subject to spectrum availability, they could become global brokers for 5G since, by definition, they operate on a global level in any event. 3GPP releases 14 and 16 ensure that 5G interworking with satellite will occur.
All of this means that options will increase further for consumers. 5G already means that users could avail of more than one carrier on one (dual- or multi-mode) device either directly or via their existing operator. Options will also increase for existing operators to proactively consider rapidly emerging multi-national enablers as partners. This may be the alternative to being disrupted or relegated to a mere end-point for global players.
There will be greater opportunities for operators to more powerfully diversify than ever before with 5G. Partnership is key to success and also better enabled by 5G. It includes a much broader set of partners than the typically-considered “OTT” partner opportunities that were often missed with 4G.