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5G World Summit
24-26 October 2023
Porte de VersaillesParis

Next Steps to 5G Realisation: Making the Business Case and Embracing New Opportunities with 5G

It is a solution that opens the door for operators to adopt highly agile ‘as-a-service’ business models, allowing them to easily provision the same network resources for different use cases. Innovative solutions like these have the potential to unlock more investment in 5G, which in turn will drive further innovation. It is just a case of getting the snowball rolling which, if you take Juniper Research’s estimate that $60bn has already been invested in 5G up to the end of 2018 - $30bn from operators alone - it surely already is.

The danger is that stakeholders will sit on their hands and wait for others to make the first move. In McKinsey’s example of the country where 5G investment costs are forecast to rise by 60% to 2025, this is exactly what the three incumbent operators did. McKinsey advocates instead a more proactive ‘lean-in’ approach where stakeholders acknowledge demand and move swiftly and smartly to address it.

The World Economic Forum makes explicit that it sees 5G as key to driving a new wave of digital transformation that will unleash innovation and added value across the economic spectrum. Its ‘three priorities’ in this regard are universal connectivity, radically decentralised edge cloud computing and a massive increase in data collecting capabilities, facilitating next-gen smart systems. The challenge for 5G stakeholders is that all of this sounds rather abstract. For operators and vendors to realise the returns they hope for on their considerable investments, they need to be involved in selling these benefits to vertical markets in terms they can understand, with real-life use cases that clearly demonstrate the transformational power of 5G.

Jorge Graça argues that a crucial first step is demonstrating why 5G is better than current 4G LTE capabilities. He said: “We believe that even if most of the 5G use cases could be addressed with 4G or incremental evolutions, 5G will add new dimensions and capabilities with time that will make it a valuable and essential enabler for operators, industry and society economic growth. “The 5G value proposition combines both new service revenues and efficiencies regarding capacity growth. But 5G has much more to offer than incremental value creation to known and identified use cases, even the ones with a more futuristic approach. We believe use cases must go beyond a pure capacity strategy as there is additional value to be captured both in B2B and B2C.” Many analysts see the emergence of new 5G-enabled markets as critical to its success. A basic point is that operators will only be able to position 5G as a premium service if they can promise more than faster speeds - it is doubtful customers would see the value in paying more for speed alone. But equally important is the fact that 5G opens up entirely new opportunities in communication technology, industrial as well as human. And it is the application of 5G in these new vertical markets, as well as building on existing B2C and B2B offers in voice, data and internet, that really underlines the scale of the opportunity. 

5G will significantly broaden the potential use cases for mobile technology, requiring industry stakeholders to develop appropriate business models for each, consider varying technological demands and decide which ones to pursue and when. The key uses are often grouped as follows:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband: Including next-gen consumer mobile, corporate networks and FWA broadband.
  • M2M communications: Industrial IoT, utilities, smart homes, fleet management.
  • Ultra-low latency: Mission critical applications that depend on close-to-instant data communications, such as autonomous vehicles, industrial drones, remote robotic surgery and so on.

While there is much talk about 5G ushering in a new era of ultra HD video streaming and gaming on the move, opening new avenues in the already lucrative media content market, it is anticipated that greater value will be generated in consumer markets from as yet only faintly glimpsed use cases. One B2C use case that is very much on track for full realisation is FWA as a challenger to fibre broadband. Touted as one of the main reasons why US operators like Verizon have been happy to invest heavily in early 5G rollout, European operators like the UK’s Three have also indicated they see an opportunity to capitalise on the slow and patchy introduction of full fibre, using 5G to jump the queue with ultrafast home broadband. Analysts Mason suggests that a key requirement for FWA gaining an advantage over fibre is solving the question of outdoor-to-indoor coverage, i.e. providing adequate home and premises broadband from the usual mobile street furniture.

Otherwise, it argues, FWA faces the same drawbacks as FTTP in terms of costly and time consuming on-premises installations. For many observers, industrial IoT represents the single most important new vertical for 5G operators and vendors to capitalise on. Ericsson argues that 5G will play a key role in what it calls industrial digitalisation, estimating that it will represent a $619bn revenue opportunity for operators by 2026. Arun Bansal, Ericsson President and Head of Europe and Latin America, told delegates at MWC 2019 that industrial automation was driving 5G development in Europe in particular. The company explained that many of its latest ‘distributed cloud-type’ product solutions were influenced by the need to get RAN and core network assets close to the end point in industrial applications. Driverless cars and other types of autonomous vehicle are a hotly anticipated breakthrough in public and private transportation that one study estimates will constitute a $7tn global market by 2050. 

5G is the key enabler, because the ultralow latency it offers is crucial for safe operation, allowing near instantaneous communication between vehicles and the data centres they connect to. It is a similar story with Smart City transportation, security and public service infrastructure, which the IDC cites as attracting $158bn in investment by 2022.