The Fast Mode
Communications technologies have always enriched lives and advanced societies, often by interlinking people and economies that were once unequivocally separated by culture and geography. As technology has overcome borders, worldwide ecosystems have been able to accelerate the development of network infrastructure and devices, drive costs down and encourage mass adoption. 5G, IoT, the proliferation of fibre and the cloud should be no exception. But will the gradual emergence of regional differences result in a more fragmented approach to communications networks, or will the global telecoms industry continue on its current path of open collaboration? Let’s look at several transformative forces driving important trends across the industry.
#1: The Rise of Automation
The shift toward 5G brings with it a level of complexity never before seen in mobile communications, necessitating automation at every stage of the 5G lifecycle. Intelligent automation enabled through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be at the foundation of how 5G networks are managed, playing a major role in their success. Sophisticated algorithms that can dynamically learn and evolve in real-time will not only address the problem of complexity where manual intervention is no longer an option, it will also address OpEx and CapEx considerations for communications service providers (CSPs) while propelling the market forward for consumers and enterprises.
Additionally, the 5G network needs to be designed to satisfy the often disparate connectivity needs of multiple vertical use cases, with strict requirements in terms of data rates, latency, reliability and device density. The 5G network will need to cope in real-time with average demand as well spikes in usage. This cannot be achieved manually. Automated processes will evolve in 2020 at every stage of the 5G lifecycle, from automated lab testing through to cell site turn-up, and on to managing and optimization. Indeed, ML is already heavily in use in location intelligence algorithms. As automation grows, the 5G network will be capable of delivering on consumers’ expectations, while reducing OpEx and helping CSPs efficiently manage energy consumption for a greener network.
#2: RAN is the New Core
As 5G becomes more developed in 2020, the disaggregated RAN will continue to evolve and offer far more flexibility for 5G service offerings. Beamforming will be deployed, enabling directional user beams (including 3D) for greater coverage and capacity, along with MIMO and massive MIMO antenna configurations. Virtualization and open, interoperable interfaces will come to the RAN, driven by the O-RAN Alliance, and support for ultra-reliable low latency communications will allow the user plane to be distributed, moving closer to the edge.
#3: Fibre, Fibre Everywhere
The capability fortifying the infrastructure that supports the evolution of 5G is fibre, enabling higher bandwidth with less attenuation, lower latency and capacity growth on the same infrastructure. You could almost think of 5G as a fibre network with a RAN tail; with fibre in the fronthaul, midhaul, backhaul and core of the network. However, not all fiber deployments will be the same. We expect to see variations in network topology for 5G access, with the factors that drive adoption of fibre fronthaul technology differing according to the service provider, the service they are offering, and most importantly, the amount of fiber assets they can access.
As we all know, larger bandwidths will be needed to offer gigabits of throughput over the air with 5G, hence a higher dependency on a much denser fibre fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul network. This not only will mean more fibre cables and endpoints, it also will result in a higher order of multiplexing, increasing the complexity and scale of fibre deployments and testing. In 2020, we anticipate seeing continued growth of multiple fibre pairs per radio unit, driving a more complex fibre field installation with Multi-fibre Push On (MPO) and xWDM deployments increasing significantly. All of these changes are propelling service providers and their contractors to require simple fiber instruments with test process automation to scale 5G deployments.
#4: Shifting Landscapes
With 5G moving to deployment in many countries around the world, we will continue to see the creation of new opportunities sparked by intelligent connectivity in the 5G network. New use cases across a range of market sectors, such as transportation, health and manufacturing, are expected to spur deployment of private 5G networks where enterprises, research organizations and industries can benefit from high-bandwidth, secure communications to every device and sensor in the network. The release of unlicensed spectrum for industry verticals will facilitate the deployment of private 5G networks – without requiring a mobile operator – creating a new class of business-to-business service providers. As a result, 2020 could be the beginning of a seismic shift in the competitive landscape for today’s CSPs. Fasten your seatbelts.
#5: The Global Village
While disparate economies are being pulled closer together virtually, recent geopolitical forces are putting a strain on that progress. This trend could disrupt the global harmonization of technology standards, even as accelerating technology transformation means that standards are more critical than ever. For example, Germany has announced plans to develop their own cloud service so that European companies can avoid storing data with rivals in the U.S. or Asia. And the U.S. government has expressed concerns about cooperating on 5G technology with certain countries. However, when technology is disaggregated by geography, the global ecosystem loses economies of scale and important technology advancements. And in the end, whenever vendors are faced with the need to choose which technologies and standards to support based on business or political priorities, we all lose out on quality of experience. True technology evolution and advancement requires a robust ecosystem – open collaboration is a large part of that effort.