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.