5G is unlike previous generations of mobile technology in many ways. It achieves higher speeds and lower latency, it enables a broader range of use cases and expands cellular services to more vertical industries and enterprise customers. It is also more hyped. While there are some unrealistic public expectations around use cases like remote surgery or fully autonomous cars, the performance, flexibility and efficiency of 5G networks create real opportunities for mobile service providers to deliver unique services and attract new customers.

The world’s first 5G networks went live in 2019 in South Korea and the U.S. Today, 55 operators in 31 markets have launched commercial 5G services, according to CCS Insight. By early next year, the analyst firm forecasts that there will be 100 commercial 5G networks worldwide and 250 million 5G connections.

In the Asia-Pacific region, 17 markets will have launched 5G services by the end of this year – including China, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore – and by 2025, 24 markets will have commercial 5G services, according to GSMA Intelligence. Mobile operator 5G investment in the region will reach $370 billion between 2018 and 2025. In China, alone, operators will spend $184 billion on 5G deployments in the same period.

These network investments will boost the mobile sector’s contribution to the region’s economic activity. In the Asia-Pacific region, mobile technologies and services currently generate 5.3% of GDP – i.e., $1.6 trillion in economic value, according to GSMA. And 5G is projected to contribute nearly $900 billion to the region’s economy over the next 15 years.

It’s important to note that since the region comprises a diverse mix of developed and developing markets, 5G adoption will vary depending on the market type. In countries like South Korea, Japan and Australia – which have also prioritized national 5G ambitions – 5G will account for half of mobile connections by 2025, according to GSMA. In other less developed markets, 5G adoption will be slower and 4G will continue to dominate. 

For mobile operators, 5G will be more than just the next generation of cellular network technology, but rather a platform for generating new revenue by enabling unique service experiences, attracting new industrial and enterprise customers and supporting more business models.

5G enhances mobile broadband experience

The initial opportunities for mobile operators are in the area of improving mobile broadband services and fixed wireless access with faster speeds and lower latency. In the next few years, additional 5G network capabilities will support large numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), which will enable a variety of industrial and enterprise use cases.

For consumers, 5G will deliver a better mobile broadband experience even in advanced markets in the Asia-Pacific region where consumers already enjoy high 4G speeds and consistent availability. In South Korea, for example, early speed tests by OpenSignal showed the average 5G smartphone download speed was 111.8 Mbps, which is 134% faster than most 4G smartphones and 48% faster than flagship 4G smartphones.

One of the most exciting markets to watch this year is Japan. The country’s three big mobile operators – NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank – are gearing up to launch commercial 5G services just as new entrant Rakuten – part of Japan’s largest online retailer – is shaking up the market with aggressively priced 4G services and an imminent 5G launch.

In addition, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo are planned to be a showcase for innovative 5G applications. Intel, an Olympics technology partner, has developed 5G-based platforms and technology for gigabit connectivity, immersive viewing experiences – such as 3D athlete tracking and virtual reality (VR) broadcasts – as well as smart city applications.

Private 5G networks ignite enterprise opportunity

In the Asia-Pacific region, the sectors that are expected to benefit most from 5G are manufacturing, utilities, and professional and financial services, according to GSMA. Other sectors that will benefit include ICT, public services as well as agriculture and mining.

A growing trend in serving 5G industrial use cases is private 5G networks. Japan, for example, is opening some 5G spectrum for local, private use that anyone can apply for, except licensed mobile operators. Similar spectrum sharing policies are being implemented or under consideration in Europe, the U.S. and other Asia-Pacific markets.

With local 5G licenses, enterprises will be able to build their own private 5G networks, designed specifically for their use cases whether it’s factory automation for manufacturing, smart metering for utilities or healthcare applications. But while the new licensing policy encourages the development of industrial and enterprise 5G applications, it also fosters new business models for building networks and delivering services.

For example, not all enterprises will have expertise in 5G radio access network (RAN) or 5G Core network technology. They will need help from systems integrators, mobile service providers and network software suppliers to build and manage their networks.

The business models for private 5G networks are still evolving and there are multiple partnership permutations among the key players. To succeed in the enterprise market, mobile service providers must embrace new business models and be open to working with a variety of partners.

Cloud native 5G core supports future services

At the heart of successful 5G network strategies is a cloud native 5G Core that is designed for scalability, performance and efficiency, which provides the foundation for future consumer and enterprise services.

To support the range of 5G use cases and deliver low-latency services for consumers or enterprises, networks must be built differently. That means 5G Core network functions must be cloud native and deployable in private, public or hybrid cloud environment in any location – at the operator’s network edge, on customer premises, in private networks or in a neutral host location.

Metaswitch Fusion Core provides the industry’s highest performing User Plane Function (UPF) with the smallest CPU footprint, which gives mobile operators the power to support any 5G use case with the most cost efficiency. At the same time, the cloud native design gives operators the freedom and flexibility to deploy 5G Core CNFs in any environment — whether it’s Kubernetes, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Red Hat OpenShift, VMware Essential PKS or Amazon EKS – as well as automated lifecycle management for further cost savings.

Fusion Core supports deployments of any scale, large or small, as well as any access network. From the same 5G Core, operators can support 4G and 5G in non-standalone (NSA) mode, 5G standalone, Wi-Fi, as well as fixed broadband.

Metaswitch offers the fastest path to 5G. Fusion Core delivers the performance, efficiency and flexibility to support consumer mobility services as well as meet the needs of industrial enterprise private 5G networks. 5G expectations are indeed high, but with the right cloud native network software partner, mobile service providers can build a platform for innovative services.

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