Intelligence Brief: Discussion around 6GHz heats up at MWC Barcelona 2022

It’s barely been a month since I posted [1] about the recent GSMA Intelligence cost-benefit analysis of policy options in the 6GHz band.

I hadn’t expected to write anything on it again so quickly, until I had the pleasure of speaking at the 6GHz 5G/IMT spectrum forum at MWC Barcelona on 1 March. With almost 100 on-site attendees and 250 participating online from across 80 countries, there was clearly a lot of interest, especially from governments and policymakers. Perhaps more important, the fact that it was co-hosted by a number of vendors as well as operators (alongside GSMA Intelligence) signals how important the topic is.

The event started with presentations from Luiz Felippe Zoghbi, senior spectrum policy manager at GSMA, and myself.

Zoghbi presented findings from studies that highlighted the average need for a total of 2GHz of mid-band spectrum in dense urban areas, along with a recent GSMA Intelligence report [2] that quantified the socio-economic benefits of assigning sufficient mid-band spectrum. I then presented the findings from our recent 6GHz report [3].

Views from policymakers
This intro was followed by some excellent insights from a range of policymakers. The importance of identifying new spectrum bands was emphasised by all. For example Tariq Al Awadhi, spectrum expert with the UAE’s Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), described UAE’s strategy for 5G, which is expected to be the dominant mobile access technology by 2027, and emphasised the need for new frequency bands.

Heidi Himmanen from the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom) stated it supported the upper 6GHz band for IMT because it can play an important role for the future of 5G and even the introduction of 6G.

Daniel Obam from Kenya’s National Communications Secretariat noted the 6GHz band was seen as an important to compensate for the lack of other mid-band spectrum in many African countries

Of course, a key ongoing issue remains the protection of incumbent services in 6GHz, specifically fixed satellite services and fixed services including mobile backhaul.

Eric Fournier of the Agence Nationale des Frequences (ANFR) in France, discussed the ongoing sharing studies regarding protection of incumbent services at 6GHz in preparation for WRC-23. He highlighted the protection of fixed-satellite service (FSS) uplink as the key international issue, with the caveat that the upper 6GHz is not expected to be used much for satellite uplink in Europe, as the paired downlink bands are not available anymore.

All of the panellists mentioned the importance of allowing the technical studies to conclude for WRC-23. Olfa Jammeli of Agence Nationale des frequences Tunisie, noted all new applications for 6GHz microwave links in Tunisia have been postponed until after WRC-23, as they await the sharing studies to assess the possibility of allocating upper 6GHz to IMT.

Views from industry
The event also saw contributions from industry players, including three operators with a large base of fixed and mobile customers.

Vodafone Group executive Santiago Tenorio, and Roberto Rodriguez Dorrego from Telefonica both said it was important to keep a balanced approach in the 6GHz band, given the required network densification to deliver 5G would not be viable without any 6GHz spectrum. This is especially the case in countries with limited fixed broadband penetration and which rely heavily on mobile connectivity. Meanwhile, in markets with widespread fixed infrastructure and which are seeing increasing fibre-to-the-home, the operators said allocating the lower 6GHz band for unlicensed use (primarily Wi-Fi) is enough to ensure high quality home services.

Deutsche Telekom expert Jan Hendrik Jochum also noted ambitious political goals from the European Commission targeting all populated areas to be covered by 5G by 2030 could only be met with spectrum in the 6GHz band. He explained without upper 6GHz spectrum, mobile operators will not be able to provide the required 5G outdoor capacity, which would risk Europe’s digitalisation falling behind other regions, particularly the US and China.

Further comments were provided by 5G equipment vendors. Nokia standards head Ulrich Dropmann stated the importance of the 6GHz band to fuel the “5G Advanced World” in the second half of the decade when the 5G vision will be completed, while Ericsson director Erika Tejedor elaborated on the IMT’s ability to share spectrum with services which are in the 6GHz band.

Huawei wireless network executive Xu Weizhong offered some interesting experience from China, where field tests carried out in the 6GHz band showed it can provide the same outdoor coverage as 3.5GHz along with a 15 per cent throughput gain when using 128 TRX Massive MIMO.

Lastly, MediaTek standards expert Tim Frost highlighted the importance of using 6GHz for both licensed and unlicensed service, noting it was technically feasible to support this in the same device.

