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5G is almost here – but how do we make the most of it?

March 22, 2019

Tim Sherwood   

Vice-President – Business Development, Mobility & IoT Solutions, Tata Communications.

Even as Mobile World Congress for this year has drawn to a close, talking about 5G is unavoidable. While in previous years the talk has very much been baked in ‘hype’, this year the countdown is officially on.

Years of excitement (and hype!) are finally giving way to progress – proof of concepts, field trials, buildouts and early deployments. 5G is on the cusp of becoming reality. The question that is still to be answered is: what will it deliver?

With traditional telecom revenues in decline, connectivity fast becoming a commodity and customer trust diminishing, much of the focus (and hope) is on delivering new revenues through enhanced customer services for mobile network operators.

Despite the many recognised advantages of 5G, mobile network operators are still looking for concrete evidence of ROI. The investment isn’t a small one. In fact, it will likely amount to a collective investment of billions of dollars in new network equipment, licenses and deployment. So, what difference will 5G actually make?

Avoiding the obvious temptation to simply say ‘Internet of Things’, here are five 5G-powered use cases that mobile network operators must begin to prepare for.

1. Industry 4.0

Like many others, the manufacturing industry is going through a digital revolution. Within the context of Industry 4.0, manufacturers are becoming more efficient through the application of automation and data exchange to their existing factory processes. 5G plays a vital role in this transformative process, especially in the enablement of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. Both will help in the realisation of manufacturers’ Industry 4.0 goals.

2. AR + VR = MR

Mixed reality (MR) applications are likely to be a key driver for 5G. Beyond the consumer market (think Pokémon Go), interesting applications are also likely to be found in industrial and medical contexts. Remote medical procedures, engineering, public safety and field service applications are all strong use case opportunities for the application of low latency 5G services. Whether or not B2B or B2C will lead the way depends on the strategy of the large consumer electronics companies, along with the availability of 5G network coverage

3. Sport and entertainment

5G will also deliver a significantly enhanced experience for media audiences. A combination of VR and AR with ultra-high-fidelity enabled by 5G could transform the way fans interact with sporting or entertainment events. There is already a lot of excitement about these types of use cases, the potential revenue benefits.

The opportunity here lies in more than just providing connectivity. Mobile network operators can create partnerships with broadcasters and sports organisations to deliver entertainment services directly to customers through their self-service applications.

4. Fixed wireless access

This could be used to bring high bandwidth digital services to under-served rural areas in many countries. As a result, mobile network operators will then be able to compete directly with wireline, satellite and cable companies – offering new revenue streams and faster ROI.

5. Autonomous vehicles

Arguably the most 5G-centric use case is autonomous driving (level four and above). This is the idea that much of the car, if it not all of it, is controlled not by the driver, but by technology. 5G is critical to the reality of this, as it will offer the connectivity and speed needed to deliver vast amounts of data to one another as well as other objects simultaneously. The possibilities associated with autonomous vehicles extend to vehicle sharing as well as a range of V2X type applications.

While these types of use case are extremely interesting, it’s unlikely to be a short-term mass market revenue generating opportunity.

For 5G success, collaboration is key

5G provides a powerful opportunity for the mobile industry to reap the benefits of co-operation models. Mobile network operators’ co-operation around network sharing options and spectrum farming represents one area for consideration. However, it’s vital that collectively, the mobile ecosystem appreciates the limitations associated with frequency allocation, network investment, regulatory restrictions and the availability of funds for investment.

If the various parties, including government and the network equipment companies, can work together to identify commercially viable and desirable customer solutions, then 5G can fulfil the vast potential that’s been ascribed to it these past years.

Read our previous MWC blog on the evolution of MVNO.