How mobile operators need to transform to make it in 5G

Features

Bengt Nordström, CEO of consulting firm Northstream, looks at 5G roll-outs around the world so far, early use cases and those to come. He outlines three primary areas where he thinks mobile operators must make big changes if they are to gain maximum benefit from 5G.

We are more than halfway through 2019 and many mobile network operators around the world are rolling out 5G networks.

For now, 5G will essentially be about an enhanced form of mobile broadband (eMBB) and enable substantially increased end-user throughputs for applications like streaming, downloading and gaming. Fixed wireless access (FWA) is another early 5G use case that will bring high-speed fixed broadband to suburban and rural areas.

Beyond those two, there are the more future-oriented use cases, like the massive Internet of Things (mIoT) or applications that require extremely low latency (URLLC), such as remote surgeries, augmented reality (AR) and gaming.

Tech companies that develop and market such offerings will heavily rely on the mobile operators they deem best suited to deliver their services to the end customer. While some operators have already begun to revamp themselves going into 5G, many are yet to embark on the transformation journey.

In our view, there are three primary areas in which operator transformation is in order:

Network architecture

Although some operators are already underway, going forward it will become crucial for most mobile operators to have software-defined, cloud-native, virtualised networks in place that will enable the delivery of applications closer to the end user, with shorter lead times and at lower costs.

Automated network orchestration, aided by artificial intelligence (AI), will be necessary to simultaneously run the ever more complicated grids that will be needed to support the various 5G use cases.

However, operators can find it challenging to implement these changes, due to deployment complexities and a perceived lack of technological maturity in the solutions.

Business models

With the advent of enterprise-orientated use cases such as mIoT and URLLC in 5G, the business-to-business (B2B) branch of operators’ activities will grow in importance.

Therefore, developing strong business relationships with service developers will become essential.

To provide more value to enterprise clients, services that should be in the B2B portfolio include: client-server hosting in operators’ own network edge facilities; providing orchestration for applications; and, potentially, offering dedicated network slices with guaranteed quality parameters.

Organisation and ways of working

It is not enough simply to put the most advanced network infrastructure in place – another crucial element is to modernise the sometimes decades-old IT stacks operators still use.

Customer relationships are becoming digital and the backend systems have to be able to support that digitisation throughout the entire lifecycle.

It is even more important to rethink the internal ways of working within the organisation. Here, ‘agile’ has gained momentum across a variety of industries, including telecom. Briefly put, the term describes a framework to increase customer value, shorten time-to-market and improve budget efficiency.

Mainly, though, agile is about a mindset that strives toward continuous learning and improvement rather than a set of tools to cut costs.

The future role of mobile network operators may be mostly that of connectivity providers, but you can still be great at that – or you can fail.

Ultimately, to leverage the full potential of all 5G use cases, it will become imperative for mobile network operators to implement these three changes, and the difference between those that make it and those that don’t will be their ability to do that.

Northstream is now part of Accenture.

This article was published in Mobile Europe|European Communications Q3 2019 magazine - download it for free here.