The 5G SA opportunity
5G SA is an exciting prospect for telecoms operators. With many operators’ revenues from traditional connectivity beginning to stagnate, or even decline, there is increased pressure for operators to create differentiation and offer new services, including by expanding across the value chain from connectivity-only providers.
STL Partners has described this new era, whereby operators must shift their business models to adapt to the new demands, as the Coordination Age 2. From the 1850s until around 1990, the Communications Age enabled people to communicate over long distances via telephony. Next came the Information Age, in which people could directly access content and applications, increasingly provided by non-telecommunications players. In the Coordination Age, ‘things’ are increasingly connecting to other ‘things’, leading to an exponential increase in volumes of data, but thanks to advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) we can also address some of the most pressing issues facing the world today: ensuring resource efficiency and improving productivity to help us to do more with less.
Operators need to define their role in the emerging coordination age
Source: STL Partners
Transitioning to the Coordination Age requires operators to shift their goals and business models accordingly. Operators will need to offer or enable tightly coupled network services and applications to different industries, and continue to refresh, optimise and scale at an unprecedented rate.
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The transformative potential of 5G SA
5G SA, in comparison to its NSA counterpart, is the evolution of 5G that can deliver on the promises associated with the next generation of cellular networking. 5G SA is intended to be cloud native and adopt cloud-native principles. Without SA, 5G networks are less able to quickly launch new services, enable new use cases, or introduce more scalable, automated operating models.
The opportunities to which 5G SA is expected to give rise have been explored extensively in previous STL research. The ‘full potential’ of 5G SA includes promises around higher throughput, greater capacity, the ability to leverage enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine type communications (mMTC). In summary; do more (including enabling more connections at any given time), faster (down to a latency of a few milliseconds) and at a lower cost (through a variety of actors, including lower power consumption than 4G). These new capabilities are exciting for operators: enabling operators to develop powerful new applications for their customers with truly differentiated use cases.
One particular opportunity that 5G SA represents is network slicing. Slicing can be defined as ‘a mechanism to create and dynamically manage functionally discrete, virtualised networks over a common infrastructure,’ and has been the subject of several STL reports. The increased flexibility and agility of network slicing can enable operators to provide unique policies and differentiated services to their enterprise customers and recoup the substantial investments that rolling out 5G SA requires. However, the benefits and opportunities of 5G SA have implications far beyond the new services it can enable. For the first time, 5G is cloud-native by design, with modular service-based architecture giving
rise to greater flexibility and programmability. Furthermore, it leverages IT concepts of virtualization, cloudification, and DevOps processes. This does not so much enable as actively encourage a more agile operating model. Some of the exciting features of 5G SA include:
- Automation – Increased automation throughout the network, including deployment, orchestration, assurance, and optimisation can give rise to “zero touch” networks that do not require human intervention, and can self repair and update autonomously on an ongoing basis. The aim of network automation is to reduce human error and the time taken to resolve issues through closed-loop network assurance.
- Disaggregation – Relies on an open standard network operating system whereby different functional components of networking equipment can be deployed individually and then combined in a modular, fit for purpose way, to suit the requirements of an operator’s network. This architecture relies on the interworking between the multi-vendor components within the 5G core. Disaggregation can allow vendors to offer best in class capabilities for each individual component, providing operators with unprecedented choice and customizability.
- Avoiding vendor lock-in through a diversified supply base – One of the key benefits of a disaggregated approach to the 5G core is to break vendor lock-in that has tended to dominate legacy approaches. Vendor lock-in can be a key limitation on the speed of innovation and service deployment.
- Agility – Adopting a continuous improvement and development means accelerated innovation and speed of deployment. A software-orientated infrastructure can enable changes in business processes such as product development management to happen at a greater pace and speed time to market for new revenue generating products and features.
- Scalability through adopting ‘hyperscale economics’ – Explored by STL Partners in previous research, this term describes the emulation of business and software practices developed by hyperscalers to deliver service innovation at scale whilst simultaneously reducing the level of capex relative to revenue.
Cloud native is the only way to truly unlock the benefits of 5G thanks to the automation, efficiency,
optimisation and mode of delivery that it enables. Ultimately, it allows operators to maximise the
opportunity of 5G to develop differentiated services to consumer and enterprises customers.
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- The 5G SA opportunity
- The transformative potential of 5G SA
- 5G SA requires operators to develop and foster a new set of skills
- Some open questions remain around 5G SA
- The early adopter 5G SA landscape
- Tier 2 and Tier 3 operator approaches to 5G SA
- Adherents to a single vendor approach
- Proponents of a multi-vendor approach
- Several factors can influence an operators’ vendor strategy
- Telco Cloud deployment tracker: 5G Core deep dive
- 5G standalone (SA) core: Why and how telcos should keep going