The fifth generation of wireless technology, 5G, is a powerful new tool that has already proven itself capable of enhancing current technologies and providing meaningful advancements in certain non-revolutionary areas. This next generation technology also has an abundant untapped potential for new and innovative use cases. The main feature of 5G is a change in service – it offers higher speeds, low latency, increased reliability and quality, better throughput, and the capacity for a massive number of simultaneous connections. As such, the benefits of implementing a 5G rollout include gaining a competitive position as a network leader, improving customer experience through the advantages provided by 5G, and increasing capacity levels to allow for a broader reach. With these benefits come a number of challenges that could spur significant changes to current operating practices and regulatory standards. New 5G-centric business models may include network and infrastructure sharing, to offset some of the financial burden of maintaining a 5G network; increased reliance on neutral hosts to optimize operations (shared equipment), enhance customer experience, and improve connectivity (sufficient sharing to support high traffic, high volume events); and a convergence of IT and network solutions.
A full-scale rollout of 5G will likely be seen by 2022, as per a survey from McKinsey. While many companies are currently choosing to focus on improving and upgrading existing networks under the previous standards, eventually these earlier network configurations will no longer be sufficient to support the increased traffic; demand will require the capabilities of 5G. The delayed acceptance of a widespread 5G rollout is due to a number of factors. The expected high cost of restructuring to a 5G system is a primary concern. 5G network expenses include the core network, transport network, and enabling layers such as the operation support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS). In addition to the network, new sites, creation of a 5G layer, and the building of small cells all contribute to infrastructure costs. Operators must also consider spectrum costs such as acquiring the requisite air capacity and improving spectrum capabilities across all frequencies, as well as other costs (maintenance, IT) that will develop as a side-effect of the new requirements imposed by a 5G system. With the expected return on investment sometimes unclear, many organizations are hesitant to commit to the increased costs of this next generation wireless technology. While significant benefits can be realized by utilizing 5G technology for existing applications, the best opportunities for 5G lie in capturing value from new use cases (Internet of Things, fixed wireless access, etc.). Once more companies begin to acknowledge the necessity of 5G and look for potential applications, acceptance of 5G and a more widespread rollout will become inevitable as groups work to upgrade their systems to catch up to 5G leaders.
Amongst these 5G leaders, developments have been in the works for nearly a decade and are already showing promises of the technology’s potential. As anticipated, the rollout of 5G has been highly collaborative. Table 1 shows some of the key partners that have joined with companies such as ZTE, Nokia, and Samsung in an effort to bring this new technology online. Through these cooperative efforts, many contributions to the 5G standard, including various advancements in edge computing, dynamic orchestration, fully automated network slicing, and ML-enabled automations, have been realized. With these advancements, applications and solutions have been found in a variety of areas such as smart manufacturing, digital twin deployment, smart factory and smart grid solutions, and assisted and autonomous vehicles. The leading 5G companies have all seen an increase in industrial maturity related to their 5G achievements (Table 2). Huawei, which worked to develop a 5G core network platform, is now the only vendor that offers E2E planning and commercial 5G solutions, and Ericsson’s work in connected sensors for manufacturing and industrial control and automation has plans to build the first fully-automated factory in the US. Overall, for each of these leading companies, investments and advances in 5G have led to a large number of patentable technologies as well as increased global market shares in key areas.