TEOCO: 5G, network slicing and automation will define 2021

By Jurie Roux
Jurie Roux, Product Marketing Manager at TEOCO shares his top three trends for the telecom industry in 2021...

Smart contracts for small cells and more

The regular joke is that blockchain is a solution in search of a problem. 

With telecoms, it’s found it. Infrastructure and hardware is often a mess of complex relationships and agreements, and smart contracts that run on blockchain can manage these relationships effectively. 

The rollout of 5G also means rolling out hundreds of thousands of small cells across cities and towns over the next year. Many of the best sites for these small cells involve complicated right-of-way issues that will require resolution. 

Every municipality has its own rules resulting in complex contracts between carriers, equipment vendors, landowners, technology partners and government agencies. Adapting contracts for each of these is tricky, but made much easier by using smart contracts that replace legalese with code, and use blockchain to record transactions. This is one example that could start  the use of blockchain in mobile networks.

Automation and orchestration is the long game for operators

2021 will see operators continue to evolve from network engineering companies into software and integration type engineering companies. This is a major shift and will take far longer than the industry hopes—but next year will see a change to recruitment if this change is to be successful. 

Operators are now competing with the larger software industry for people who can create the digital ecosystems—they want the same people as Facebook, as Amazon, as Google. This is expensive. They also need to upskill their existing work force, which is a long process. 

Operators need to start thinking today what makes them the most attractive option to those who would otherwise be considering a career with one of FAANG. 

The race is on for 5G network slicing!

In October of last year, Nokia announced the world’s first automated 4G/5G networking slicing within RAN, transport and core domains – a huge step forward. 

With standalone 5G core available, I expect 2021 will see the race begin for the first non-commercial trials of 5G slices to be configured with selected leading operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). 

One thing history has taught us is that consumer demand drives innovation—3G data was available for some time before we had smartphones that could use the available mobile data. 

The smartphone made 3G data useful. It is a chicken and egg scenario now with 5G, where it’s likely 5G slicing will need to exist first before we see creative innovation. 

Slicing has so far been touted as operators’ solution to delivering end-to-end 5G services within their existing operations—that may be overpromised. In some cases, it’ll require more than just a mobile network slice to make new use cases a reality. In the realm of drones for example, connectivity assurance will be a combination of satellite as a primary and mobile as secondary, for the simple reason that mobile doesn’t cover everywhere geographically, particularly in rural areas. 

We’re already seeing plans by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos for low orbit satellite rollout which would see drones always staying connected. This two-pronged approach could also be adopted for autonomous cars on rural roads where forestation means mobile signal struggles to penetrate. 

But that’s not to say that network slicing won’t deliver a great deal of benefit in 2021. The sports industry is huge, spanning billions of sporting fans across the globe. The initial use cases for 5G network slicing will be applied to live VR sporting events, and there are fans ready to pay a premium for this service. Sitting on the bench seeing the game close to your biggest sports hero seems like an exciting and futuristic concept that could be within reach in the coming year. 

The profitability of live VR sporting events will be determined in ti me, but it can make for a powerful marketing tool for communication service providers (CSPs) and sport media companies. 

Network slicing can be a means to digitally transform both operations and business models, but CSPs will need to listen to their enterprise customers to understand the challenges, step out of their comfort zones to take on new risks and partnerships and finally, master the art of ecosystem orchestration.

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