A key theme at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2023 held in Barcelona earlier this year was ‘5G Acceleration’. The global event focused on how 5G is redefining industries across the world with many capabilities showcased that could well accelerate the adoption of 5G networks.
In our region too, 5G is gaining momentum. According to the GSMA, 430 million 5G connections are expected across Asia-Pacific by 2025.
I’ve been on the road for the last few months, and I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand the transformation happening in our region with the rollout of 5G – from South Korea, where mobile penetration is already quite high, to India where digital transformation is gaining momentum enabled by improved connectivity. Jio, a VMware partner, is one of the telcos that is leading the way in India’s rapid 5G adoption. Japan, Australia and Singapore are also well on their way to implementing 5G.
In the race to a hyper-connected 5G world, telcos that are focused on network modernisation will be better placed to provide new services and unlock significant monetisation opportunities. And this modernisation means progressing from traditional, hardware-based network architectures to cloud-native, software driven frameworks – that offer better scalability, reliability, and agility.
More than Speed - Tapping 5G’s real Power
The ability of 5G to deliver very high-speed connectivity is well-known, but that’s only one benefit of this new generation wireless technology. There are many others, including:
Low latency: 5G is in a completely new class when it comes to latency compared with 4G. This means signals can be transmitted in much less time, and applications can be more real-time. IoT sensors are a great use case for low-latency networks.
More capacity: 5G can carry more volume of data than previous generations of mobile networks. This will enable more mobile applications to access rich media content.
Hyperconnectivity: 5G is designed to support a significantly higher number of concurrent devices than 4G, which offers improved scalability.
Industrial use: As we see with the Internet of Things (IoT), enterprise mobility is more than just apps on phones. 5G can deliver superior connectivity to a wide range of enterprise devices – this is a big step forward for industrial automation.
Edge flexibility: 5G networks can be sliced – enabling multiple independent networks to exist on the same physical network – according to the use case. This flexibility enables telcos to deliver a new level of security and edge computing capabilities.
A New Era for Apps and Services
As 5G network adoption continues to accelerate, we are also stepping into a new era in enterprise applications and service delivery. The low latency of 5G offers many compelling consumer and business applications – from ultra-HD movies, TV and enhanced mobile gaming, to remote health services and augmented reality shopping experiences.
5G scalability will finally make IoT happen in a big way with a whole new range of use cases that will leverage edge computing to make IoT more effective and efficient.
5G and edge services have the potential to revolutionise remote monitoring and maintenance, AI and AR enabled technical assistance, connected vehicles, agricultural monitoring and shipping and logistics.
5G will also unleash the full power of industrial IoT (IIoT) across manufacturing, automotive, and smart cities. Private 5G networks can enable Industry 4.0 – the next phase in the digitalisation of the manufacturing sector – by connecting devices, sites, and workers in a reliable and secure way.
To understand how communications service providers (CSPs) can modernise their networks to take full advantage of 5G, we need to first look at how networks have evolved in the lead-up to 5G.
NFV was Visionary, now it’s Essential
The term Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) is not new and has been used in the telco industry for more than a decade. Now we are beginning to see how important the concept is in the future-proofing of telecom infrastructure.
For too long telcos were encumbered by legacy architectures that were not easy to change or manage. By virtualising various functions within the network, they could design, deploy, and manage network services and applications. This gave them the flexibility to introduce new services quickly and cost-effectively. NFV is an infrastructure pillar in 5G and should be a key element in any CSP’s network modernisation strategy.
Modernising from the Core to the Edge
While virtualising network functions is a big step forward in network modernisation, to truly thrive in the 5G world, CSPs need the agility and scalability of a modern cloud infrastructure. Only a cloud-native infrastructure can enable the web-scale speed and agility that 5G can deliver.
Adopting a cloud-smart approach can help not just modernise the network core but enable cloud-native functions across the network, while ensuring consistency in the infrastructure. It enables CSPs to optimise network resources not just across clouds, but from the core to the radio access network (RAN) and down to the network edge, to reduce operational complexity.
This can help accelerate innovation and bring new services to market faster.
When I speak with our telco customers across the region, many of whom are using the VMware Telco Cloud stack, they are now confident in their network modernisation journey to 5G with the improved scalability and advanced performance that a cloud-native architecture delivers.
VMware technologies have helped Japan’s SoftBank Corp. create a unified architecture for its 5G core and accelerate time to market with new 5G services. Indian network solutions provider Sterlite Technologies is using VMware solutions to deliver 5G access solutions to their own customers. Singtel has launched its new 5G standalone core architecture on the VMware Telco Cloud Platform.
Partners play an important role in our 5G enablement journey. We are collaborating with Samsung to support the 5G network buildout of US communications provider DISH Wireless. We are also working with NTT Data to Accelerate Open RAN Adoption and Deployment.
Foundation for Future Innovation
Far from the old days of monolithic systems, today’s CSPs can deploy cloud-native and virtual network functions for their 5G networks without disruption. Enabled by a trusted partner, they can adopt a cloud smart approach to network modernisation.
Adopting a cloud smart approach should include a few key focus areas:
RAN transformation: Networks should shift from a traditional siloed RAN approach to a software-defined RAN approach to bring greater network flexibility.
Drive efficiency: Transforming the underlying telco infrastructure stack can deliver efficiency in power consumption, and technology and operational layers.
Smarter networks: Architectures with network programmability across the core, RAN, and edge can deliver improved service levels, quality availability, and enable future monetisation strategies.
Service innovation: Optimising cloud resources can deliver new services from core to edge that create value for end subscribers and enterprise customers.
While 4G still dominates networks across Asia-Pacific, 5G adoption is accelerating across the region. CSPs need to start modernising their networks to unlock the true capabilities and monetisation opportunities presented by 5G.
Early adoption can not only help them do it with a focus on security and sustainability, but also set a strong foundation for 6G adoption in the future.