After attending both the 5G World Summit and EuCNC in Finland this month, I’ve seen that there are a proliferation of 5G use cases, driven by many different analysis objectives and motivations. As Real Wireless is engaged in the EC H2020 Research and Innovation programmes we can see still more emerging use case ideas, but that’s a whole other blog we hope to write soon! Service platforms like mobile broadband (MBB) and machine-type communications (MTC) make it slightly easier to compartmentalise diverse possibilities, but when we ask operators to cite their top three use cases, few agree on what they should be. As voice and messaging revenues decline, MBB will very likely feature in their top three; however, the challenge of attaining economically viable propositions with commoditised data is not to be underestimated.
And yet 4G is already offering a glimpse of the 5G service environment. Telenor, for example, says its 4G coverage is exceeding 2G, building upon that solid 4G coverage platform there is potential for viable use cases in agriculture and remote surgery. That’s heartening for Telenor, who have ambitions based on their impressive pace of adoption for 4G, but for the global wireless industry does this early adopter have the “right” three to help mature the global economies of scale. When 5G offers enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive IoT, mission-critical and possibly more, as the enablers of use cases, how can the MNO community worldwide pursue a coherent strategy? The criteria for assessment of viability for 5G innovations is the subject of active research. In the same week as the 5G World Summit I chaired a techno-economics and business models workshop at EuCNC in Finland. At that workshop presenters did a great job of showing the huge variety of approaches that can be applied to establish viability.
The vertical applications (remote medicine, campus coverage, automated factories, to name just three at random) will be enticing and potentially lucrative markets, but there will be a lot of them. How does an MNO gear up to produce an offering for so many verticals with so many different needs? Are bespoke services a good way forward? How will the multiplicity of potential verticals align with the MNO? What’s the RoI?
4G is helping to define new markets — but there is still going to be uncertainty and fragmentation among operators aiming to balance RoI maximisation, competitive positioning and revenue growth with, potentially, diverse and often untried verticals. This may benefit integrators, of course, and could help vendors too, but it could equally be a brake on progress.
The result, if everyone can try to align their aims, could be truly amazing. But right now it’s a big if. Which is where we come in. It’s no secret that Real Wireless has the intellectual, technical and marketing resources — not to mention experience that goes back to the advent of 1G and 2G — to help operators — and vendors — to clarify their timing, choices and investments when it comes to 5G. But we are also realistic. The variables are many and complex. The industry needs to start thinking about them now. We already are.