“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – so wrote French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the early twentieth century. Nearly a hundred years later, these words ring true to mobile operators as they seek to deploy 5G networks.
The fifth generation of cellular network technology is perhaps the most highly anticipated implementation of our generation because of how it will lead to transformations and improvements across almost every industry. Thus it is absolutely critical that operators plan correctly and employ best practices for their 5G deployments. But most seem woefully unprepared.
Analysys Mason recently collected data across a sample of 50 mobile operators worldwide, in order to evaluate the maturity of operators’ 5G thinking across a series of business and technology factors for the Nokia 5G Maturity Index. Analysys Mason assessed the communications service providers (CSPs) based on their strategic plans for use cases, breadth of their partner ecosystems, ability to deploy with agility, utilization of automation, and digitalization of operations.
Ultimately, Analysys Mason found that 80% of operators are still in the least mature category for 5G planning even though most plan a limited commercial launch of 5G services by the end of this year. To avoid failure and set themselves up for 5G success, operators need to understand the key steps.
Key lessons for 5G
Thankfully, operators understand that transformation from 4G to 5G is not a ‘walk in the park.’ There is huge complexity in the transformation of networks and significant consideration must be given to align objectives, markets, customer targets and ecosystems. Most only aim to reach less than 75% population coverage 4-5 years after initial deployments.
A simple analogy is to imagine an athlete forgetting his running shoes and having to use flip flops to run the 100-metre sprint. This lack of proper preparation means that athlete will obviously not perform well. Similarly, operators must take time to consider what assets and strategies they need to employ to perform in the race of 5G deployment.
The most vital considerations for 5G deployment have been summarized into ‘Five Commandments’ of best practices for these operators.
Strategic ambition is critical; 5G must support business objectives, which directly generate new revenue streams
The high deployment costs of 5G networks means that success or failure in the 5G era is dependent leveraging the unique capabilities of 5G to generate new streams of revenue. Operators that have expect to derive significant revenue merely by delivering a 5G-enhanced version of their existing connectivity services are unlikely to achieve a significant return on investment.
What these operators should aim for instead, is to increase flexibility to support a wide variety of new revenue streams. Such as supporting new forms of digital transformation for enterprise and IoT, improving customer experiences and/or to reduce TCO, and other possible new business opportunities.
Operators should deploy 5G as a platform to support numerous case studies – don’t look for one “killer app”
Out of the leading applications for 5G use cases, many operators are focusing first on enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) for the simple reason that it is an extension to existing 4G broadband services. It will be the first commercial 5G service to launch and ‘phase 1’ of 5G deployments; enabling 360-degree video streaming, immersive VR and AR applications, among other uses.
However, on the horizon lie bigger ambitions for operators, who are considering how 5G could be used as firepower for industry, for example supporting sensors embedded in infrastructure and vehicles or in the critical control of remote devices. By anticipating a wide range of possible applications for 5G, operators will be better equipped to predict market needs and acquire new customers
To maximize revenue opportunities, operators need to develop a web of cross-industry partner communities
In addition to securing new use cases and connectivity services, operators can also capture new revenue pools through offering new services across other layers of the value chain. The capability for CSPs to reach further into vertical-specific or end-to-end solutions will be dependent on their ability to engage with a large ecosystem of partners, either to develop specific capabilities (e.g. technology, skills), or as channels to market to engage with new types of customers.
Even further, developing such cross-vertical partner relationships will reduce the effort needed for operators to enter new verticals and time to market to launch new solutions. And through leading the development of multiple communities, operators will be well placed to attract new partners, and continue to broaden their customer network and pool of capabilities.
Transformation of the whole platform, including the OSS/BSS, is essential to reduce time to profit for 5G
As new requirements from a wide variety of user groups emerge, 5G success will require the flexibility to create new services quickly. Operators will essentially need to behave more like digital providers than traditional CSPs. This means they will need a platform that enables them to address a new opportunity rapidly, with modern development processes and a robust framework for integrating new ecosystem partners.
A fundamental step in achieving this will be to transform current OSS/BSS platforms to support an entirely new operating model, dramatically reducing the time and cost to launch a new service and to create new partnerships. Operators whose phases of transformation are not clearly linked to their of 5G deployment, risk falling behind in their ability to leverage the 5G networks in the most profitable way.
Automation and AI are critical for the fast-paced nature of 5G service launches and operations. They’re also crucial for maximizing the return on the significant that operators are making for 5G
Perhaps the most crucial element of operators’ success in 5G will be automation, at network level as well as through all business processes including operations and customer services. Manual management and coordination of network slices across the immense variety of service will be practically impossible and cripplingly expensive for operators.
And the intense network of partner relationships will also benefit from automation – for partner onboarding, partner management and the deployment of new functionalities and technologies. The cost-saving potential, the promise of high agility and quick scaling of services will not be realised in the 5G world without operators’ strong focus on automation. In other words, 5G will not make much sense for operators without end-to-end automation of network management linked to business process automation.
Some of the CSPs surveyed are aptly addressing these considerations. But even for these leading mobile operators, there is room for improvement. In conclusion, there remains a number of challenges to 5G deployment and pace of implementation is slower than we have previously witnessed. However, following these steps will be powerful tool that can help operators understand the challenges and the needs required for 5G success.
It’s important that operators are supported to monetize opportunities through 5G deployment, but it’s also crucial to remember the wise words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and support goals with good plans.