The road to WRC-23
In 2020, some of us [4] asked whether the early decisions on the 6GHz band may have been rushed. At the time, given the potential long timescale of using the band for 5G and the opportunity for it to be used quickly for Wi-Fi 6E, it may have been attractive to allocate the band for unlicensed use.

However, the number of 5G connections is expected to reach 1 billion this year, while the amount of data traffic carried over mobile networks will almost double compared with 2020.

When taking a ten-year view, there is a serious risk mobile networks may not be able to sustain the performance requirements expected from 5G without more mid-band spectrum. Meanwhile, questions are also being asked as to whether the full 6GHz band is needed to address expected Wi-Fi demand, especially in markets where existing spectrum in the 5GHz band and in the 60GHz band) is under-used.

For policymakers, the critical milestone now is WRC-23 and for the ITU technical studies to conclude so they have a clear understanding on how to ensure the protection of incumbent services, before making an informed decision on the optimal assignment of the 6GHz band.

With WRC taking place in 2023, this no longer seems so far away and, at least based on this event, it sounds like many governments and regulators are waiting until then before they take a considered approach.

– Kalvin Bahia – economist, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Intelligence Brief: Connectivity and more unleashed at MWC Barcelona 2022

The period from 28 February to 3 March will be recorded as significant dates in the history of the telecoms and technology industry as the GSMA convened more than 61,000 people from across the industry for MWC Barcelona 2022, marking the return of full-scale physical events and removed any lingering doubts over the continuing appeal of in-person industry gatherings.

Here we bring you the buzz from the event and predict what to expect in 2023.

A more comprehensive analysis of these developments has also been published by GSMA Intelligence here [1], examining nearly 50 announcements across 12 individual topics, all the important stories that took centre stage at MWC Barcelona 2022 and what they mean for the industry.

The Connectivity Unleashed theme of MWC Barcelona 2022 was aptly defined to capture everything happening on the show floor. The announcements in the lead up and during the event were dominated by the broad themes of private, open and standalone networks; cloud; and edge, all sitting under the wider umbrella of 5G connectivity and revenue generating opportunities for enterprises.

Obviously sustainability, energy efficiency and, of course the metaverse were other key topics.

On my first business trip in two years, I was excited to experience everything that was happening on the show floor. Having absorbed as much as possible over four days, here are my key highlights and takeaways.

Private networks comes to the fore
The wide range of announcements ranging from partnerships to commercial products and solutions in the sphere of private networks confirms their role in capitalising on enterprise opportunities and operator interest in them. Standalone (SA) 5G and network slicing should foster the easy deployment of private networks and, in recognition of this fact there were several developments seen on these fronts too.

GSMA Intelligence data shows 24 operators to date have deployed commercial SA 5G networks with a further 16 having announced plans to deploy. Notably, Orange announced vendors for its 5G core networks [2] and on the network slicing front, there were systems exhibiting dynamic inventory management.

Continuing focus on RAN
RAN innovation has historically been a major focus at MWC and this year was no different. The number of new open RAN vendors promoting their products speaks to the supplier diversity promise of the approach.

Of course, another set of RAN vendors (not necessarily promoting open RAN) exists in the ecosystem too. These companies demonstrated the benefits of network automation and energy-efficient systems to drive cost-savings and optimised network performance, often clearly targeting perceived weaknesses with open RAN.

Irrespective of how, the end-goal of all these vendors is the same: to drive network efficiencies, cost savings, increase flexibility and reduce time-to-market. And, one other thing was also in common, emphasising the importance of RAN optimisation (via open RAN Intelligent Controllers, or similar non-open RAN solutions) to drive network efficiencies and performance.

Cloud vendors making inroads
Once again the cloud was firmly in view on the show floor. Adam Selipsky, CEO of AWS, in a keynote presentation used examples from its current partnerships with operators to highlight the myriad possibilities available from moving various business operations and networks to the cloud, from core to RAN, from IT to front-end operations, from storage to compute.

Combined with the possibilities of edge computing, the pairing has the potential to open a new world of opportunities for the use-cases demanding low-latency, high throughputs and flexibility in operations.

On one hand, it is good to have clarity on the myriad possibilities and benefits of moving to cloud. At the same time, however, there is a lack of clarity on the role cloud vendors will play for operators in the mobile ecosystem. The varying business models adopted by cloud vendors, from partnership with operators to launching direct-to-enterprise solutions leaves mobile service providers in a fix as to how they should treat cloud vendors: as partners, competitors or co-opetitors?

