3 Imperatives for 5G Leadership

After attending Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles last week, I’ve been reflecting on just how critical the next two to three years of 5G innovation will be. Communications service providers (CSPs) around the world have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define and deliver the next wave of breakthrough services and experiences. From robotics and autonomous driving to 3D models, it’s all possible through 5G’s multi-gigabit speeds and single-digit millisecond latencies.

It was exciting to see a number of 5G announcements, new cities added to the list of trials, new devices and new applications. Amid all the excitement at MWCA 2018, I found myself asking:

“Who will emerge as the leaders of the 5G future we’re now building?”

What are the factors that will separate winners from losers when we look back just a few short years from now?

In my view, it comes down to three critical capabilities to gain 5G leadershp. I think of these as must-do imperatives for every CSP looking to:

  • Monetise their network in radical new ways.
  • Reach new customers.
  • Expand their business far beyond communications services.

Three Imperatives for 5G Leadership

Imperative #1: Become a Master of the Four Tech Superpowers as 5G Lights Up

What a difference a year makes! Last year’s MWCA event focused primarily on new smartphones and devices. This year’s conference was all about the power of intelligent connectivity across all those devices, as the number of 5G connections ramps up to 1.2B by 2025. Increasingly, 5G plays a dual role as both a driver of new disruptive business models and as the essential converger of the four tech superpowers:

  1. Cloud
  2. Mobile
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI)
  4. Internet of things (IoT)

The combination of AI plus IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology presents unprecedented opportunities for carriers to evolve their core and edge service offerings in areas like mixed reality. It’s still early days, but the winners will be the ones with an ability to integrate these superpowers to form an engine that transforms the way we live and work.

Imperative #2: Build a Cloud Services Culture and Mindset

The last decade of tech innovation centred on cloud-enabled services. A new generation of “cloud-native” service providers led the charge and captured the bulk of the opportunity. In some ways, the shift to 5G marks the “cloudification” of the telecom industry, which requires a new mindset and culture. That means embracing the first rule of the cloud, which is to ruthlessly automate everything. It also means embracing core tenets of modern software development like continuous delivery, which allows teams to compress and accelerate their innovation cycles. Equally important are business model transitions from existing services to a new service model encompassing concepts like marketplaces, SaaS services, shared revenue, shared cost and multi-tenancy.

Many of the leading telecom service providers around the world are trying these essential principles that define a cloud-centric culture. I am delighted to see the opportunity for CSPs to finally become a first-class citizen in the cloud economy.

Imperative #3: Modernise and Virtualise Your Network

This was one of the biggest takeaways from the MWCA show last week: CSPs must modernise their networks to compete in a new world where 5G-powered services can run alongside and on top of hyper-distributed clouds.

The answer lies in virtualising network functions, which enables CSPs to meet the massive demand for data-rich services. With 5G as a catalyst, several forms of convergence come into play:

  • Wireless and wireline;
  • IT and network; and finally
  • Consumer and enterprise.

For the first time, due to their uniquely distributed architecture, CSPs have the opportunity to embrace this convergence and become leading providers participating in a whole host of new applications. With this transformation to software and software-defined worlds dictated by agility, service Assurance will be a key element of getting existing and new networks operationally stable.

Embracing the Wave and Gaining 5G Leadership

These are unprecedented times for the communications and media industries, as a once-in-a-generation opportunity takes shape for CSPs to become more agile than ever before. With over-the-top (OTT) providers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) bringing new services to market quickly, CSPs can no longer survive by taking 12-18 months to offer a new service. Embracing the wave and gaining 5G leadership requires investment and the ability to adjust to different infrastructure and business models. But, it’s what service providers need to do to become leaders in this new economy.

MWC Americas was great, but it was only the teaser to the big gathering in Barcelona early next year. Fasten your seat belts!

By Shekar Ayyar