5G: Preparing businesses for the future

We couldn’t discuss the future of connectivity during our virtual event without discussing 5G. During the event, we held two sessions on the mobile operator journey to 5G, featuring BICS experts Divya Wakankar (Head of Digital Communication Solutions), Jaymy Teh (Head of Mobile IP), and Raphaël Glatt (Head of Signalling, 5G, Big Data and Roaming). The session was chaired by Vanilla Plus editor, George Malim, who together with BICS, shared insights on the impact of 5G on the industry, and how enterprises can leverage its speed and reduced latency to improve operations and end-user experience.

Despite the disruption and uncertainties caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the current rate of 5G deployment is faster than we saw with any generation of mobile connectivity before. According to research from Virgin Media, the global market is on track to have 220 million 5G subscriptions by the end of this year, which is good news for operators. According to Juniper Research, operator-billed revenue from 5G connections will rise from $5 billion in 2020 to reach $357 billion by 2025.

Adding to this, the number of 5G connected devices – both IoT and non-IoT – will reach 1.2 billion by 2025 (rising from 11 million in 2020), according to IoT Analytics. And by 2025, 5G revenue is anticipated to represent 44% of global operator-billed revenues, thanks to rapid migration and new 5G use cases. These figures represent a clear appetite for the fifth generation of cellular connectivity, and for telcos ready to roll out 5G applications, there is a clear opportunity to unlock new revenue streams. But 5G is not without its challenges, as our panel discussed.

Is 5G a challenge or an opportunity?

During our panel session, Malim opened by giving an overview of the current 5G uptake, citing research from The Global Suppliers Association (GSA). According to the GSA, by July 2020, there were 92 commercial networks in operation across 38 countries, and 7% of the world’s population is covered by 5G. By 2025 however, the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) says this will have grown, with 5G accounting for 20% of global connections in the next five years.

Many sectors will be reaping the benefits of the greater connectivity speeds and lower latency 5G enables. For example, the automotive, health, manufacturing, and agriculture industries can make the most of higher capacity capabilities to allow remote execution, support a greater number of connected devices, and implement virtual networks. Glatt specifically cited security drones with cameras, and remote medical procedures or surgery, as examples of use cases requiring low latency and high bandwidth, which were one of the drivers behind the growth of 5G.

For operators, this means a new focus: creating new proposals for businesses across all these sectors and more than just the network, a new ecosystem to support realisation of 5G use cases, private networks – and many more – and managing new technologies. However, as Kaleido Intelligence recently highlighted, there are three main challenges to overcome on the road to 5G roaming: ensuring adequate capacity for Enhanced Mobile Broadband; lowering the latency; and addressing security concerns.

Carriers like BICS are working to address these challenges. Readiness to support private networks opens up new revenue opportunities for mobile operators, as well as offering greater flexibility and continuity of service to enterprise. Carrier investment in upgrading services, as BICS has done with their IPX offering, are all actions to be taken as carriers support mobile operators on their 5G journey. Another example cited by Teh is BICS’ 5G IPX, a converged connectivity solution which gives operators flexibility to extend reach to new destinations e.g. to the cloud, and to augment capacity instantly via self service automation portal, without losing operational control and visibility. And with an extensive global infrastructure, BICS can lower the latency for roaming subscribers by taking advantage of the closest network node, rather than re-routing traffic back to the home network.

Preparing for a new generation of security needs

The take-up of 5G demands upgrades to network architecture and welcomes many more connected devices to its ecosystem. As such, operators and end-users are opened to a much larger risk from malicious attacks. With more connected devices comes increased subscriber data, for example, which needs to be protected.

However, despite an expanding threat landscape, technologies exist to safeguard 5G networks, removing one of the major barriers to adoption. BICS’ IPX Security platform, for example, monitors and proactively identifies network vulnerabilities, making it possible for operators to secure their business with an end-to-end solution.

Digitalisation: the future business

For businesses, 5G and the cloud have created a new ‘digital’ reality, driven almost entirely by end-user demand. “5G is largely the result of demand for faster network speeds and connectivity, as well as on the enterprise side, a move to the cloud,” said Wakankar.

“The adoption of cloud communications has been an important ingredient for enterprises in 2020,” Wakankar added. This is not surprising, with over 83% of enterprise workloads now operating from the cloud alone, and 63% of enterprises using cloud communication services. And access to these cloud-based services will be brought to life by 5G connectivity.

Service providers like mobile operators have a new opportunity to monetise their networks in ways that they didn’t before. With enterprises moving to the cloud, and the cloudification of communications, it won’t be long until the benefits of 5G connectivity become a ‘must’, rather than a ‘nice to have’, and very much like 4G now, we’ll all wonder what we did without it.