Metaverse moves beyond hype
It goes without saying the metaverse was one of the most discussed topics on the show floor.

In the lead up to the MWC Barcelona 2022, there was a widespread hope of gaining some more clarity on what exactly the metaverse means, who will be the main players, what will be the business models and much more besides.

While these questions were not fully answered, one thing was clear: the transition of the metaverse from a hyped term to a new world of possibilities is already well underway, addressing questions (or at least understanding opportunities), such as whether there will be one single metaverse or multiple metaverses, and whether non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and crypto will be the digital currencies of the metaverse and Web 3.0.

The rapidly-growing momentum in the metaverse stands as a signal for industry players to start identifying their roles if they want to capture early-mover advantage.

What drives purchase decisions?
While taking up less space than network infrastructure demos and product pods, there was a significant line-up of device launches in the smartphone and laptop/tablet categories.

Corroborating the results of the GSMA Intelligence consumer survey, where 93 per cent of respondents mentioned battery life as a key feature dictating their purchase decisions, major breakthroughs related to battery performance and fast charging were observed in the announcements.

With phones long having replaced dedicated cameras and tablets for many casual users, innovations were also noticed on these fronts. The increased availability of foldable phones with affordable price points also indicated the start of their journey to mass adoption.

MWC had always been a place to do business, network, and gain an understanding of the latest products and solutions in the market. Combined with keynote presentations and various analyst summits, the result is a unique opportunity to glean insights into the strategic direction of the industry.

But, for all the discussion of connectivity and 5G monetisation, I saw another theme emerge across the presentations, keynotes and speeches from industry leaders.

Beyond specific product and service launches, these CEOs and business leaders highlighted a strategic focus to make the world a better place to live, either by way of ethical leadership or climate change initiatives.

Need for ethical leadership: Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, industry bosses called for ethical leadership and set out the role technology can play for the betterment of everyone.
Play your part to combat climate change: A need for continued focus on climate-change initiatives supporting the decarbonisation and net-zero journey of operators was cited numerous times. Examples and case studies were used to highlight the significant carbon reductions smart connectivity can drive.
Fair return opportunities demand shared investment load: A level playing field was also claimed as the need of the hour to offer fair return on investment opportunities to everyone. Industry leaders called for greater sharing of the investment required to support increased data traffic, the benefits of which are reaped by multiple players across the entire ecosystem, not just operators.

What does this all mean?
The announcements and developments from MWC signal the broader topics of network innovations, cloud, and enterprise opportunities will continue to be the focus areas in 2022, alongside emerging topics like the metaverse.

Progress on 6G beyond the formation of working groups and creation of a roadmap is also expected.

Perhaps more importantly, the mobile ecosystem is expanding like never seen before. The advent of new concepts like the metaverse and emergence of new use-cases with 5G and beyond will only see the ecosystem growing further. Consequently, we should expect to see more players from the widening mobile industry ecosystem present at MWC Barcelona next year.

While all this happens, in the here and now, it is worth cherishing the success of MWC Barcelona 2022 and everything that we learned in just four days.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and don’t forget to check out our wrap-up report [3] as well as the Industry Updates [4] section of GSMA Intelligence which captures the announcements and developments in the lead up to and during the event.

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Intelligence Brief: Connecting 5G in Saudi Arabia, from the ground to the skies

MWC Barcelona 2022 saw a large number of events and announcements related to 5G spectrum. Much of these focused on the importance of mid-band and mmWave spectrum, and how operators and the wider ecosystem can maximise the value of spectrum with new network solutions. One event that sparked particular interest was a session hosted by CITC on Saudi Arabia’s roadmap for 5G terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks. Mohammed Alabdulqader, the GM of Spectrum Services at CITC, gave an update on the country’s spectrum roadmap, joined by speakers and panellists from GSMA Intelligence, OneWeb, Nokia, BCG and Intelsat. It concluded with a video of the world’s first trial of 5G HAPS technology.

