Each successive generation of mobile technology has promised a revolution. In truth, the revolution has been more like evolution. Indeed, by dubbing the 4G networks LTE – or long-term evolution – arguably the industry finally admitted that had always been the case. It’s ironic, then, that the first generation of mobile technology to hit the market after the arrival of LTE promises to be really revolutionary.
To explain: going right back to the switch to digital and then through 2G, 3G and 4G, networks have simply got better at what they basically deliver. The advent of digital delivered clearer calls and enabled better, internet-based, data. Then, with each successive generation, the capacity has increased, the speeds have increased and the quality of services able to be delivered has increased. Smartphones and tablets have certainly revolutionised modern life, but that happened because the networks underpinning the services evolved to the point where they can support that lifestyle.
But a 5G network is, maybe for the first time, really different. Of course, it will again offer an evolutionary step up in speed and capacity, and for many consumers, that is what they will expect and be delighted to receive; but for the operators, for businesses, and for developers, things are going to get very different.
A 5G network is truly software definable. In fact, within the same coverage area, a 5G network is capable of being many different things at the same time. It can offer different speeds of service, different intervals in the service, and areas reserved for different users, which can be charged at different tariffs. This concept is known as network slicing and could see one slice of the network reserved for the emergency services, another for a specialist Internet of Things service, and yet another for connected car communications - all while providing first class, fast data and voice services to individual users.
This ability to be different things at different times to different people is what sets 5G apart and makes it truly revolutionary. In fact, 5G networks will, without doubt, be the most intelligent networks ever deployed - capable of delivering at both ultra-high bandwidth or ultra-low latency at the same time within the same coverage area.
So, while consumers may think 5G networks will be all about speed and faster data, for the operators, it will be all about using that remarkable network capability to enable new services, drive new business models and foster new partnerships with specialist developers and suppliers.
This means that 5G networks will also put greater demands on operator BSS and OSS systems, especially from a B2B perspective. After all, the range of services being provided will also attract differential pricing, which will require dedicated business processes to commercialise the full range of 5G services.
Businesses buying specific services are likely to want very tight service level agreements, with penalties to be paid by the operator if the services fail to meet the required level - especially if the specific service is charged at a premium. Of course, even those services being provided at a discounted price, such as an IoT connection where all the data transmission happens overnight during a quiet period for network traffic, would demand guarantees of connectivity.
One of the challenges is that, historically, operators have been guilty of silo thinking and management. Co-operation across business units has not always been a hallmark of the operator community. With 5G, that way of operating will have to change. The services and partnerships that the product and business development teams will seek to create will need full integration across the finance and operations teams if they are to be properly supported.
Many operators have been talking about digital business transformation – and even promoting that concept to their customers as something modern mobile networks support. However, to truly realise the benefits of 5G network technology, operators will need to digitally transform their own businesses, cementing greater links and co-operation between marketing, sales, finance and operations. Unless they join the digital dots of their own organisations, they will fail to take full advantage of the intelligent networks they are building for their customers.
During the earlier evolution of mobile networks, OTT companies emerged to ride the wave of operator investment. They created revenue opportunities that by-passed operator billing systems and were sold directly to businesses and consumers. The term ‘dumb pipe’ came about as operators sought to avoid a situation where networks simply carry traffic rather than adding value.
Revolutionary future 5G networks will be anything but dumb pipes. They will be highly intelligent deployments. However, operators need to build the right cross-functional business processes to support new B2B business models, services and partnerships. Only then will they reap the value of the network’s capability and build the truly intelligent network required to drive new revenue streams.
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