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How 5G is reshaping the future of communications

How 5G is reshaping the future of communications

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Steve Douglas, Head of Market Strategy, Spirent Communications, looks at how the emergence of 5G will reshape the future of communications.

The emergence of 5G is the telecommunications industry’s most transformative network evolution ever. This new standard in mobile wireless networking brings along a number of new technologies and innovations, including cloud-native cores, network slicing, Edge Computing and others.

Steve Douglas, Head of Market Strategy, Spirent Communications

Network offerings based on 5G will be like nothing else the industry has ever delivered before, providing customers with new capabilities and features to enhance the way they communicate and collaborate. Unlike previous generations of wireless communications technology, 5G offers a set of strategic goals that will not only shape the future of mobile – but determine its role in the future of communications.

This next generation of communications comes with some considerable questions and uncertainties, however. For example, which of the 5G services will be available on a broad basis initially? Which enterprise and industrial use cases will 5G support effectively? When can enterprises expect to see game-changing applications designed for 5G?

The answers to these and other questions related to 5G have yet to be fully answered. This is still largely a work in progress. But that doesn’t mean organizations have to remain in the dark. Spirent’s role in assisting service providers worldwide in testing and validating their networks gives it unique and considerable insight into how these provides are working to address these issues.

Based on what Spirent is observing in the telecom field, there are several key

trends companies should be paying attention to in order to determine the direction 5G will take and the impact it will have on communications and digital capabilities.

Growing role of AI and ML

As is the case with so many other areas of technology, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will play a large role in delivering 5G services and applications to users.

One of the biggest challenges of 5G is dealing with the operational complexity involved. Operations teams at telecom companies are responsible for managing extremely complex, cloud-native software environments. To do this using out-of-date provisioning and fault management methods makes the process virtually untenable.

What’s needed is automation, and this is where AI and ML can shine. For example, operators can leverage these tools to automate testing, by emulating complex 5G environments in the cloud and enabling teams to identify and address problems before they become issues for customers.

Spirent is confident, based on its test and assurance work during the past year, that ML and intelligent automation are poised for growth based on a proven ability to boost network performance and fault management.

Operators are ramping up their investments in automated active testing and assurance systems that are based on highly realistic traffic emulation, versus legacy monitoring-based approaches.

They will pair these systems with ML algorithms for real-time decisioning on where, when and what to test for service improvement or fault isolation. This year will likely see ML used for security enhancements and for running test workloads in the public cloud. It’s all part of a move toward a self-driving, cognitive network.

Emphasis on the cloud

As 5G rollouts accelerate, large telecom operators are lining up multiple network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) in an attempt to take advantage of best-of-breed network functions.

They are also evaluating different cloud-native environment strategies, including using solutions provided by NEMs; building their own with a leading cloud computing virtualization platform; or having one supplied completely by hyperscalers.

Many communications operators are looking to partner with cloud providers to quickly capitalize on infrastructure and scale. These types of engagements gained momentum in 2021, as operators came to terms with how difficult it can be for traditional operations teams to manage cloud-native infrastructure.

Network providers have also been enticed by the economies of scale they can enjoy when collaborating with the world’s largest technology companies. It’s likely that these operator/hyperscaler collaborations will proliferate. But there will also be demand for solutions that support the easy migration of workloads from one environment to another as providers look to avoid vendor lock-in.

Ultimately, a key goal of 5G is to bring the agility, scalability and efficiency of

cloud environments to communications networks. But it’s likely that communications providers with little cloud experience will need help developing their 5G cloud strategies.

DSS addresses coverage issues

In many markets, 5G competition is being driven by coverage issues. Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) is providing help in this area through new antenna technology that supports the parallel use of LTE and 5G in the same frequency band.

This is helping to speed up 5G New Radio deployments via a software upgrade without the need for a significant investment in dedicated low-band spectrum.

Spirent expects to see increased adoption of DSS this year. But considering that early deployments haven’t generally delivered 5G-like performance, because of interference issues and spectral inefficiencies, additional optimization will be needed for long-term adoption.

Arrival of the Edge

After years of trials, service providers could deliver the first commercial Edge Computing deployments based on 5G this year. The previous year was focused on building partnerships among operators, cloud providers and other partners. In 2022, it could be time to test market demand for such services.

Spirent expects to see a combination of public and private cloud-hosted edge services, with the former focusing on consumer applications and the latter emphasizing enterprise and industrial use cases such as security and video surveillance, remote monitoring and maintenance, and secure desktop offerings for remote workers.

There’s also a lot of promise for 5G in private networks. Spirent estimates that there are more than 3,000 private LTE or 5G networks in operation today, and expects that number to explode to more than 14,000 in just a few years. Helping to drive the trend are enterprise digitalization strategies advanced by 5G and Wi-Fi 6 convergence, capitalizing on breakthrough technologies across the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics and intelligent automation.

Exactly how much of an impact 5G will have on communications and business overall remains to be seen. Many developments are underway that can affect how technologies and services are rolled out and used by enterprises. But there is no doubt that 5G activity will continue to pick up in the coming months and years, and will likely have a profound influence over how organizations connect and interact internally and with the rest of the world.

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