Saudi Arabia: driving forward with 5G
The session started with a GSMA Intelligence presentation on the current state of 5G, followed by the CITC roadmap. It now goes without saying that assigning sufficient, timely and affordable spectrum is critical to 5G. Like many other countries in the Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a 5G pioneer, assigning key mid-band spectrum (2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz) in 2019. Low-band spectrum (700MHz and 800MHz) was awarded earlier for 4G, but operators can also use it for 5G. As a result, operators in the KSA today have access to more than 1000MHz of licensed spectrum for IMT use in the low- and mid-band ranges. This is on a par, or higher than, most of the leading countries in Europe, Americas and Asia-Pacific. The policy has resulted in direct benefits for consumers: 5G network coverage in the Kingdom exceeded 70 per cent at the end of 2021 and average 5G speeds reached 360Mb/s, amongst the highest worldwide.

CITC has also planned three major spectrum releases for 2022: 600MHz, 700MHz and 3800MHz for IMT; 450MHz for a nationwide business-critical communications network; and 2100MHz for non-terrestrial networks [1] (NTNs). This will make Saudi Arabia the number one country in the world in the amount of IMT spectrum in the sub-6GHz bands and a global pioneer in enabling Non-Terrestrial Networks to enhance connectivity. CITC is also planning to auction the 26GHz band and 1.5GHz in a separate auction.

Public consultations and call for international interest
CITC has also called on the international players to express their views and interest in the open public consultations for the IMT auction [2] and the 450MHz licence [3] awards, which are available for public consultation until 7 April and 24 March, respectively. CITC has expressed its openness to consider new international service providers to participate in awards.

Bringing HAPS back
5G will not just bring faster data speeds, low latencies and massive connectivity. It will also drastically change the architectures of mobile networks, from radio to the core. One way in which this will happen is to combine terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks (NTNs), including air-to-ground networks, high-altitude platforms (HAPS) and low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations. The objective is to provide a genuinely ubiquitous mobile service across the world, including to the 450 million people that do not have any mobile broadband coverage. It will also enable capabilities such as IoT, emergency communications, disaster recovery and terrestrial site backhaul.

NTNs are of course not new. Broadband services enabled by LEO satellites are being deployed by Starlink and OneWeb, among others, while a number of HAPS technologies have been developed during the past decade. However, none of these reached significant scale and many, including high-profile examples such as Facebook Aquila and Google’s Project Loon, were closed down due to lack of commercial sustainability. But combining NTNs with 5G potentially offers a new opportunity and stronger business case than previous deployments. The development of advanced smart antennas, lower cost LEOs and longer-duration HAPs is coming at a time when operators and governments are focused on driving 5G coverage and adoption. During the MWC22 session, the CEO of Stratospheric Platforms presented a video showing a demonstration of 5G HAPS technology. Conducted in February at the Red Sea Project site [4] on Saudi Arabia’s western coast, the tests saw the use of aircraft to extend a 5G service, covering a geographical area of 450 square kilometres.

Enabling regulation is key for 5G NTNs and so is standardisation
With the technology underway, NTN operators are also working on commercial development. The panel discussed several factors that would enable this, with two areas emphasised. One was a supportive policy framework, which is something CITC has sought to deliver with regulatory sandbox projects, open access for network operators and, in August 2022, having the world’s first spectrum auction for NTNs on the 2100MHz band. The other key area was around standardisation, including 3GPP Release-17 and, in the future, Release-18. Release-17 introduces new network topologies into the 3GPP specifications, including HAPS, LEOs and geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites. This is important because previous NTNs have suffered from high costs associated with a lack of standardisation.

Getting the economics right
Despite the excitement generated by the possibility of ubiquitous 5G coverage, NTNs are still in the early stages of deployment (although the same is also true of terrestrial 5G in many countries). In the long-term, NTNs will offer significant economic advantages over terrestrial networks in rural and remote locations with low population densities. Indeed, without NTNs it is likely that certain populations will remain uncovered. However, there remain a number of challenges to overcome, including reducing the link budget, terminal costs and form factors. Fortunately, progress is being made on all of these, with the development of intelligent antenna, advances in beamforming and more cost- and power-efficient HAPS and LEO platforms. The entry and growth of new NTN operators could play a particularly important role here and it is notable that the CITC’s planned spectrum awards offer the opportunity for new companies, including international players, to enter the market.

Closing the coverage gap
With 450 million people still out of reach of a 3G/4G signal and governments setting targets for universal coverage and 5G upgrades, operators will need to consider a range of rollout strategies. If this includes NTNs, operators need to ensure they are economically viable and that they can integrate seamlessly into terrestrial networks. This will require involvement of the whole ecosystem, including vendors and systems integrators. Several operators have already started this, for example by partnering with satellite-to-cell providers.

