After years of excitement — and hype! — 5G is on the cusp of becoming reality. Over the last few months, we’ve seen proofs of concept, field trials, build outs and early deployments. But the question that is still to be answered is: What will it deliver?
With traditional telecom revenues in decline, connectivity fast becoming a commodity and customer trust diminishing, much of the focus — and hope — is on delivering new revenues through enhanced customer services for mobile network operators.
Despite the many recognized advantages of 5G, mobile network operators are still looking for concrete evidence of ROI. The investment isn’t a small one. In fact, it will likely amount to a collective investment of billions of dollars in new network equipment, licenses and deployment. So, what difference will 5G actually make?
Five 5G use cases
Avoiding the obvious temptation to simply say IoT, here are five 5G-powered use cases that mobile network operators must begin to prepare for:
1. Industry 4.0
Like many others, the manufacturing industry is going through a digital revolution. Within the context of Industry 4.0, manufacturers are becoming more efficient through the application of automation and data exchange to their existing factory processes. 5G plays a vital role in this transformative process, especially in the enablement of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. Both will help in the realization of manufacturers’ Industry 4.0 goals.
2. AR + VR = MR
Mixed reality (MR) applications are likely to be a key driver for 5G. Beyond the consumer market — think Pokémon Go — interesting applications are also likely to be found in industrial and medical contexts. Remote medical procedures, engineering, public safety and field service applications are all strong use case opportunities for the application of low-latency 5G services. Whether or not B2B or B2C will lead the way depends on the strategies of large consumer electronics companies, along with the availability of 5G network coverage.
3. Sports and entertainment
5G will also deliver a significantly enhanced experience for media audiences. A combination of VR and AR with ultra-high-fidelity enabled by 5G could transform the way fans interact with sporting or entertainment events. There is already a lot of excitement about these types of use cases, the potential revenue benefits.
The opportunity here lies in more than just providing connectivity. Mobile network operators can create partnerships with broadcasters and sports organizations to deliver entertainment services directly to customers through their self-service applications.
4. Fixed wireless access
This could be used to bring high-bandwidth digital services to underserved rural areas in many countries. As a result, mobile network operators will then be able to compete directly with wireline, satellite and cable companies, offering new revenue streams and faster ROI.
5. Autonomous vehicles
Arguably the most 5G-centric use case is autonomous driving — level four and above. This is the idea that much of the car, if it not all of it, is controlled not by the driver, but by technology. 5G is critical to the reality of this as it will offer the connectivity and speed needed to deliver vast amounts of data to one another as well as other objects simultaneously. The possibilities associated with autonomous vehicles extend to vehicle sharing as well as a range of vehicle-to-anything applications.
While these types of use case are extremely interesting, it’s unlikely to be a short-term mass market revenue generating opportunity.
For 5G success, collaboration is key
5G provides a powerful opportunity for the mobile industry to reap the benefits of cooperation models. Mobile network operators’ cooperation around network sharing options and spectrum farming represents one area for consideration. However, it’s vital that the mobile ecosystem collectively appreciates the limitations associated with frequency allocation, network investment, regulatory restrictions and the availability of funds for investment.
If various parties, including government and network equipment companies, can work together to identify commercially viable and desirable customer systems, 5G will be able to fulfill the vast potential that’s been ascribed to it these past years.
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