Moving 5G Forward Requires Big Picture Thinking

Okay, I’ll just say it. 5G doesn’t really live up to what we all expected from technology.

Of course, we’re getting some great new phones, PCs, and other gadgets that use 5G, and all the major operators are in the process of not only updating but also expanding their network coverage, making critical, high-speed wireless services more and more people. Behind the scenes, impressive work is also being done by large network equipment vendors, as well as by innovative smaller companies that are redefining how cellular networks can be designed, built and managed through technologies such as Open RAN.

However, when it comes to interesting applications that we can already admit about the use of 5G, the story is not so fascinating. Yes, download speeds are getting faster in some areas, several cities have access to 5G-based broadband, and in a few special places, such as sports stadiums, you can find fun apps that do things like watch action. live and repetitions from many different angles. As for the daily impact, it is safe to say that even the most avid 5G fans have nothing to enjoy.

Before you fall into the trough of frustration, it is important to remember that you need to build a solid foundation if you want to give a new world of opportunities. This is especially true when the technology in question derives its capabilities from a complex system made up of hundreds of millions of interconnected parts, as the cellular network does. As exciting as it is, we’re really there when it comes to 5G. The intensive work is done in the walls of network operations centers, cellular base stations and other connected sites, using equipment such as virtualized CU (centralized unit) / DU (distributed unit) devices, massive MIMO radio and antenna systems and others from companies such as Ericsson , Nokia and Samsung Networks (see “Samsung Networks, Intel and Ericsson are driving efforts to transform the 5G network” for more).

We are also at the forefront of launching new spectrum, especially C-Band (see “The C-Band auction shows a dramatic change in 5GFor more), this will go a long way toward expanding the 5G coverage map in the United States. The C-Band is part of a critical set of radio frequencies, sometimes called “mid-range”, that offers significantly wider data channels than 4G, while having the physical characteristics that allow signals to travel long distances. (The millimeter wave, or mmWave, signals have even wider connection channels for 5G data, but their coverage area is very limited.) T-Mobile uses the midrange frequencies it has acquired from Sprint to stay ahead of the competition. when it came to fast 5G coverage, but both AT&T and Verizon also announced big efforts to expand the use of the midrange for 5G (see “Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T set out a vision for the future of 5G in the United StatesThe net network of all this is that despite the obvious invisibility of the effort, a lot of work is being done to make the 5G foundation very strong.

In addition to all these things, I believe it is time to refine our 5G concepts. More specifically, I would say that it is no longer enough to just think about the network aspect of technology. Instead, we need to look at the combination of 5G along with the final computing resources and the type of AI processing that can occur on the edge as “true 5G”. By themselves, none of these elements can fulfill the promise of what this next-generation network had to offer. Only together this triumvirate of 5G, final calculations and AI can bring about the changes that were promised to us.

While some may be reluctant to essentially “lower” 5G to the component element of a larger solution without such a change of mindset, I believe that 5G itself will continue to disappoint. Faster speeds and even improved latency – two of the most popular advantages of 5G networks – are simply not enough on their own. To really achieve the transformational impact and leap forward of generations that those of us who are close to technology know it is capable of, we need to look at the bigger picture of what 5G is and what it involves. In addition, we need to think a little differently about the types of companies and technologies needed to achieve this bigger vision.

Part of this relates to what I mentioned earlier about how network design and operation is being rethought as part of 5G distribution. Frankly, technological developments such as virtualized RANs (radio access networks) and Open RANs are not directly related to 5G, but the timing of this new approach to network design is coinciding with the deployment of 5G networks. By combining these new network topologies with the benefits of 5G NR signaling and extended spectrum, then blending heavily allocated computing resources, the vision for the hardware infrastructure needed for this larger view of the 5G picture is beginning to come into focus. .

In addition, at the software level, the world of cloud computing and many of the basic principles associated with it are now being introduced into the creation and operation of 5G networks. Things like container applications and dynamic resources, which underlie the great efforts in cloud computing, turn out to be perfect for the needs of modern 5G networks controlled by computers. Throw in the growing use of AI for data analysis, both in the cloud and on the wireless network, and the story gets even stronger.

This merging of these two technology bases is also reflected in a series of partnerships that have begun to be announced between major operators and cloud providers. Not only are there expected deals, such as offering access to endpoint computing platforms to cloud providers through certain operators (e.g. Verizon’s AWS Outpost, AT&T’s Microsoft Azure, etc.), we’ve even started to see carriers like AT&T ( Microsoft) and Dish (to Amazon) have been discussing relocating their existing network infrastructure to the cloud for several years.

In the end, it seems obvious to me that every carrier will have to enter into partnerships with every cloud provider to access their cloud platforms, because businesses and other businesses will require this level of flexibility. Hybrid cloud translates as hybrid network, which means that companies will want / need the flexibility to launch new cloud-based applications in combination with network operators. Although operators may not be excited about the concept of sharing, the rapid adoption of a hybrid cloud in the world of cloud computing seems obvious that a similar phenomenon will occur in the world of operators.

Even with these transactions, it will still be crucial to understand how and where the calculation is performed and how it is managed. The reason every large technology company invests in 5G technologies is because they see and understand the basic outlines of this comprehensive trend of unification. The exact details of how it will play out are yet to be clarified. In fact, they may be shaping and shaping as we speak, hence the recent influx of new partnerships.

At one level, this concept of connecting different cutting-edge technologies to reach the real potential of 5G may seem a little complicated and a little excessive. However, all signs really point to this spectacular combination of cloud computing, AI / ML, finite computing, virtualization, software-defined infrastructure and, of course, 5G radio networks as a whole, which can achieve the vision that we were all promised. many years ago. Implementing this vision will continue to be a challenge and probably slower than many would like, but I remain convinced that it is this combination that can indeed secure an impressive future for wireless technology.

Disclosure: TECHnalysis Research is a market research and consulting company in the technology industry and, like all companies in the field, works with many technology providers as customers, some of which may be listed in this article.