– Kalvin Bahia – economist, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Intelligence Brief: How can society benefit most out of 6GHz spectrum?

The assignment of 6GHz spectrum is one of the hottest topics amongst spectrum experts and telecoms analysts at the moment. Of course, for most internet users, and even for a lot of industry insiders, it garners the exact lack of interest one would expect when they hear the words spectrum, frequency band or the next World Radiocommunication Conference. This is unlikely to change any time soon.

But regardless of whether or not the average consumer cares, there is no question anyone using the internet in the next 15 years will be impacted by what their government decides to do with the 6GHz band.

The impact broadband technologies have had over the last decade should not need restating [1], nor should the role they have played since the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus). Broadband connectivity has driven increases in GDP and employment, reduced poverty and enabled reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What perhaps does need clarifying is these impacts are further enhanced when broadband technologies are upgraded, whether it’s from 3G to 4G to 5G [2] or from xDSL to fibre-to-the-home. Economists often say spectrum should be allocated in a manner which maximises the social and economic value to society and the use of spectrum to provide broadband connectivity is a prime example of this.

Licensed, unlicensed or both?
What happens, however when the two main use cases of a band are licensed or unlicensed use? In particular, how should governments choose between using spectrum for 5G new radio (NR) which provides wide area indoor and outdoor broadband coverage, or Wi-Fi which supports fixed broadband with local wireless connections in homes and premises?

This is the decision many governments around the world currently face for the 6GHz band and they are already taking divergent approaches. Some have assigned the full band for unlicensed use, while others are considering it for licensed use. A third group are allocating the lower part of 6GHz (5925MHz/5945MHz to 6425MHz) for unlicensed and considering the upper part (6425MHz to 7125MHz) for licensed.

The 6GHz band represents the largest remaining single block of mid-band spectrum which can be allocated to licensed mobile or unlicensed services in the foreseeable future, which means governments need to take a carefully considered decision. To assist policymakers in performing such an assessment, GSMA Intelligence recently published a cost-benefit analysis [3] for different authorisation models for the 6GHz band in 12 countries. The results of the study show the optimal policy in each market depends on the expected adoption of 5G and fixed fibre and cable broadband services, the availability of spectrum in other bands and the speeds fixed broadband can offer consumers.

Identifying the capacity gaps
In 2021, the GSMA and Coleago [4] Consulting showed enabling the full capabilities of 5G will mean that around 2GHz of mid-band spectrum needs to be made available between 2025 and 2030. In most countries, this will require spectrum in the 6GHz band, without which either the cost of 5G deployment will increase, impacting the affordability and use of the technology, or it will result in poorer network quality, especially if operators reach the limits of network densification. This means assigning spectrum in the 6GHz band will address network capacity constraints and ensure consumers and enterprises can realise the full socio-economic benefits of 5G.

What about Wi-Fi? Currently, even if you have a fibre-to-the-home broadband connection, it’s unlikely you will be able to access speeds above 300Mb/s to 400Mb/s, in which case Wi-Fi is probably not a bottleneck to improved performance. In fact, even if speeds reach 1Gb/s or 5Gb/s, there is enough unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi to cope with demand. In this case, the GSMA Intelligence study shows allocating the full 6GHz band for licensed mobile will drive the greatest economic benefit, at least in the countries considered.

What happens if fixed broadband speeds climb even higher to 10Gb/s? This is a possibility over the next 15 years in some markets. Even then, for most countries there should be enough existing unlicensed spectrum to meet demand if Wi-Fi efficiently uses spectrum in high bands (the unlicensed 60GHz band), as is expected of licensed 5G with the use of high-band mm-Wave spectrum. If it does not, then Wi-Fi spectrum will be a bottleneck that stops consumers from fully benefitting from fibre and cable broadband, and in most countries, allocating the lower 6GHz band for unlicensed use and the upper end for licensed mobile in a split-band approach will drive the greatest economic benefit (while in the remaining countries, allocating the full band for licensed use will still be the best choice). However, not using any of the high bands for Wi-Fi would be a very inefficient use of spectrum.

Is there a scenario where allocating the full band for unlicensed use generates the greatest socio-economic benefit?

Not according to the GSMA Intelligence study, because allocating the lower 6GHz band is sufficient to meet demand, even if the 60GHz band is not used. This means there are no additional gains from allocating the full 6GHz band for unlicensed use.

