Several decades ago, American actor Tom Cruise proclaimed in the iconic movie “Top Gun” that he felt the need for speed. That statement echoed in my head a few weeks ago when I read a survey commissioned jointly by Nokia and Qualcomm that named faster speed as a key reason consumers want 5G.
However, equating 5G with faster speeds is selling the technology short; speed may be the easiest attribute of 5G for non-tech savvy consumers to understand, but it’s certainly not the only one. The transition from 3G to 4G meant faster speeds that paved the way for mobile broadband services and the current expectations around ubiquitous access to those services. 5G, on the other hand, is an entirely new architecture that delivers exponential improvements in not only speed, but also latency, capacity, power consumption and number of connections supported. 3G to 4G was an evolution; 4G to 5G is a revolution that opens the door for entirely new use cases, no doubt including ones we haven’t even dreamed up yet.
But with that opportunity comes the very real risk that 5G will become an exercise in network design and engineering, as opposed to a way for operators to truly remake themselves and generate additional revenue. Bloomberg puts the cost of 5G at about $200B per year in capital spending. Without a clear plan to generate a return on that investment, operators may be left with empty pockets and a shiny new network that isn’t generating enough value to justify the cost.
This means that solutions that enable network monetization and control have never been more important than they are in the 5G realm, and those suppliers with a proven track record around supporting revenue-generating business models are best positioned to provide them. The following capabilities are particularly critical to support successful 5G use cases:
- Real-time dynamic policy beyond a standardized core network function that can be pushed closer to the edge to support ultra-low latency use cases, rapidly.
- Dynamic charging that can go beyond charging for consumption, e.g. variable charging for latency, availability, bandwidth, etc.
- The ability to flexibly support new business models by integrating third parties into the operator ecosystem via secure exposure of network services and capabilities.
- Advanced analytics and machine learning to provide better contextual inputs for policy and charging decisions ranging from support for variable Quality of Service to network slice optimization to early identification of fraud or malware introduced by IoT devices.
The net result is engagement with a wider range of segments, served by a more powerful set of appropriate business models.
Operators are at an inflection point as they struggle to move away selling vanilla voice and data services to becoming digital service providers. 5G has the potential to be a key part of that journey, if it is properly leveraged – and that means going beyond the need for speed and capitalizing on the full value of these new network architectures. To that end, 5G enabling software such as PCC and analytics are just as important as 5G infrastructure – if not more so.