PARTNER FEATURE: At Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum 2020, Patrick Waldemar, Vice President of Telenor Group, stated that deploying 5G networks is just the first step in operators’ journey and that close collaboration is the key to unlocking industry-specific new services.

More than connectivity
5G is more than just blazing data speeds. It promises to be a game changer in how we live our lives and do business. Among the biggest forces driving the development of 5G are the manufacturers of 5G-enabled equipment such as automotive manufacturers, Internet technology companies, the media, the medical industry, and telecoms companies. Since the infrastructure and capability of 5G relies more on software than 4G and its predecessors, we’re seeing a much bigger interest from companies outside the traditional telecoms industry developing our next mobile networks.

Waldemar said 5G is not about mobile operators simply deploying networks and then leaving them for customers to use, as they’ve done with previous generations. “When it comes to 5G, mobile operators need to work together with various industry domains and collaborate with other telecom and IP actors to understand their needs and how the partners can work together to co-create a lot of the services,” he stated.

Waldemar, who is also head of technology at Telenor Research, noted that 5G technologies have been specifically defined to provide communications services for industry, as opposed to earlier mobile generations which mainly delivered advanced communications capabilities via handsets. The new standard defines three main use case areas: enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type communications and ultra-reliable low-latency communications. “When you look at the needs that the various industries have, it’s a combination of those three use-case areas, and the ability of 5G to provide this in a targeted way.”

He explained that unlike with 3G and 4G, which were more fixed systems and mainly offered broadband communications, new 5G networks can provide more capacity, the ability to deploy dense networks of sensors, or the ability to deliver some kind of guarantee for low latency or other parameter. “This combination, with this concept of network slicing where you can target your communications to the needs of an industry or a certain area, is what makes 5G special.”

Telenor is coordinating the EU’s 5G Verticals INNovation Infrastructure (5G-VINNI) project, which was designed to expedite 5G uptake by providing an end-to-end facility to validate the performance of new 5G technologies across various verticals such as public safety, healthcare, shipping, transportation, the media, entertainment, and the automotive industry, since 2018. “We’re proud to be given the opportunity to coordinate the 5G-VINNI project and to explore valuable future solutions for vertical industries. Being one of three large-scale test platforms for Europe, 5G-VINNI will help propel the development of 5G. Our aim is to make it as easy as possible to utilize and test the platform and we now call on industry players in Europe to engage with the project,” said Waldemar.

Tip of the iceberg
The first phase of 5G network deployments around the world, which by now exceeds 100, he said is mostly focused on the enhanced mobile broadband part.

“While the very first wave is about fixed wireless access and offering higher capacity, there are several industries that are already benefiting from this. For instance, our research has found use-cases in the health sector, such as the use of remote ultrasound remote operations and also in the automotive industry.”

All smart cars on the market today have one big weakness in common: they rely solely on their own sensors and cameras for maneuvering and navigation. The new 5G mobile networks, however, have been designed with the automotive industry in mind. Waldemar believes that even though the technology of tomorrow will bring amazing new capabilities in terms of connectivity, capacity, and speed, it will not happen in a vacuum. By supporting the development of 5G, and in turn defining the specifications that smart cars need, they’re speeding up the progress of 5G leaving the test labs and making its way into the real world.

“We’ll see a gradual shift towards smarter and more connected cars over the next few years”, said Waldemar, and this is evidenced by the fact that trials of true 5G connected cars are already taking place today.

Telenor also supports 5G applications in the fish farming sector, where access to better upload speeds enabled farmers to better monitor conditions and optimise feeding, Waldemar explained.

Telenor has been working in conjunction with the salmon farming company SalMar on the island of Kattholmen in Norway and together with Sealab in the Horizon2020 project 5G-Heart. The 5G-Heart project will use 5G technology to achieve higher upload capacity from the fish farm and improve the feeding process through enhanced video analytics. SalMar will use 5G equipment to process readings collected in its nets, which among other things, will enable it to spot unusual fish behavior. Currently, the fish farming firm monitors its nets by constant video streams to a feeding fleet or feeding center, which requires large capacity. 5G enables it to supervise its nets live and will eventually provide the better conditions for the use of AI and big data. Other applications of the technology include supporting the feeding process at farms and powering autonomous boats.

Waldemar forecasts that deploying future standalone (SA) 5G networks will give rise to applications taking advantage of massive-machine type communications, improved reliability, and lower latency. According to GSMA Intelligence, six operators had deployed SA 5G networks globally as of the end of October 2020, with another 11 announcing plans to do so.

“In addition, we’ll get the ability to do network slicing in an efficient manner. This will open up a lot of industrial use-cases where you make use of all these sensors, the reliability and the low latency. And all this can be tailored using network slicing,” said Waldemar.

B2B impact
Waldemar sees B2B applications already impacting society in a good way, and as the industry moves towards more tailored communication services, enabled by SA networks, there will be an even more positive impact on society as new services emerge in the health, transport, and education sectors.

5G isn’t without challenges, however. Some of the bigger obstacles the technology needs to overcome are: 1) finding space for much more data in the already saturated wireless spectrum; 2) figuring out how to efficiently manage a large number of differently sized packages of information; 3) creating computer systems able to handle the vast amounts of data that will be created by IoT communications; 4) reducing both the size and power consumption of network devices to meet the needs of the increasingly large number of applications using IoT.

“In just a few years, the price of 5G-connected sensors will be so low and the availability so high that everything can be connected without worrying about losing the sensors. The low power consumption of IoT devices also enables a long lifetime without the need for replacements,” said Waldemar.

“This all makes me really happy about the future and excited about working with technology that helps industry and society. I’m excited about how 5G is creating a wide range of new use-cases and adding new value across nearly all aspects of society. Telenor’s purpose is empowering societies, and there are so many potential new applications that can answer that purpose.”