Right now, 5G is a dominating topic in the telecom industry. Many operators all over the world are preparing or already commercially launching new services that allow customers to connect to next generation mobile networks.
Most of their early deployments are based only on RAT (Radio Access Technology) upgrades, using the existing frequency spectrum and legacy core network, thus delivering a fraction of the technology’s potential. Although 5G expectations were set very high (data rates up to 1 Gb/s downlink with latency as low as 1 ms), end users are often surprised when they experience only a slight improvement in comparison to existing 4G technology.
To avoid falling short of the hype, mobile operators will need to make significant investments in their infrastructure. Upgrades of core networks, including virtualization (VNF and SDN technologies), edge computing and network slicing will allow them to create new platforms for business growth. While some mobile operators are still analyzing potential deployment strategies, others are already advanced in upgrading their infrastructure. Verizon, for example, has introduced CAPEX efficiencies since implementing its Intelligent Edge Network with unified transport and single network core, and completed 60% of a unified framework for various networks by Q4 20191. Another major player in the US telecom industry, AT&T, in cooperation with Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, believes that it will virtualize 75% of its core network functions with software by the end of the year, allowing them to cut $1.5 billion in costs in 20202.
Potential of Fifth Generation Wireless
The potential use cases for 5G have been subject to speculation for quite some time. It is believed that 5G has the potential to change many industries and allow for the introduction of smart cities, autonomous vehicles, smart industry 4.0, etc. but it’s not yet clear how. In June 2020, Release 16, otherwise known as 5G phase 2, will be released by 3GPP, the organization that develops mobile standards (i.e. UMTS, LTE, etc.),
to help shed some light on the capabilities of 5G technology.
Thanks to the new features and enhancements found in Release 16, mobile operators can potentially see returns on their significant investments. Mobile broadband efficiency improvements, including power consumption, can allow device vendors to produce cheaper handsets, thereby increasing the number of users and helping mobile operators spend less on device subsidies. Another feature, “5G NR (New Radio): Access to Unlicensed Spectrum,” in addition to spectrum auctions in many countries, will help meet the demand for higher data rates in the RAT area.
New business models and infrastructure upgrade strategies are not the only challenges related to new technology deployment, but massive 5G rollout and complex network infrastructure (virtualization, cloud RAN, etc.) face the demand of significant automation use. An integrated and centralized BSS/OSS system will become essential in allowing usage of artificial intelligence/machine learning algorithms to plan/manage the network efficiently.
2020 – The Year of “Real” 5G?
The second half of 2020 promises to bring more clarity and help mobile operators create cost efficient strategies in their endeavors to deliver “real” 5G to customers, markedly improving data speeds. While many mobile providers are proclaiming 2020 to be the year of 5G, it is still too early to predict a timeline for real 5G implemented on a nationwide scale.
 SDX Central, Matt Kapko: Verizon CEO: Network Virtualization Is 60% Complete, 2019
 AT&T, Andre Fuetsch: From Next-Gen to NOW: SDN, White Box and Open Source Go Mainstream, 2019