5G has been a major topic of discussion for the past two years. It’s not surprising that people are excited about the next-generation of wireless connectivity: the promise of super-fast, low-power, low-latency connectivity that enables a huge number of devices is appealing. And we’ve all heard the spiel: increased productivity, bridging digital divides, enabling real-time applications, enriching communication, etc. But while the excitement is sky-high, 5G is in its infancy and there are still many challenges to overcome before we see 5G networks deployed on a global scale.
Ahead of this year’s MWC LA, where 5G will likely dominate discussions, we wanted to look into exactly where we are on the 5G roadmap. How will 5G affect the global mobile economy and more specifically, where does that leave mobile operators that are struggling to compete with OTT media services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber?
Ready, set, 5G!
Put yourself in the shoes of any one of history’s great explorers for a moment, and it’s easy to imagine how they must have felt upon discovering ‘new’ land. After overcoming difficulties like navigating the sea, managing the crew and planning the resources, those first steps onto ‘new’ soil would have been exciting, but quickly followed by “Now what next?”
When it comes to 5G, operators – just like those voyagers before them – will be setting off on journeys to discover their new roles as enablers of connectivity. But it’s no good arriving at this point and then asking, “what next?”. The monetization opportunities must be there from the start, to help ensure operators get a solid return on their 5G investment.
With over 200 operators across 100 countries announcing some form of 5G deployment or testing, it’s clear that the space is evolving fast. Operators are racing to be the first providers of 5G connectivity in major cities across the globe with recent roll outs in Monaco, U.S.A., South Korea, Switzerland, UK, and Malaysia.
So far, 5G has mostly remained a domestic priority in the U.S., with MNO’s looking to monopolize big cities like LA, San Francisco, Phoenix, Huston, Dallas etc. AT&T is focusing on providing 5G to businesses, while Verizon is investing in leveraging the speed 5G enables. However, the ability to remain connected at all times, especially when we travel abroad, is imperative. This will involve governments, policy makers and mobile operators enabling global and borderless capabilities – something that only 5G roaming can deliver.
Get your passports – 5G is going abroad
In our digital age, borderless, cellular connectivity is a priority for most. This is evident in the 95% increase in data roaming demands in 2018, which highlights the surging appetite for always-on connectivity, whether at home or abroad. Consumers are so reliant on their mobile devices to stay connected to the rest of the world, that many of us rarely go anywhere without them.
Relying on this precedent, we can assume that 5G roaming will also be in demand, creating huge opportunities for mobile operators to generate new revenue streams on a global scale. Bringing this to fruition will require collaboration between countries. This should include the establishment of roaming guidelines between operators that will open up networks to other parties, as well as solutions that will support the shift to 5G effectively and cost-efficiently. We’ve seen examples of this already with Swiss operator Swisscom and South Korean carrier SK Telecom, as well as Monaco Telecom, which successfully established a live 5G data roaming service earlier this year. While this is a major achievement, we are still some way away from fully unleashing the capabilities of 5G, with many operators still seeking assurances that this is a worthy investment.
Operators aren’t the only ones focused on 5G: manufacturers have been investing, too. Most of the smartphone giants have now released 5G-capable handsets (Samsung, Huawei, LG, OnePlus, Xiaomi and Oppo), showcasing incredible speeds. But there is a notable exception: iPhone 11 does not support the next-gen mobile service, because Apple doesn’t believe 5G is quite ready yet. In the meantime, there’s an even greater opportunity for the telco community: connecting the global Internet of Things (IoT).
Creating IoT revenues
Last year, the use of IoT devices crossed the 17 billion mark, with estimates for the number to grow further, reaching 21.5 billion by 2025, according to IoT Analytics. Between now and then, the industry is also estimated to grow tenfold. You don’t need to be an expert to imagine the monetization opportunities brought by IoT, which include both consumer (e.g. smart home technology) and enterprise (e.g. connected machinery and robotics). These devices require robust connectivity to support the businesses that are in the process of expanding and establishing themselves abroad.
What will that look like? In the logistics industry, for example, sensors can be embedded into the cargo to monitor temperature and surrounding conditions, while the vehicles can be tracked across borders. This data can be used to manage the cargo and the transportation fleet from a single, centralized location, in real-time, enabling businesses to make educated adjustments to the way things are run. 4G roaming may be enough for now, but with evolving technologies the increasing demand for faster, secure, and reliable connectivity that 5G can deliver will inevitably be required.
This is where operators come in. By facilitating borderless connectivity, they can help support digital transformation and empower a new mobile economy. By offering competitive M2M and IoT plans, while utilizing the global networks which enable them, mobile operators can really zero in on this next generation technology.
5G is still evolving – there’s no doubt. Telecom providers and operators are in a unique position to be the first to deliver 5G to consumers and businesses alike, and in so doing, laying the foundation for a real digital age.