What Open 5G Ecosystems Mean For Communications Service Providers And Enterprises

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Ed Oswald.

The telecom industry is undergoing a significant transformation with the arrival of 5G. While 3G networks were built to deliver voice and 4G brought us mobile broadband, I expect that 5G will connect everything, including the 26.6 billion IoT devices currently installed — and it will deliver new use cases that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. From a consumer standpoint, 5G could bring unprecedented speeds and ultra-low latency that many believe will allow for lightning-fast downloads, enable AR/VR experiences and more. However, enterprises will also be impacted by new 5G networks, as 5G could enable autonomous cars, factory automation, fixed-wireless access, IoT communications, and even analytics.

But, in my role at a company that contributes to open 5G ecosystems and fixed wireless access solutions, I’ve come to believe that 5G is much more than a wireless networking technology evolution — 5G is driving the telecom industry to integrate and interoperate in revolutionary ways, and new business and deployment models are needed.

New 5G services and applications will likely require much more bandwidth, but subscribers — both enterprises and consumers — won’t necessarily be willing to pay more for service. Hence, communications service providers (CSPs) must be able to curtail costs while building a network that scales. The traditional model of building networks with very expensive, single network, purpose-built platforms from a single vendor that locks out competition may no longer be sustainable in the 5G era.

The enterprise realm and data centers have already embraced a new model: leveraging cloud technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) based on open principles. By leveraging software-centric, open-reference architectures, I believe CSPs can achieve cloud economics and agility while enabling a multivendor ecosystem, reducing complexity and lowering costs for their 5G networks.

To a large degree, new open architecture business models built on open source can contribute to the reduction of risk for 5G network rollouts given common frameworks and tools. This shift to open may also equate to more vendor choice, as challengers to incumbent “tech giants” will have greater access to ecosystems and even the largest CSPs. For 5G to reach the potential of its promise, core elements in the network must evolve to support mobile broadband increasing requirements for mission-critical, ultra-low-latency applications.

Open requires a shift for enterprises.

5G networks could stimulate invention – for example, through innovation in virtual reality, remote robotics, fully automated self-driving vehicles and more. I believe 5G is poised to make life better in cities, schools, energy grids, factories and homes. With low-latency connectivity and bandwidth that supports extremely high-resolution applications, doctors can perform remote surgeries from miles away, first responders can act more quickly and precisely during emergencies, and critical infrastructure can be better protected from attacks when real-time analytics are being run with quicker alerts and notifications.

Enterprises will be the early adopters for new 5G services, but they need to minimize disruption to their businesses. Open requires a cultural shift in the enterprise. Leveraging open platforms and new methodologies such as DevOps for fast iteration and collaboration creates new opportunities and ecosystems. But disrupting the traditional models can create insecurities. Embracing new open business models around 5G will require companies to make a cultural shift as jobs and business models are disrupted. Enterprises can overcome these challenges by ensuring there’s an open dialogue between developers and operations teams that addresses concerns about job security with these technological advances. A DevOps culture supports continuous improvement, and holding regular meetings to review shared goals around 5G and how teams are achieving them can build buy-in from everyone in the company.

It’s open season on the traditional network.

I believe that connecting devices in the 5G era will require that traditional networks are transformed from proprietary, single-sourced networks to open, disaggregated and software-centric networks. Sometimes “open” is a literal technical solution, such as in open RAN architectures that bring network elements together in a disaggregated and programmable manner. Sometimes “open” is more philosophical, as we can work together as part of open-source communities to drive this fifth generation of mobile technology development with extreme efficiency.

A 5G world will be here before we know it. CSPs and enterprises that contribute now to open ecosystems and solutions will benefit for years to come.

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