This is an extended version of a conversation we had with Vassilis for the May edition of Mobile Magazine.
Hello Vassilis. How do you think the ongoing pandemic is going to affect the 5G rollout and network management this year?
We have already started to see signs of recovery, especially in the UK thanks to the progress of the vaccination roll out. We expect that the recovery will accelerate in H2 2021 and fully recover by Q1 2022. The deployment of public 5G networks has slowed down due to telco supply chain issues and lockdowns but work on developing private 5G networks for sectors such as industrial and manufacturing applications, rural communities and transport and logistics have continued to progress.
Indeed, 5G-ENCODE, last year successfully deployed its Industrial Private 4G Network at the world leading National Composites Centre. We’ve since been using the network to establish a baseline for existing cellular technologies. The results of these tests will be the benchmark for when we come to install our private 5G network this year. As this project, and many others like it, continue to bring us closer to reaping the benefits of 5G technologies, we become increasingly optimistic that 2021 will be the year of economic recovery for the sector.
What are some of the ways we can use 5G to fix rural connectivity issues?
The development of new business models and legislation such as shared spectrum and neutral hosting will play a huge role in helping telcos overcome the economic challenges they currently face in providing connectivity to rural areas. Technology will underpin this. Network slicing and splicing, which private 5G networks support, will enable enterprises to create networks customised to specific needs. This technology enables private 5G networks to interact with public and other private networks outside of the enterprise environment. Only the correct level of connectivity is allocated to each user or device, therefore optimising performance and creating cost savings. This will enable the correct level of connectivity to be directed towards demand within rural areas in a far more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective way.
Network slicing and splicing will become increasingly important, not just for telcos providing connectivity for consumers, but also for businesses providing services in rural areas. The manufacturing sector provides a great example of this. 5G-powered virtual reality could be used to connect an engineer at a rural site with a colleague in the office, allowing them to collaborate and work together, without system faults such as buffering which could hinder job completions.
The change in legislation and continued 5G technology developments such as network automation and ‘connectivity-as-a-service’ products will empower rural communities and projects to take control of their broadband connectivity and design. Deploying their own private 5G networks will enable them to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for data.
Why are enterprise applications for 5G more important to telecoms than consumer ones?
The vast majority of consumers use over-the-top (OTT) applications such as Facebook, YouTube or Netflix, which only require able bandwidth. Any fluctuation in connectivity is compensated by employing techniques such as adaptive streaming and buffering on the end-user’s device. This works very well for non-critical applications where the limitations of a ‘best effort’ connectivity can be tolerated. In that respect, the key benefit for the average consumer of a public 5G network is the 100x increase in bandwidth speed.
However, in situations where mission critical applications must be delivered over the network (such as those found in life-critical situations, emergencies, or real-time control of machinery) then a more stringent control of the network resources is required to guarantee that the application is delivered within acceptable performance limits. By nature, these situations are more likely to arise in enterprises, factories, warehouses, critical communications, and other similar applications where maintaining the quality of the connectivity service is of paramount importance.
For telcos, providing private 5G networks for enterprise environments isn’t just a case of ensuring a great customer experience, it can come down to enabling enterprise organisations to merely do their job. A similar logic applies for applications requiring far more security to that provided by a consumer-level password-protected public Wi-Fi system.
How can network operators ensure that 5G is a supporter of sustainability, not a driver of carbon emissions?
The 5G network is a more controlled network. 5G connectivity will enable organisations’ supply chains to work far more efficiently. For the manufacturing sector specifically, the level of automation that 5G will bring will allow for greater flexibility, lower costs and shorter lead times for factory floor production. From a sustainability standpoint, this is transformative. Additionally, new deployment models and legislation, mentioned above, encourage a more efficient utilisation of finite natural resources, which results in considerable energy savings.
Indeed, according to research by O2, the introduction of 5G to manufacturing processes could take up to 40 Megatonnes of carbon out of the economy by 2035. It is clear that 5G provides new tools to satisfy with the ever-increasing demand for data in a sustainable and efficient way.
What shape do you see the industry being in by 2022?
The application of 5G technology has the power to drive positive change across almost every industry in the world. Looking to the future, the economic impact that 5G will have on our global economy is monumental. Indeed, PWC predicts that by 2035, 5G technology utilisation will result in $13.2trn in global economic value, generating 22.3mn jobs in the global value chain alone. The private 5G networks will play an increasingly important role in this with a global market size expected to reach $8.32bn by 2027.
In the year ahead, we expect to see the frameworks for this new market opportunity established, especially as the world adapts digitally to combat the economic impact of COVID-19. The revenue opportunities that will be unlocked by private 5G networks will be recognised across a range of industries, including manufacturing, entertainment, healthcare, education, and many more.
While 5G isn’t the answer to all the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry, it does present an unmissable opportunity to build a hyperconnected future. The opportunities that private 5G networks will bring to businesses within industrial settings, and those further afield, will be truly transformational. Ultimately, it is how technologies like 5G are embraced that will determine who will thrive and who will merely survive. Manufacturers small and large must take it upon themselves to embrace new technologies to create a brighter and stronger future.