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Network Exposure: Making 5G’s New Ingredients Available for Better Partnerships

July 15, 2021 - Frank Healy

Exploring why 5G’s Network Exposure Function (NEF) combined with partner ecosystems matters more than ever with 5G.

The mention of “flexible partnership” caused many an eye-roll amongst embattled telco partner managers as well as would-be participants in 3G and 4G land. 5G is way more than faster 4G and with all its complexities as well as opportunities it’s more important than ever to consider the value of partner and stakeholder management as mechanisms for service diversification. It no longer needs to be fraught with complexity and long timelines.

New service ingredients

As service providers move more rapidly towards stand-alone 5G, it begins to provide freshly available “ingredients” or features, many of which have been well-described, including improvements to: latency, speed, coverage, capacity and density. Further value-adds include: enhanced mobility handover, slicing, energy-efficiency and of course infinite scalability. Scalability after all because 5G has promised to be cloud-based. When combined, these ingredients provide enormous potential value for services, many of which will be redefined or have yet to be defined. Such services include but are not limited to AR/VR, V2X and more enterprise-focussed wizardry such as robotics. The potential is already so vast that some service providers are struggling to prioritise. After all, it’s been a while since some were in the wizardry business.

In terms of ingredients, it’s the culinary equivalent of moving from baking bread to running a 5-star food court with multiple restaurant types. It begs questions including: when and how best to partner and expose these features to key partners? How to prioritise such that services are available before competitors? Then of course: what should commercial models look like?

A key to the handling of these questions will be the 3GPP-defined network exposure function (NEF) for 5G and how well managed it can be as a jewel in the 5G network.

Internal as well as external Developer communities

At one extreme, service providers can simply charge for the exposed 5G features mentioned above, make cloud-scalability available and leave the rest up to specialist external developer teams.

At the other extreme, NEF of course allows exposure of 5G capabilities / functions towards internal service development teams in addition to external developer communities. By doing so, a service provider becomes its own best customer. For some service providers this will allow selective end-to-end diversification to be more fully managed. So, for example if they want to enter the agricultural robots business they can do so with more end-to-end control while NEF helps them to consolidate and control the newly available 5G features required to do so.

Cloud-based, of course

This proliferation of services implies a need for automatic scaling. More services will follow the extreme example of Zoom which grew by several thousand percent in 2020. They’ll need to be facilitated instantly and they’ll need the power of cloud in order to perform as expected. Fortunately, the various cloud providers are already supporting 5G functions and will be keen to also participate with NEF-driven capabilities as part of their toolsets for service enablement.

Partnership backed by business expertise (tech is just not enough)

The NEF can be a focal point for partnership success but as a piece of tech it won’t be enough in itself. Of course, it needs to be multi-cloud capable and microservices-based – but those are not enough either. Those 3G/4G-era partner managers will know only too well that it needs to come wrapped in a fuller set of business experience. This includes: partner support, contracting, on-boarding, revenue-management, security, API version controls, SLA management, full-service orchestration, reporting and more.

For successful service providers this will be an ecosystem and ambition level way beyond what has gone before. The stakes are now much higher with 5G’s expanded set of ingredients. Convergence of capabilities, especially with cloud specialists, will make a difference this time. Fortunately, newly available 5G toolsets such as NEF are now more compatible with scale and diversity. With 5G, partnership is about to get tasty again.

Find out more about 5G NEF here.

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