The race for 5G has been a clear thread in industry discussions over the last year. Communications service providers (CSPs) worldwide have invested a large amount on new network infrastructure to support our future society. The question now is what use cases will connect with the masses to ensure this investment is worth it.
Of course, there is an obvious bump in the road. CSPs, like every other business, could not have predicted Covid-19 and the impact on business plans. The pandemic has now changed how we connect and has pushed a more significant number of consumers into a digital-first, connectivity-centric environment.
The impact of the virus and the shift in the way we consume technology will have a lasting effect on 5G in the near term and future.
Reevaluating 5G timelines
Restrictions on workers and installation crews, and disruption to global supply chains, have slowed down 5G deployments for now. CSPs have had to correctly prioritize building resilience in their current infrastructure. Ensuring network outages will not occur during such a bandwidth-heavy time is critical.
However, things are likely to pick up. More than ever, we have a reliance on connectivity to work remotely, stay in touch, and access a wide array of content. When the world returns to normal, there will likely be an increased demand for new devices and services that can offer even richer experiences from anywhere. As these experiences become more elaborate, they won’t be possible out of the home without more advanced networks. Due to this, we’re likely to see a rapid acceleration of 5G rollouts.
Using Covid-19 as a blueprint for 5G experiences
The first 5G networks that are being rolled out today are non-standalone (NSA). This means that they leverage new 5G radios but connect back to the existing 4G core networks. These networks are primed to deliver enhanced mobile broadband (emBB) use cases: significant advancements on many of the services that we use today.
For instance, advanced remote work collaboration and the increased demand for it in the Covid-19 era is likely to become an early beneficiary of 5G. It will help inject new technology such as augmented and virtual reality into our remote working experiences, bridging the gap between virtual and physical environments.
Online gaming has also seen a momentous uptick since Covid-19. With cloud gaming, the processing capabilities that happen in hardware, such as a console, can take place in the cloud, making almost any device capable of supporting much richer gaming experiences from anywhere. This relies on low-latency and the bandwidth levels that 5G can guarantee, and lowers the consumers’ cost-of-entry due to less expensive hardware. CSPs have an opportunity here by leveraging advanced networks, subscription offerings and partnerships.
5G private enterprise networks will also enable advanced applications on-premise or at the edge. Medical centers and hospitals could have dedicated local networks rather than relying on heavily congested public mobile and broadband networks. Manufacturing companies could use video monitoring and AI to check the quality of production lines remotely rather than sending people to the site.
Cloud partnerships and revised business models
Another trend that will arise as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is the emergence of partnerships between cloud and CSPs, to enable IoT and enterprise-related use cases. We’re starting to see these already. In particular, the combined benefits of 5G networks and cloud offerings with players like AT&T and Microsoft working together on use cases like remote work and gaming.
In terms of the convergence between telecoms and media and entertainment, service providers and OTT players will likely reignite discussions about how they can work together to deliver a broader range of content to a more extensive customer base. Following the lockdown, streaming providers reduced video quality to battle the surge in demand. CSPs and streaming will likely begin working together on solutions to overcome these challenges and ensure that consumers can always access content in high definition.
Adapting to a new world
The race to 5G has understandably slowed for now as the world dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. But 5G will remain a critical focus area as we adapt to the new world that’s now expected, and as consumers demand more advanced digital experiences. It’s very likely Covid-19 has given us a peek into the future.
There is still plenty to keep an eye on as the 5G story continues to unfold.
The author is CTO of Amdocs Open Network. Photo: Amdocs