At the recent 5G World Summit 2017, I chaired a fascinating session on 5G World Network Readiness. That session — in fact the summit in general — gave attendees many insights, but also even more questions to ponder.

It’s true that the continuing evolution of 4G is allowing us to do something of a dry run for the potential coverage and capacity requirements of the fast-growing list of 5G opportunities.

But, as this 5G event did indicate, it’s not just technology readiness that needs to be taken into account, as the industry tries to clarify what 5G could mean and what it could do. Network readiness is equally important, not least because — certainly as far as Real Wireless is concerned — network readiness means more than just build-out. Network readiness encompasses business enablement, business models, and infrastructure, and also extends into trials and innovation management activities.

It’s true that MNO choices are a lot clearer than they once were, based on the agreements in the standards on the approaches that can be taken in the networking layer. These choices are driven by definitions such as standalone or non-standalone and then by considerations around LTE or 5G core transformation timing and handset strategy.

Business enablement is still a problem, however. Network slicing, for example, is seen by operators as something of a differentiator at a time when reasonable RoI on services is not guaranteed. But there seems to be very little consensus in the industry about how network slicing should work. Portability of slicing, for example, is likely to be a significant challenge, slicing is being discussed in the IT-driven standards bodies as well as the more traditional telco centric bodies, alignment is needed . Roaming in the context of slicing is still a very under-developed area.

On one thing I hope we can agree, however: transformation from the core out is the right way to approach 5G.  It’s not quite a matter of “If you build it they will come”. There’s no room for such woolly optimism in what looks like being a very competitive and hard-to-define business environment. But making the core a central consideration is going to matter.

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