TIM Strategy & Innovation Chief says market, not telcos, will define 5G success

Features

The world of crowdsourcing has been a fixture of the technology world for some time now but TIM has argued that 5G will see a network built according to the demands of its customers, rather than vendors.

Mario Di Mauro, Head of Strategy & Innovation at TIM, launched a 5G for Italy research project with Ericsson earlier this month.

The operator is uniting industries across Italy, along with public sector bodies, universities and enterprises, to run pilots exploring different use cases and technologies.

Di Mauro tells Mobile Europe this "bottom up" approach, where decision-making is driven by future demand rather than operators and vendors making a prediction about future markets, is a new but necessary step for the mobile industry.

He says: "The deployment of 5G technology is market-led as opposed to previous technologies that were the result of an initiative led by the network vendors.

"MNOs will play a crucial role as they are the stakeholders closest to the players that will enable the services, i.e. car makers, industry 4.0 players, IoT, cloud platforms etc, and also have their pulse on the market to direct the 5G deployment towards the hottest verticals.

"I am convinced that the development of 5G relies on the ability of providing a digital open platform enabling fast and sustainable growth of the whole digital market place, rather than on addressing specific needs one by one."

This move will help regain the ground lost by operators as the industry shifted from 2G through 3G to LTE, claims Di Mauro.

He says: "During 3G deployment, vendors took the leadership. Network deployment became very expensive, resulting in a low degree of optimisation between coverage and market request."

Europe was slow to take advantage of LTE, allowing other markets to take muscle up. Uncertainty around whether LTE should be a premium product or a mass-market play also caused the continent to seize up. "Since then," he claims, "Europe's leadership was definitely erased."

He adds: "It is crucial that telcos work together as an industry in order to avoid the same mistakes once 5G approaches. As long as the new technology is developed keeping in mind the requirements for setting different possible vertical use cases, Europe should contribute to 5G specifications development according to [each] region's industrial ecosystem needs."

Hence developing 5G according to market demands. The first stage of project will last 12 months and centre on pre-commercial use cases spanning cloud robotics and security, smart tagging, connected vehicles and drones, and public safety.

From 2017, attention will be turned to e-health, smart agriculture and augmented and virtual reality.

Di Mauro says what is crucial to enable this is full digital transformation through the cloud and virtualisation. He explains: "5G will leverage both on fibre and radio access, thus benefiting those MNOs that manage and provide convergent access and services...5G access will ensure the capillarity required to support the expected explosion of the massive IoT industries. For the MNOs 5G will be critical to ensure leadership in the area of non-human services."

To get there, operators need a strong regulatory hand, greater coordination in spectrum policy and increased levels of fibre penetration.

But will this be enough? While Di Mauro notes the importance of things that need to happen, other parts of the world, South East Asia and the United States in particular, are already making strides.

[Read more: Ericsson CTO: Europe lacks "essential" aggression in shift towards 5G]

Di Mauro may be bullish about TIM's 5G strategy, but admits there is no set date for rolling out the technology, not even the widely mooted 2020. However, he is well aware the pressures are greater than before.

He says: "I've been working for years in the industry and we have learned the lesson. Two things are crystal clear to us. [One] we are working well in advance to be ready for the launch. And this time, our starting point is the demand and not the technology. We want 5G to be a value accretive wave for the industry and not simply an incremental innovation substituting the actual demand."

It will try to thrive and do this with a little help from their friends.