Moving forward
The analysis highlighted in the report shows how important it is to assign the 6GHz band based on existing evidence and the expected developments in the broadband market.

Indeed, when spectrum is not assigned using a market-based approach, such as an auction, most governments and international organisations advocate conducting an impact assessment to identify the best policy option. Given the majority of countries are yet to take a decision on the use of the full 6GHz band, this presents an ideal time for policymakers to address the evidence gap and ensure their citizens get the most out of this spectrum.

– Kalvin Bahia – economist, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Intelligence Brief: In focus, metaverse and enterprise digital transformation

The dusk of 2021 is marking the dawn of a new buzzword in telecoms and technology: metaverse.

Tech giants are betting big on this upcoming trend and its potential, to the tune of Facebook rebranding itself Meta Platforms.

Here we look at whether metaverse is hyped or has the actual potential to transform the digital space. We also look at how operators are acting swiftly to play a key role in the digital transformation of enterprises.

Did you know?
There are more than 30 million results available if you type metaverse into Google.

The recent buzz around the metaverse, driven partly by Facebook’s rebrand [1], helps to explain some of the above numbers. But what exactly is the metaverse? There is no universal definition available and there are multiple versions from different lenses floating on the internet. Based on the available definitions, I have attempted to identify the key features, which encapsulate the meta-universe.

First, the metaverse is nothing new, but an expansion of the existing applications to create an immersive and real-world alike experience for the user.
An existence of life in the digital universe.
Use of immersive tools to live and experience life in a virtual world.
A decentralised universe where people have more control over their things, follow their own rules and have the power to create their own world.
Open-ended interfaces and interoperability of tools and assets in different metaverse worlds.

Some major announcements which triggered the recent buzz are listed below:

2 November: Softbank Group’s Vision Fund 2-led investor group ploughed $93 million into Sandbox, metaverse gaming.
2 November: Microsoft announced Mesh for teams, a service for meetings where you can send your digital twin.
28 October: Facebook rebrands to Meta Platforms to reflect its commitment and investment into the metaverse.

Is it overhyped?
The concept of the metaverse is not new. Author Neal Stephenson introduced it as a fictional concept in 1992 and hints are already reflected in games including Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnite. Ultimately, of course, it all depends on how you define the term.

To me, it is just a term attributed to the evolution of our existing digital world where we already have a presence in some form. The entry into the internet world marked the beginning of this digital universe journey where we are hitting new milestones with every technical advancement, and the metaverse is one such milestone envisioned. In 2020, the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic accelerated the digital evolution for many people. It’s no surprise, then, to see adoption of the term metaverse move to the fore in 2021.

But everything envisioned and possible does not necessarily shout viability. With the advent of 5G, remote surgery was once envisioned as one of the key use cases in healthcare. It is possible today, but has made its way out from the list of viable use cases due to lack of mass demand and scalability issues. Similarly, the Metaverse today also faces some unique challenges.

mobility and the comfort challenge with bulky VR headsets, expected to be used for immersive experiences.
interoperability b/w different metaverse worlds for seamless experience is a much bigger challenge.

So, why are the tech giants still trying to be the frontrunner in the race and betting big on this trend?

Well, this is the future of the digital universe. And, in the tech world, it can take years (sometimes decades) of R&D for an innovation/idea to come to life and be embraced as mainstream. Hence, it’s better for these players to get involved at the conception stage. As for the telecoms and tech industry, an opportunity waits to be unlocked, as the entire concept of the metaverse rests on the ultra-fast and high bandwidth connectivity requirements and the development of apps and devices toolkits.

And, while all this happens, in the here and now it is worth living and believing the hype.

Digital transformation of enterprises
Did you know?
GSMA Intelligence research [2] shows the average contribution of B2B services to operators’ revenue (based on reported data of selected operator groups) reached 30 per cent in 2020, up from 17 per cent in 2017. The stagnating/declining revenue from core (traditional) services makes a case for enterprise revenue to be the future driver of growth, and 5G is expected to unlock myriad enterprise opportunities for operators.

The pandemic caused a leap (by several years) in digital adoption for consumers and enterprises, resulting in a growth in demand for enterprise services offered by operators.

