The year 2020, a year of challenges for many of us, is history now. But every challenge comes with an opportunity, and it’s a great time to do a quick recap of developments and trends in the telecom industry over the last year.
To start, telecom has been a great connectivity enabler for many of us in challenging times. Imagine how the year could have been if we didn’t have connectivity at our homes to sustain ourselves and move forward? Right from individuals, enterprises to governments across the world, everyone relied upon and worked effectively during the uncertain times, shows how far the connectivity has reached and touched so many lives, by enabling people to do what’s possible to do.
Let me begin the post with a great salute & gratitude to those engineers running the show behind the scene!
The year 2020 started with a bang where everyone expected the year 2020 would be a ‘Year of 5G’. But mainly due to Covid-19 pandemic’s economic impact, rollout plans of many telecom service providers (TSPs) might have changed gears, still, in my view, 5G deployments have already reached a tipping point last year.
Notably among them are TSPs in China, S. Korea, US, Germany and now Japan to add as well. According to Ericsson’s annual mobility report (for 2020), there are more than 100 operational 5G Networks by 2020, while according to 5G Americas, there are 145 5G Networks which are currently live, mainly in Europe and APAC regions.
In the year 2020, we saw most of the 5G deployments globally are in NSA 5G mode, but traction-gaining for SA 5G deployments as well, and we would likely to see more direct SA (from 4G LTE) as well as NSA to SA migratory deployments in the coming year. There’s a small but growing trend, among few telcos to build their own 5G Network, which includes Reliance Jio from India and partially Rakuten Mobile in Japan.
In the year 2020, another major visible trend, mainly driven by geopolitical reasons, was Huawei vs Rest of the World. Amid growing tension between the US and China, and purportedly claimed security threats, many countries in W. Europe, US and other regions, have blocked Huawei from bidding in 5G Commercial rollout plans.
Despite all efforts, I believe Huawei could continue to grow stronger in the coming year as many countries in APAC, Africa regions including India, haven’t yet clearly outlined steps to ban Huawei, mainly for economic reasons which could provide the necessary thrust for the company.
If we have to talk top two trends among TSPs for commercial 5G rollout in terms of technology, then O-RAN ( as well v-RAN) and going Cloud Native would top the list. Fundamentally, they both are enabled by growing trends of adopting container-based infrastructure for telecom infrastructure (Cloud), but O-RAN could be a game-changer.
Traditionally, RAN or Radio Access Network is key for any TSPs and a differentiator. Over years, RAN technology has been closely guarded and developed by few leading OEMs, including Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei etc and TSPs were dependent on them to roll out the network services.
With the arrival of small vendors, such as Altiostar and Parallel Wireless in the game, who are proponents of Open Interfaces and Interoperability in RAN, the scenario started changing in 2019. And now with the formation of O-RAN alliance, and some leading TSPs including AT&T, China Mobile and notably Rakuten Inc in Japan, joining O-RAN alliance, we would likely to see growing adoption of O-RAN among TSPs in coming years.
Another growing technological trend is the use of AI for Network Automation and Monitoring among TSPs. While RAN remains a key area where adoption of AI-based solutions is growing, Edge DCs which are hot-beds of innovations & collaboration for TSPs for few revenue-driven use cases, such as Connected Cars, Cloud Gaming and AR/VR, the adoption of AI-driven solutions is likely to peak in the coming year.
In the year 2020, we also saw few 5G private Networks getting launched, the trend of adopting 5G technology to launch private networks for Enterprises, is likely to gain momentum, for two reasons. First, the technology is available now, and the second, the business model fits the adoption, despite a few roadblocks. Regulators across different countries need to play a key role in uptake and adoption of private 5G Networks.
Going forward, we are also likely to see, more cloud-based technology adoption & software-based telecom architectures starting with 5G, and telecom could become confluence point for many different technologies, including Kubernetes, Cloud-Native, AI/ML, Agile Software development and many more. In fact, we are already seeing a growing trend to build traditional telco architecture as ‘Cloud-Native Architectures’, to support network resiliency, scalability and security.
The trend is likely to push new skills demand of Cloud professionals in telecom companies across, and more and more telecom professionally are likely to move to Public Cloud Infra space to gear themselves to new skills demands.
With the adoption of cloud-native technologies, we could possibly see many TSPs, innovating and build networks in-house, rather than buying technologies outright from different OEMs and Tech partners. Few notable examples of such an approach are Rakuten Mobile in Japan and Dish Wireless in the US, who are building telecom networks on cloud-native principles.
In the end, 5G Networks, still in very much infancy, would continue to provide better speeds and reduced network latencies, we are also going to see Edge Data Centers, Network slicing and Software define networks coming to reality, serving different logical enterprise networks on top of telco-cloud physical infrastructures.
Year 2021 could just pave way for it!
(Image Credit- Telecom Stock Photos by WordPress)