For the past half a decade, 2020 has been poised to be a turning point, a milestone, a holy grail or a finish line for technologies, applications, services and processes.
Guess what – 2020 is here.
2020 was chosen mostly thanks to it being a round-numbered year. With that said, 2020 is a good time to stop and think about how our networks, our services and, to some extent, our lives will look in a few days and throughout the year.
As we are dealing with round numbers, I want to discuss 20 words and phrases that will have significant mindshare as we look at networks in the coming years.
Here are my 20 cents worth…1. 5G
5G has been one of the most highly used phrases for a few years now. In 2019, we started to see the first implementations of 5G in several regions around the globe; those were mostly based on lower RAN spectrum and on existing 4G locations, and achieved limited coverage. I believe 2020 will be a significant milestone for 5G as deployments become more significant, and services running on top of the 5G infrastructure will start showing differentiation from current services provided in 4G. This will lead to a major issue that bothers a lot of operators moving into 5G – monetization.2. Monetization
As 5G networks become real and the time comes to invest in this ultra-complicated and highly expensive infrastructure, I think that conversations in 2020 will focus on monetization. What is the business model? What are the killer applications that will actually create new revenue streams that will justify these huge investments in infrastructure? Industry 4.0? Fixed wireless access (FWA)? Massive IoT? Or perhaps gaming?3. Gaming
Gaming is often dismissed as a “not serious” business while it is, actually, a very serious business. The $150B gaming industry is actually larger than the movie industry and the music industry combined! This is important because: (a) there’s a lot of money here, and we are looking for monetization; (b) there’s a growing demand for connectivity infrastructure for online gaming. The requirements here are ultra-high bandwidth and ultra-low latency combined with a growing need for mobility. Surprisingly enough, these are areas in which 5G excels. The introduction of new gaming consoles from industry mammoths Sony (the long-awaited PlayStation 5) and Microsoft (the recently revealed Xbox Series X) are not the only big news of the industry. Witness the growing popularity of game streaming, alongside Google’s latest announcement of the Stadia platform and the growing popularity of cloud gaming. These are leading to collaboration between operators and gaming platform vendors, such as the Sprint-Hatch collaboration. All of the above makes gaming an attractive candidate for the 5G-killer-app crown, though not the only one.4. Industry 4.0
On the other end of the serious-vs.-sexy application spectrum lies another strong candidate to be a 5G killer application – Industry 4.0. Recent news about the two German conglomerates, Siemens and Bosch, applying and testing private 5G network spotlighted the significance of 5G to Industry 4.0 and vice versa. Industrial applications of remote operations and monitoring alongside agricultural and forestry applications create a huge opportunity to propel 5G business by extending its offering to new target markets and creating new revenue streams.5. Real estate
Real estate seems like the most “non-network” term there is, but it becomes a huge issue when talking about 2020 networks. When looking at cell sites, we typically talk about site acquisition as one of the most painful tasks for an operator. Network densification, which is a result of the use of higher frequency spectrum in the 5G radio access network, poses a great challenge of acquiring new real estate for sites, even though this “real estate” may be a light pole or street furniture. There is also a big, even very big, issue with existing macro cell sites, where massive MIMO technology is introduced. Those radios are extremely large and heavy, and consume power that is equivalent to the consumption of a small town. In this sense, it’s back-to-the-basics for network operators.6. Edge computing
Another totally different aspect of real estate has to do with network architecture – specifically, with edge computing. Distributing computing resources to the edges of the network is required for many low-latency applications, as well as for evolved content distribution networks. This calls for many “mini datacenters” that require real estate. That’s why retail giant Walmart just realized that its once-considered-a-burden huge real estate assets can become a new tool to fight online retail giant Amazon – its real estate can be used for edge computing and autonomous vehicle charging stations.7. Autonomous vehicles
Autonomous vehicles have been present in our discussions for years now. Alphabet’s Waymo is already running a large-scale robotaxi trial in Arizona, while California recently green-lighted light-duty autonomous vehicles. This goes hand in hand with the growing traction of electric vehicles, led by: industry specialist Tesla; heavily funded startups like Nikola and Amazon & Ford-backed Rivian; car giants VW, GM and the newly formed FCA-PSA; and industry and high-tech leaders like Bosch and Intel. Having said all that, it still seems like the real autonomous vehicle revolution (with level-5 fully autonomous driving) will not happen in 2020 or any time soon. In fact, my bet is that the huge networking requirement that such a revolution requires will be answered, timing-wise, by 6G networks, rather than by 5G networks.8. 6G
Yes, 6G. As 5G becomes a reality, in 2020 we will start talking about what’s next. And while it presently seems like there’s not a lot to add to the networking standard beyond 5G, this was also our feeling when we launched LTE, wasn’t it? There is already some discussion about 6G today, and I expect it to evolve in 2020, perhaps even with the start of some work in the 3GPP (though the formal timeline suggests 2023 for 6G kickoff).9. 3GPP
As in any year, 3GPP holds a crucial position in enabling networks. In 2020, we will start seeing 5G networks moving from the non-standalone (NSA) phase to the standalone (SA) phase, largely thanks to the expected finalization of 3GPP Release 16 in mid-year. On top of 3GPP, we shall see additional efforts made by the industry (though led mainly by operators) to implement additional standardization that will allow greater network flexibility. One example for that is the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP).10. TIP
The activities of TIP are gaining traction across the industry as it extends its reach to new areas of the network, seeking standardization and simplification of network building blocks. I believe 2020 will show a major boost of these trends, as more and more operators seeks to open their networks and to disaggregate networking elements in order to create a more feasible 5G business case.
Well, that’s it for now. Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog and the rest of my 20 words for 2020 networks (“disaggregation” is next)…