GSMA Intelligence’s Enterprise in Focus survey highlights security solutions and cloud services experienced the maximum growth in demand. To this end, a range of announcements from operators demonstrates they are acting swiftly to cater to this increased demand by teaming with cloud/IT vendors, and creating dedicated business units for enterprise offerings. To highlight few such announcements:

9 November: Indosat Ooredoo collaborates with Google Cloud to accelerate digital transformation across enterprises.
5 November: Microsoft and Vodafone Business partner for enterprise digital transformation of SMBs across Europe.
4 November: Fastweb and AWS partner to accelerate SME digital transformation.
1 November: Oracle and Orange collaborate for cloud-led digital transformation in West Africa.
17 October: Zain Group launches ZainTech, a dedicated unit to offer enterprise digital solutions

So what?
Even before the pandemic, 5G was touted to drive the digital transformation of enterprises and create new revenue opportunities for operators. The pandemic only accelerated this process. At the same time, new cloud native technologies and solutions in the 5G era and the need for edge solutions in support of enterprise use cases means a new vendor ecosystem is emerging beyond the traditional vendors.

One result? Co-opetition. For example, where cloud/IT vendors act as competitors of operators in offering cloud services and solutions to enterprises, 84 per cent of operators (based on survey sample data) claimed they are teaming with these cloud/IT vendors to offer complete digital solutions to enterprises.

A recent announcement from AWS about planning to sell its own private 5G network to enterprise customers corroborates the above.

What pose as challenges for operators (lack of internal expertise and resources) in the deployment of cloud native solutions is brought as an area of expertise by the cloud/IT vendors. It is, therefore natural to expect these partnerships will only bloom in the days to come. The earlier, the better for all.

After all, 5G is not a one-person show (not just about the traditional vendors), it’s about working together.

The above analysis is based on news curated by GSMA Intelligence’s team of analysts and taken from their Industry Updates feed, available here [3].

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Fireside chat: The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021

For the first time, more than half of the world’s population are using mobile internet. Coverage also continues to increase, with 94% of the population now covered by a mobile broadband network.

However, 43% of the world’s population is still not using mobile internet despite living within the footprint of a mobile broadband network, and the unconnected disproportionately live in low- and middle-income countries.

It is now time to move the conversation beyond matters of basic connectivity and address the barriers to mobile internet adoption and use, such as digital literacy, digital skills, and handsets affordability.

Kalvin Bahia, Principal Economist at GSMA Intelligence, joins Simon Kemp, CEO of Kepios, to deep dive into the findings of The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021 report, discuss the trends in global connectivity and the progress towards closing the coverage and usage gaps.

El FWA sobre 5G transformará el mercado de banda ancha

El acceso inalámbrico fijo (conocido por las siglas inglesas FWA) es uno de los casos de uso más prometedores de la 5G. ¿Por qué? Porque la 5G aporta considerables mejoras de rendimiento que podrían situar al FWA en competencia directa con las principales alternativas por cable disponibles, como la fibra hasta el hogar (FTTH) y las redes híbridas de fibra y cable (HFC). Las operadoras que quieren aumentar sus ingresos más allá de los datos para smartphones también pueden encontrar en dicha tecnología una oportunidad adicional para maximizar el valor de los activos de red ya existentes.

Si bien las soluciones de FWA están disponibles desde finales de los años 90, el interés que suscitan ha crecido mucho durante los últimos tiempos, como era de esperar. La expresión que ahora está de moda es “fibra inalámbrica” (véase el gráfico siguiente, haga clic para ampliarlo).


Fuertes impulsores de la demanda

El mercado de la banda ancha fija se ha ampliado en la mayor parte del mundo. Por ejemplo, en los países de la OCDE ha crecido en 21 millones de conexiones durante 2020. Esto se debe en parte a la realización de un mayor volumen de actividades a través de internet y a una mayor exigencia en materia de rendimiento. Así, por ejemplo, el streaming de vídeo ha sido uno de los casos de uso más populares y que supone una mayor circulación de datos: representó el 58% del tráfico mundial de internet en 2020 y el 80% si se suma a las redes sociales y las cuentas de juegos. La pandemia de Covid-19 no ha hecho más que acelerar el crecimiento en el uso de datos y ha cambiado los patrones de consumo, ya que ahora la banda ancha doméstica se utiliza habitualmente para trabajar. Así se ha puesto de manifiesto la importancia de las infraestructuras de banda ancha fija robusta y de alta velocidad, así como la necesidad de desplegarlas en el tiempo debido y de manera rentable, tanto en los países desarrollados como en los que están en vías de desarrollo.
El resultado es una demanda cada vez mayor de servicios de banda ancha fija y un abandono de las soluciones basadas en DSL, en beneficio de tecnologías que puedan ofrecer la capacidad necesaria en los lugares donde esta sea requerida. Es decir, en beneficio de la fibra, el cable y el FWA. En los países de la OCDE, los abonados a DSL han disminuido en un 21% durante los últimos cinco años, mientras que los abonados a fibra, cable y FWA han crecido en un 93%, un 26% y un 64%, respectivamente. Ericsson prevé que las conexiones FWA sobre 5G crezcan hasta más de 70 millones durante los próximos cinco años, debido a una combinación de nuevos abonados en ámbitos que hasta ahora apenas se habían explotado, principalmente en los mercados en desarrollo, y de abonados que migran desde soluciones xDSL, de cable y FTTH.

