What 5G Pioneers Have in Common with Black-Hole Scientists

By Brendan Logan, global vice president for Oracle Communications Consulting

Meaningful investment in 5G requires that industries, governments, and suppliers believe in something they cannot yet see or even imagine. Think of the extraordinary scientific collaboration that led to the discovery last week of the supermassive M87 black hole—its existence known because of the shadow it cast, not for any light that could escape its gravitational pull or any understanding of the power held within. Its newly ascribed name, Pōwehi, means embellished dark source of unending creation.

The parallel struck me as I thought about my time at 5G Realised last week in London, where key stakeholders explored the enormous theoretical and practical obstacles they must overcome to make 5G truly revolutionary and valuable to customers, organizations, and societies as a whole. We sought to reveal the practical side of 5G without the business-case distortions that have in the past made some telecom executives and investors balk at the capital requirements and, frankly, the “unknown” that comes with 5G.

Most impressive was the manner in which “competitors” collaborated for a common goal, much like the scientists that created the Event Horizon “virtual” telescope that pooled the capacity of telescopes around the world to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. At the event, four of the United Kingdom’s most prominent operators—Telefonica, Three UK, BT Group and Vodafone UK—worked to make sense of 5G from an urban planning, environmental and capital cost point-of-view in the fireside chat “Realising 5G Services,” which I was privileged to moderate.

During the discussion, Andrea Dona, head of Vodafone UK Networks, described how enhanced mobile broadband would make fixed wireless access substitute for fixed broadband connectivity—the likely monetization model that will get things rolling and set the stage for the B2B2C and B2B models that will eventually emerge around 5G hot spots with an EMBB boost, not to mention the IoT and mission-critical control use cases that will have far-reaching B2B consequences.

Three UK’s COO Graham Baxter offered insight into what the average Three UK customer’s usage might be in the future, citing Ofcom projections of 90GB per month by 2025. In preparation, he outlined how regulations will impact investment in terms of access to fiber, planning permissions, mobile spectrum leases, and net neutrality decisions that affect 5G slicing and monetization capabilities.

BT Group’s CTIO Howard Watson outlined how mobile subsidiary EE will switch on 5G services in 16 U.K. cities in 2019, and the overall vision to create “one smart network” that is always connected and always optimized through an evolutionary path from first extending IMS to BT and EE customers, to then switching on its 5G network, to IP voice and public Wi-Fi “on the go,” and a new core in the next few years.

Brendan O’ Reilly, the CTO of Telefonica said that “collaboration” was critical for the rapid build and deployment of the network, and this meant collaboration among the operators, government, local authorities, and enterprise, and so far this collaboration is going very well. He also felt that aside from the enterprise and FMA, gaming and entertainment users would be among the early adopters.

The willingness to share visions and journeys was not unique to European carriers, as I see U.S. carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint working together in the 5G realm through the 3GPPATIS, and CSRIC, to drive standards and momentum. Everyone realizes they can’t do this alone and the only way to accelerate 5G progress is to work together on spectrum, construction and network build-outs in the urban areas that will be ground zero for the first 5G deployments.

Those 5G use cases will depend on how well all members of the value chain work together to address key challenges:

  • Infrastructure: how to have enough fixed wireless antennas to maintain line-of-sight with nearby cells for fixed 5G wireless, and the future of mobile 5G.  What’s the best way to set up “street furniture,” the cellular base stations on street lamps and utility poles that will make 5G viable without having to put cell sites every 600 feet?
  • Spectrum: How much and where?  Just this week, controversy erupted when the White House and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced there’d be auctions in the 37, 39 & 47 GHz bands, only to have the FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and many in the press contend that the “rest of the world” would be focused on mid-band airwaves (i.e., CBRS and C-Band spectrum) that are less susceptible to obstruction by buildings, trees, people and even air.
  • Leadership: Who will be driving the vision—will it be the CSPs that bring use cases to the industries most hungry for innovation, or will it be certain industries whose needs catalyze disruption enough to spark real 5G use cases of import?

One of the key values of 5G Realised was the tangible effort to connect those who want 5G sooner rather than later with those who can actually supply it. All who attended worked to put aside the unrealistic and explore more of the pragmatic in terms of where 5G would first work and the use cases that would really be viable in gaming, energy, security, financial services, agriculture, health, automotive, transportation, and other industries.

Though leaders across industries admit they don’t really know what the true impact of 5G will be for them, they do know they have real problems to solve and real pressure to create new revenues. There would be no Uber, Instagram, Snapchat, Lyft or Airbnb today without 4G, and none of us thought of it before. And just like the discovery of Pōwehi, the value of the 5G journey is in what we don’t yet know.

Brendan Logan leads Oracle’s Communications global business consulting organization, which is focused on ensuring the successful deployment and optimization of Oracle Communications and Media applications and technology.

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