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How the UK can make 5G succeed

Tue 30 Apr 2019 | Rajiv Datta


Rajiv Datta, chief operating officer at Colt, discusses the challenges that lie ahead for the next-gen network in the UK

There’s no doubt that 5G is an exciting prospect. In the run-up to the launch of the first 5G services, a major buzz is developing around the types of use case that 5G will unleash, whether that’s autonomous vehicles or smart buildings. All over the world, people are dreaming up new things that technology will enable. It’s going to be about so much more than just faster data. We’re going to see completely new types of services that haven’t existed before.

The prospect of fresh 5G-based service areas is great news for mobile network operators. With them come the potential for the kind of new revenue streams that operators desperately need, as well as the great experiences that consumers and enterprises will be willing to pay extra for.

5G’s enticing – if bumpy – route ahead

But along with the excitement comes issues and challenges. The main challenge of 5G for mobile network operators is that the infrastructure requirements are materially different to previous generations because the level of bandwidth required scales up substantially. But that’s not even the half of it. If you look at all the use cases for 5G, they fundamentally change the kind of underlying network that you need to support the services and capabilities that would ride on top of it.

The backhaul dynamic is quite different with 5G. The old model of deploying fibre where you can, and microwave where you must, is no longer enough. Backhaul will be all about fibre if you want a material 5G experience.

There’s also a change in the distribution requirements, with the need for a far more distributed fronthaul as well as backhaul network. We’re talking about lots of small cell deployments that also need fibre.

While the initial 5G deployments have been trials targeted at more remote areas using fixed wireless, the large-scale use cases that is getting everyone excited is driven by widescale mobile connectivity.

This next generation of mobile connectivity will require density of distribution, which will initially, be focused on major population centres. Because of the nature of 5G, mobile operators will need to look for support from wholesale partners with strength in those areas, a strength that those partners will probably have spent many years building.

The initial launch of 5G looks achievable, but in the background there is still the need to build the infrastructure that will deliver the true 5G experience.

It’s time to share

As well as the technology side, mobile operators are also grappling with the business case for 5G. They need to believe  that new use cases represent new revenue, and that this new revenue will justify the new investments.

This makes the need for a partner that offers neutral, independent support, so critical. It should be a partner that has no mobility offer of its own and can provide the expertise in building out the necessary dense infrastructure.

Such a partner can offer the prospect of infrastructure that is shared between multiple operators & service providers, making the business case and time to market for an individual operator easier to demonstrate.

“Mobile operators and their customers must realise that not everything will be achieved on Day One, and they should expect 5G to rollout in cycles”

Stakeholder investment key to make 5G succeed

Governments and regulators also have a role to play. They can make it easier to deploy fibre, and do more to encourage the creation of the smart city environments that will be 5G’s natural home. As well as helping to enable the necessary infrastructure, regulators and other governmental bodies can help with revenue opportunities, too. Of course, operators need to monetise 5G to help cover their investment.

This is one of the biggest investment cycles across the whole industry over the past 20 or so years. The 4G rollout was a managed rollout, but this is something completely new. For instance, when it comes to smart cities, we need local authorities to get involved and help create the ecosystem that can make it succeed. All these forces need to work together to make it easier for all stakeholders to do business.

In fact, we should never lose sight that this is about the long haul. The 5G era doesn’t begin and end in the next 12 months. Mobile operators and their customers must realise that not everything will be achieved on Day One, and they should expect 5G to rollout in cycles. The first deployments will be where people has got the latest & greatest 5G smartphone– and that’s likely to be the most affluent areas. Over a period of time, 5G will expand everywhere as use cases drive behaviour and justify deployment. We’ll see 5G launch in major cities in the UK later this year. But I see the cycle running for the next decade as new use cases roll out.

Looking beyond 5G

While it may not be called 5G in 10 years’ time, fundamentally, that’s what it will be. The architecture changes that are happening right now will allow those further rollouts to take place. Future increments of 5G will be very much about software. But it won’t be another rip and replace as there are always use cases for incremental capability in any technology.

5G is a step change in capabilities, and it also bleeds into the whole idea of edge compute. It poses questions like “What stays close to consumers?” And “What stays far away?”. Answers to that are tied up with what is in your pocket compared to what is in the buildings all around you.

It’s also a move from connecting people to connecting things, which enlarges possibilities. But at the end of the day, there is no better way for all of this to be connected than fibre – whether you’re connecting people to content, or things to each other, or things back to that content. Many fascinating things then become possible.

Experts featured:

Rajiv Datta



5g UK
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