PARTNER FEATURE – [Introduction – The 5G Journey So Far] 5G networks deployments are proliferating around the world, and according to the latest data as of March 2020 there are now 70 commercial 5G networks in 40 countries, and a total of 381 operators are in the midst of investing in 5G networks. In some countries such as South Korea 5G Non-Standalone Networks (NSA) have already been widely deployed as population coverage has exceeded 90% and 10% of the mobile user base is already using a 5G device. Importantly, all three South Korean operators have returned to revenue growth of roughly 4%-6% last year since launching 5G commercial services. Equally important is the fact that 5G users not only in South Korea but also in China and the Middle East are increasingly using 5G for new services such as gaming, VR, and live streaming.
NSA networks are suitable for promoting 2C services to consumers as the primary emphasis is on an improved downlink speed. However, as operators seek to offer sophisticated 2B services, more robust 5G network capabilities are needed. 5G Standalone (SA) networks which are already being deployed in some countries are equipped with network KPIs such as ultra-high bandwidth combined with ultra-low latency which will enable the next generation of 2B Digital Transformation.
Multi-Band Collaboration Greatly Improves 5G Coverage and Experience
In the first wave of global 5G rollouts, Massive MIMO predominantly using TDD spectrum has been most widely deployed. However TDD alone is inherently limited in uplink coverage and experience, while FDD on the other hand ensures balanced transmission. FDD also provides better indoor coverage and enables operators to quickly deploy 5G using existing resources. In some European countries where 5G network coverage are mandated, TDD and FDD convergence can deliver a better experience and network coverage, particularly in terms of uplink capabilities. This convergence will further fulfill high uplink bandwidth requirements for 2B applications and hence there is growing interest from operators to embrace multi-band collaboration.
Specifically, sub-3 GHz FDD bands can enable5G networks to quickly achieve coverage requirements in some countries. Deploying 5G on new FDD spectrum offers an effective approach to greatly improve spectral efficiency and enhances user experience. For 5G networks using legacy FDD spectrum, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) enables the millisecond-level dynamic allocation of spectrum resources between LTE and 5G services, which maximizes spectral efficiency. Huawei’s DSS solution has been commercially verified and deployed in Europe as of November 2019 which supports converged and simplified 5G deployments using both TDD and FDD spectrum.
5G Enables a New Era of 2B Digital Transformation
In the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic the world has seen several years’ worth of Digital Transformation take place in only a few months as consumers, companies, and governments grapple to control the outbreak. This, in turn, has greatly increased the importance, adoption and outlook for 2B 5G services. For example, in China Huawei Technologies is heavily deploying 5G in the healthcare sector to help fight COVID-19 and has enabled 18 5G use cases in healthcare including remote patient monitoring, drones, robots and connected thermal cameras. Huawei has already helped to deploy such solutions in over 300 hospitals and the company estimates that over 100 million people are already benefitting from 5G coverage. Healthcare is only one industry which is quickly adopting 5G service, as the need for remote work, education, smart factories, virtual events, and connected retail stores have also increased dramatically in the past few months.
To fully realize the potential of these services, however, operators will need 5G SA networks to enable new services such as network slicing and 5G Super Uplink which provide the required network latency, bi-directional capacity and speed for advanced 5G services. As seen in the exhibit below, some 5G services are suitable for 5G NSA networks such as remote sensing networks and remote access, but more advanced 2B services such as XR, telemedicine, smart factories and drone control are best-suited for 5G standalone networks.
Exhibit: 5G Network NSA vs. SA Services, 2020
5G Standalone Unlocks the Potential of Network Slicing
One of the largest benefits that operators will enjoy upon deploying 5G SA networks is the ability to offer 2B network slicing services. Network slicing enables operators to offer unprecedented SLA levels in-terms bandwidth and latency, and because it utilizes the power of the cloud, customized services can be offered to enterprise customers on-demand for any period of length, creating a new business model for the industry. Network slicing is expected to be embraced by many industries, with some of the early adopters being energy, ports, manufacturing, and stadiums.
Perhaps the best example of 5G network slicing to date is the China Southern Power Grid (CSG) which covers the country`s five southern provinces. Since 2018 the company has pursued an aggressive 5G digital transformation strategy in partnership with Huawei and China Mobile. The 5G SA network being used offers E2E network slicing capabilities which enable unprecedented SLA levels of 15 millisecond latency, 99.9999% reliability, and 4–100 Mbit/s bandwidth requirements. KPIs are extremely granular covering 35 categories and nearly 60 parameters and allows heterogenous 5G connectivity in areas such as production & control and management & information scenarios. As a result, this has created an important new revenue stream for China Mobile and gives CSG unprecedented insight and control of their operations.
Super Uplink Service is also Critical in the 5G Standalone Era
Faster downlink speeds are clearly the key feature of NSA 5G service, as live deployments have already demonstrated real-world speeds of higher than 3Gbps, however, 2B innovative services have more obvious requirements on low latency and large uplink bandwidth. Recognizing this, Huawei and China Telecom jointly released a 5G Super Uplink solution in 2019 to address this important issue. The service features TDD/FDD coordination, high-band/low-band complementation, and time/frequency domain aggregation which overcome the limitations of 5G NSA networks and can improve network performance by up to 40%. 5G Super Uplink hence will enable new and improved business use cases on SA networks where strong uplink and latency metrics are required in areas such as broadcasting, drone operation, autonomous driving, and telemedicine.
5G Super Uplink is already seeing its first deployments with encouraging results. The Conch Group, a major building materials manufacturer in China, partnered with Huawei and China Telecom Anhui to utilize 5G Super Uplink to accelerate its smart manufacturing capabilities. Using the new service, the company was able to increase uplink speeds by 20% to 60% in nearby base stations and up to 300% for more distant ones. This in turn enabled a variety of new 2B applications such as safety operations, intelligent warning, and real-time surveillance services. This again created an important new service revenue stream opportunity for China Telecom and created a safer and more efficient operating environment for the Conch Group.
Summary & Conclusions
Early results from 5G NSA network deployments are encouraging as operators have seen increased revenue, some improved network KPIs and early indications of new service adoption. This however is mostly applicable to 2C services, and 5G SA networks will be needed to fully unlock the potential for 5G 2B services. 5G SA networks will enable new services such as network slicing and 5G Super Uplink, which in turn will create new services using low latency, and higher bi-directional connectivity. Ultimately these new network features will enhance operator`s 2B service portfolio creating new revenue streams and potentially more profitable business models.
Marc Einstein, Chief Analyst ITR CorporationSubscribe to our daily newsletter Back