The Real 5G Opportunity – and How Carriers Can Prepare Their Networks Now

February 12th, 2021 by · Leave a Comment

Sanjay Bhatia, Vice President of Strategy and Solutions Marketing, Ribbon

At its inception, 5G was hyped as the new service enabler, promising to revolutionize society and enable everything from IoT and Industry 4.0 to smart cities and beyond. However, up until now, most 5G launches are primarily enhanced mobile broadband in nature. And while more and more carriers are launching 5G in anticipation of new revenue streams, the myriad of new use cases associated with the next generation of technology has not yet come to pass, leaving the industry questioning the 5G business model. Yet, there’s one business case that has not been displaced by the industry and provides a real opportunity for carriers: real-time video.

Real-Time Video is a Real Opportunity

Real-time video is used in a variety of use cases, including cloud gaming and remote surgery. According to a recent report commissioned by Ribbon, cloud gaming alone has the potential to drive more than $150 billion a year in revenue for carriers, while the telemedicine market is expected to triple in the next two years from its current market of $25 billion. However, these applications are currently served by expensive dedicated connections or local implementations, creating pain points service providers need to address, including optimizing connectivity and reliability, and minimizing latency. Because each use case requires real-time interaction, low latency, high speed and high reliability are needed to enable successful auditory, visual and even tactile feedback between the two (or more) locations where communication is occurring.

To address these pain points and unlock the potential of real-time video, ultra-reliable low latency communications (uRLLC) is required, but so are enhancements in transport network technology. Despite presenting a realistic opportunity, high costs and lack of clarity on other 5G services has pushed carriers to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach while relying on legacy infrastructure to bridge the gap.

However, this “wait-and-see” approach doesn’t account for two key aspects: the 5G product life cycle and how long it will take to evolve networks to support advanced 5G services, like uRLLC, when the market is ready.

The 5G Innovation Life Cycle

As is often the case during the early adoption phase of the innovation life cycle, 5G interest is being driven more by carriers, governments, journalists and regulators than consumers. During this phase, progress slowly grows as early adopter awareness increases. Yet, most carriers are eagerly awaiting the early majority phase to justify the cost of network upgrades in order to deliver new 5G services.

However, the transition from early adopters to the early majority is not a fluid or predictable pattern. Organizational theorist and management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore suggests there is a chasm between the early adopters and the early majority, where the latter are more pragmatic and less likely to accept a non-mature product without definitive benefits. Understanding the chasm, overcoming it and even taking advantage of it is often the make-or-break point for many companies. That’s why carriers should prepare themselves for the next stage during this chasm downtime by focusing on the necessary network enhancements to deliver on the promise of 5G.

Where Network Slicing Comes into Play

One of the key places carriers can enhance their network is their architecture. In particular, carriers should consider enhancements through network slicing. As the technology of choice for network architects and industry bodies, network slicing plays a central role in supporting 5G networks for its ability to efficiently embrace a myriad of services with very different service level agreements.

Network slicing is an architectural concept which views the network as a pool of assets: physical network resources, virtual network resources, connectivity, bandwidth and compute. By combining these assets in different combinations, network slices – which are each customized to meet the specific needs of the applications, services and resources that need to run over it – form a virtual network. This specific virtualization allows multiple logical networks to run on top of a shared physical network infrastructure through hard and soft slicing. Whereas hard slicing dedicates fixed resources to specific services or customers, soft slicing provisions resources in such a way that they can interact dynamically with each other.

While re-architecting the network will undoubtedly be complex and costly, it’s required to deliver on 5G and the opportunity of real-time uRLLC services, which need resources to be allocated in a way that provides a highly reliable experience with stricter service-level agreements. If the service is not reliable, gamers will experience delays that could cause them to look for a new provider. Or, on a more serious note, a surgeon could make life-altering mistakes by cutting too deep during a procedure. Network slicing is the only way to efficiently deal with multiple services types and is the most economical way to provide the level of service differentiation that uRLLC services require while meeting end user SLAs.

While every business case has not yet materialized, 5G is progressing. Carriers who wish to fully embrace 5G and the opportunities it provides must use the chasm wisely to prepare their networks to address issues like speed and latency – before another carrier beats them to it. While rolling out network slicing will be time-consuming and complex, investing in this architecture is the only way to take advantage of 5G services like real-time video and other future use cases.

Sanjay Bhatia

Serving as Vice President of Solutions Marketing and Strategy for Ribbon, Sanjay Bhatia oversees the company’s product marketing organization and alignment of Ribbon's go-to-market strategy across different market segments including NFV, Cloud, Enterprise Unified Communications, MSO and Wireless. Bhatia is an accomplished telecommunications professional with over 28 years of wide-ranging global experience. Bhatia has held a variety of senior leadership roles in Product Marketing, Product Line Management, and Research & Development for leading technology companies. He possesses a strong track record of successfully introducing new technologies via innovative product and solutions launches. Bhatia is an accomplished speaker who has presented at several global events. Prior to joining Ribbon, Bhatia served in senior business unit and marketing roles at Tekelec and various leadership positions at Nortel Networks. Bhatia holds bachelors and masters degrees in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech University.

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Categories: Industry Viewpoint · SDN · Wireless

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