Network functions virtualisation (NFV) and 5G technology will require mobile operators to completely replace legacy back office BSS, OSS or IT systems, Mobile World Live’s inaugural industry survey found.

In a study involving close to 1,000 key decision makers from across the mobile ecosystem, 66 per cent predicted wholesale changes in back-end systems will be necessary as the industry progresses rapidly towards 5G deployments. Some 31 per cent predicted 5G will be mainstream by 2020, and 96 per cent tip the technology to be widely available by 2025.

The results of Mobile World Live’s first annual industry survey were published in the run up to Mobile World Congress. “The research provides a real world insight into the challenges facing the mobile industry as it transitions towards 5G and virtualisation,” said Justin Springham, managing editor.

“For example, 38 per cent of respondents said cost is the biggest barrier to 5G uptake rather than technology. In contrast, the challenge facing NFV and SDN is more technological in nature.”

While the industry pushes virtualisation, the survey highlighted a split in terms of the benefits offered: 45 per cent believe virtualisation will ultimately reduce operating costs compared with 43 per cent who are unsure it will do so.

On 5G, close to three quarters (71 per cent) said the technology is a must-have moving forward. However, 58 per cent of respondents expressed concern about overhyping the capabilities of the technology.

In addition to considering future challenges, Mobile World Live quizzed industry executives on near term challenges.

Close to 40 per cent said security is the biggest challenge facing operators in 2017, with close to two thirds (61 per cent) placing the responsibility for securing the mobile ecosystem squarely at the door of operators.

Nearly half (48 per cent) tipped IoT as the most attractive business area for the mobile industry this year. While respondents noted operators face a number of challenges in IoT, some 57 per cent expect them to overcome those obstacles and become key enablers for the sector during the year.

“We are delighted with the response to our first annual industry survey, and with the detailed information provided,” Springham said, adding: “The research shows mobile operators have a key role to play in 2017 and beyond, and have myriad opportunities to supplement declining revenue in their traditional businesses with emerging technologies.”

The full report is available to download here.