Having returned from Mobile World Congress, it seems there is not a thing that won’t be possible once 5G is broadly deployed. The most lucrative appeal for many service providers is the drive for increased profitability, improved agility and scalable efficiencies to be the first and best provider to offer new and exciting customer experiences. In this context, 5G appears to offer a miracle cure, but can lead to some awkward conversations between technology vendors and operators about introducing and integrating new solutions that will both drive and support digital transformation in the long run. One thing is for sure though, without a fully automated digital platform, all use cases for 5G will remain largely unreachable.
Already this year, I’ve talked with several customers to help them re-examine requirements for service assurance and to understand what their services will look like 5 or 10 years from now and learn about the infrastructure needed to support ongoing growth initiatives. What we know is that while network automation and machine learning maybe the primary linchpin in a plan to digitally transform and reduce OPEX, it is no guarantee that the business will be ready for a 5G use case.
Those planning to implement and use 5G need to take a close look at their operating architecture to remove unnecessary costs upfront and drive the convergence and unification of systems and data to a single platform. Doing this will greatly improve visibility and the management of end-to-end services and build the foundation for exploiting automation and machine learning technologies to provide zero-touch environments. Without these foundations in place, supporting 5G will be a huge challenge.
Transforming an organization will obviously involve considerable additional time and resources, as well as significant cultural shifts to ready the organization and operating environment to support 5G. This all assumes, of course, that appropriate use cases have been identified. From what I saw at MWC, although the technological benefits of 5G are known, details around business use cases are still being defined.
For many carriers, leveraging automation and machine learning in a 4G and LTE environment maybe enough to meet their customers’ requirements for higher bandwidth and improved network responsiveness, for example simple consumer IoT applications. So, while several of our customers may not be ready for 5G today (or next year for that matter), it is important that they incorporate essential requirements into their transformation strategy today to future-proof their operating environment. When they are ready, transitioning to 5G will be as seamless as possible.
The adoption of evolutionary technologies and solutions is becoming more commonplace and was one of the major themes we saw addressed in Barcelona, as carriers seek to gain control over OPEX and improve service agility, while being able to incrementally drive network automation. With 5G, services and quality will include new applications that will be measured end-to-end by end user engagement and overall satisfaction of services. This goes beyond the 4G type of connectivity, which means the disruptive nature of 5G will make things a whole lot more complicated to manage and visualize across disparate systems as operators look to support new use cases and applications that brings new connectivity and communications experiences for businesses and the consumer.
So, we are left with the question to define the most probable, near term, realistic use cases for 5G. Our customers are discussing network slicing and edge computing to leverage IoT data for business services, while machine learning (AI) will help with data monetization and improve service costs through automation and launching new products to deliver better customer experience.
One thing I know for certain, whatever the use cases for 5G will be, it must support not only ongoing digital transformation, but cost transformation as well. Carriers will continue to undergo progressive shifts in technology to meet consumer and enterprise demand for more, better, faster, less expensive connectivity than ever before.
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