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Much more than an incremental step-up from 4G, the rollout of 5G will be a game-changer, changing the way we think about mobile services and creating new business models.

5G networks are likely to cover one-third of the world’s population by 2025, according to the GSMA, and the impact is expected to be profound. There will an explosion in IoT devices leveraging ultra-reliable high speed, low latency networks to deliver a wide range of services and solutions. In the past, each generation of mobile networks was defined by its ‘killer app’ – texting for 2G, web browsing for 3G, video for 4G – but the scale of change coming with 5G makes it hard to single out a specific use case.

We will see private 5G networks rolled out in stadiums, factories and across business ecosystems. Connected services will open up areas like agriculture to precision farming; connected vehicles will interact with smart cities in ways that haven’t yet been imagined. Existing companies will discover new revenues streams and start-ups will emerge with business models that are still to be developed.

Neutral hosting and slicing

Enabling all of this will be a new kind of mobile infrastructure, including small cells on street furniture and smart kiosks that will leverage a combination of 5G and fibre. The role of WiFi could diminish as 5G provides a better alternative allowing for a seamless roaming experience, or it could be reinvented as the move to the next-generation standard, WiFi 6, gathers pace.

Unlike existing infrastructure, where service provider networks are largely run independently, the levels of investment required mean we are likely to see more neutral host networks being built. This will open access to all service providers and ensure a competitive marketplace with more complete coverage for end customers.

There will be an emergence of network slicing, where virtualisation technology will be used to accommodate multiple independent logical networks with different performance characteristics, tailored to their use cases on the same infrastructure. One mobile operator might build a network and then sell a dedicated network slice to the emergency services, for example, a slice that could be one of many operating independently on the same infrastructure.

Software-driven networks

The move in telecoms over the last few years has been towards network virtualisation, with software-defined networks that perform key functions in software rather than application-specific hardware and separate the control plane from the forwarding plane. 5G networks go further with a virtualised core and the emergence of OpenRAN, a vendor-neutral technology that not only decouples hardware and software but also changes how Radio Access Networks (RAN) are deployed by allowing a mix and match of best-in-class components from multiple vendors

Fundamental to this is the concept of Cloud RAN (C-RAN), also known as centralised RAN, which moves radio processing from the base station to the edge. This has the effect of reducing the hardware associated with base stations allowing them to become smaller and lower cost.  It then becomes practical for these small cells to be anchored to lampposts and other street furniture to provide the coverage that 5G needs.  This will drive much higher capacity and the concept of ‘fronthauling’ will complement traditional traffic backhauling.

Backhaul that would historically have connected to 4G networks over a 1GB optical link, is already being upgraded to 10GB for early 5G deployments, and fronthauling will move to a minimum of 25GB to carry the radio baseband signals from the small cells back to BBUs (Baseband Hotels). The heavyweight hardware that used to be at the core of a mobile network will become software instances and virtualised.

An explosion in IoT devices and connected service will generate more data and put further demands on how data is processed and managed. Expect data centres to shift from centralised to decentralised models with edge computing. [See Simon Driver’s blog on the evolution of data centres] The sheer volume of data travelling over networks means the old model will no longer be feasible because of latency and capacity pressure. The data will have to processed closer to the end device in data centres at the edge that could be a single cabinet.

What is The Killer App for 5G?

All of this helps explain why 5G is hard to define in terms of a single killer app. It’s more new generation than next generation. With its speed, throughput of signal capacity and latency, the best use cases are still to be invented. New IoT solutions, whether it’s sensors on livestock, supply chain robotics or in connected cars, will usher in a whole new era of connected services and business models. Here at Indigo, we are already involved in building out the infrastructure to support them and look forward to keeping up with the technological advancements. The only certainty in a future that is still being imagined is that demand for connectivity is only going to accelerate.

Find out more bout Indigo’s Wireless/5G Services.

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