Reading the Telecom Tea Leaves for 2024

December 21st, 2023 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Steve Douglas, Head of Market Strategy, Spirent Communications

How can you tell the difference between emerging trends that really are about to shake up the telecom industry, versus those destined to fizzle out? You can’t rely on counting headlines; too many past hype cycles have produced plenty of those, only to fail to deliver. I’d suggest a different rule of thumb: follow the money.

As one of the world’s leading telecom testing providers, we can often tell when emerging trends are about to hit critical mass because our customers invest in preparing for them. When testing and validation of new technologies surge, especially across multiple parts of the ecosystem, it’s a good bet that big changes are coming. Based on what we’re seeing now, here are the top trends to expect in 2024.

5G Standalone (5G SA) deployments will start accelerating.

The industry has been anticipating the next generation of telecom networks, 5G SA infrastructures with cloud-native 5G Cores (5GC), for several years now. With initial deployments moving more slowly than expected last year, you could be forgiven for wondering if 5G SA is more hype than reality. But that’s not how vendors and operators see it. In fact, 5GC adoption will see significant acceleration this year, and we anticipate more than 100 5G SA commercial networks will come online by 2025.

How can we be so confident that 5G SA is approaching a tipping point? Because for the first time, the market is fully aligned for it. On the supply side, operators can now choose 5G SA solutions from 17 network equipment vendors. More than 1,400 device types that support 5G SA are already on the market, and with 80+ 5G SA chipsets and modems now available, more come out every day.

There’s a reason for this surge in 5G SA investment from suppliers: spiking demand from customers. For example, we’ve seen a major uptick in testing from service providers preparing to launch premium 5GC-enabled services, because real-world customers are clamoring for them. Look for steady growth in Enterprise Private Networks (especially for industrial applications), gaming and Extended Reality (XR), and other use cases that require the guaranteed throughput, latency, and availability that 5G SA enables.

The market for Private Networks will heat up.

Enterprise Private Network solutions saw slow and steady growth last year, but in 2024, we should see a significant spike. What’s changed? Here again, it comes down to demand. More enterprises, across more industries and use cases, now see a chance to lower costs and improve operations by using specialized Private Networks tuned for specific performance characteristics. And they’re willing to pay for them. In a recent survey from STL Partners, enterprise stakeholders saw significant value in Private Network solutions that deliver lower latencies, higher throughput, stronger security, and other attributes. In fact, early adopters of private networks in 2023 showed an ROI within six months, on average.

Ultimately, many of these outcomes hinge on operators’ ability to guarantee them under service-level agreements (SLAs). Put another way, customers are sending a clear message to service providers: invest in the ability to assure SLAs, and Private Networks can be a significant new source of recurring revenues. Since many Private Network use cases will also benefit from local processing (including industrial automation, AI/ML-driven applications, and others), we also expect to see more service providers bundling Private Networks and Edge Compute into combined offerings. Look for early wins in areas like:

  • Augmented Reality (AR): AR is about more than gaming and consumer applications. For organizations with large, distributed footprints (like pipelines, power grids, and communications networks), it can substantially reduce maintenance costs. With AR, onsite staff can perform in-depth guided repairs using overlaid schematics—a huge savings versus dispatching expert technicians to remote sites.
  • Government and Military: Along the same lines, military agencies can use Private Networks and the applications they support, including AR/XR, to provide more effective training and maintenance at forward operating bases and other remote or inhospitable field locations.
  • “AI Vision” Video Monitoring: At manufacturing plants and other industrial sites, Private Networks can enable ultra-high-definition monitoring to detect damage to components or manufacturing assets in real time. This can help organizations avoid expensive production errors, equipment damage, downtime, and lost productivity.

AR and XR applications will graduate from pilots to production.

We’ve been hearing about the potential of AR/XR applications, especially in the consumer space, for several years. In 2024, that potential starts turning into real-world deployments and revenues. Once again, this change is being driven by a market that’s aligning to enable it.

Demand for AR/XR solutions has been growing, especially in AsiaPac. This stems partly from the large gaming industry in the region, but even more from new government XR initiatives, especially for industrial and military applications. Look for other markets to follow suit over the next two years.

The real sea change for AR/XR readiness, however, comes on the supply side. The coming year will see a huge influx of premium AR/XR headsets hitting the market, just as next-generation 5G and Wi-Fi network technologies are going live. More than any other predictor, this massive investment suggests that, at least according to the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, the market for consumer AR/XR applications is about to explode.    

To spark digital transformation, telecommunications providers will turn to new technologies.

New revenue opportunities aren’t the only way to improve telecommunications provider balance sheets. This year, service providers will also start seriously exploring new internal innovations to lower costs and optimize operations. These efforts will include:

  • Cloud migration, especially for Operational Support System (OSS) transformation
  • Automation, where efforts this year will focus on ML-based solutions for lab consolidation and network lifecycle/DevOps processes
  • Network Digital Twins, which enable operators to use real-time virtual models of the network to more easily evaluate, experiment with, and validate network changes before implementing them in production

Get Ready

This isn’t a comprehensive list of what to expect in telecom over the next 12 months. But based on where service providers and vendors are placing their biggest bets, these are the top areas to watch.

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Categories: Industry Viewpoint · Virtual Reality · Wireless

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