Potencial estratégico

¿Cómo se justifican estas perspectivas alcistas? Para empezar, el FWA 5G es una realidad en varios mercados del mundo. En setiembre, 65 operadoras ofrecían servicios FWA sobre 5G, mientras que otras 19 habían anunciado planes de lanzamiento. Podemos comparar dichas cifras con las 84 operadoras con redes 5G activas.

En conjunto, vemos varios casos de uso estratégico para el FWA 5G:
* Adopción inicial de la banda ancha. En los países en desarrollo, el FWA se usa para impulsar la adopción inicial de la banda ancha. El caso de Globe Telecom en Filipinas, la primera operadora del Sudeste asiático que lanza un servicio comercial de FWA 5G, es un magnífico ejemplo de ello. La propuesta de Globe Telecom, dirigida a la creciente clase media urbana del país, pretende ampliar el éxito de su FWA 4G mediante la oferta de velocidades de descarga de hasta 100 Mbps con una franquicia de datos de 2 terabytes.

* Velocidades más rápidas en zonas desatendidas. El FWA 5G puede utilizarse en países desarrollados y en vías de desarrollo como sustituto del cobre, para atender a usuarios que buscan velocidades más rápidas. La oportunidad más clara está en los mercados en los que un número significativo de hogares depende de productos xDSL que ofrecen bajas velocidades. En ellos, el FWA 5G puede posicionarse como potenciador del rendimiento, sobre todo en términos de velocidad de descarga.

* Complemento de las redes de fibra óptica. El FWA 5G puede complementar las ofertas de fibra en los países desarrollados. Así, por ejemplo, pueden usarlo las operadoras que quieren expandirse a nuevas áreas para complementar sus redes FTTH y las operadoras de telefonía móvil interesadas en competir con los proveedores de banda ancha por cable y FTTH.

* Empresas. En el segmento empresarial, el FWA 5G puede utilizarse en lugares donde las oficinas y los espacios de trabajo tienden a ser temporales (por ejemplo, festivales de música, acontecimientos deportivos, obras de construcción), a fin de proporcionar una conectividad rápida en zonas desatendidas, o como opción de reserva. El FWA 5G posee la seguridad integrada de la 5G y ahorra al cliente empresarial los costes de cableado en las instalaciones.

Reconocimiento normativo

Con el telón de fondo de la pandemia mundial, los gobiernos entienden que las conexiones de banda ancha fiables son más importantes que nunca, y están invirtiendo cantidades considerables en programas destinados a mejorar la infraestructura digital y reducir la brecha de acceso. El FWA 5G tiene un papel claro en dichos programas. Y aún más importante, ya cuenta con el reconocimiento normativo de la Unión Europea (UE), puesto que el Organismo de Reguladores Europeos de las Comunicaciones Electrónicas (ORECE, o BEREC en sus siglas inglesas) señala explícitamente que el FWA es una de las varias tecnologías que se utilizarán para construir redes de muy alta capacidad (conocidas por las siglas inglesas VHCN) en la UE.

¿Es rentable el FWA 5G?

En este contexto, la pregunta clave es: ¿Qué condiciones tienen que darse para que el FWA 5G sea una alternativa rentable a las tecnologías de cable en zonas urbanas, suburbanas y rurales?

A fin de identificar dichas condiciones, hemos desarrollado un modelo único de Coste Total de Explotación y publicaremos sus resultados en una serie de investigaciones centradas en tres escenarios:

1. Una operadora con servicios 5G ya existentes en una determinada zona despliega el FWA 5G con espectro mmWave, pero el espectro sub-6 GHz disponible es limitado.
2. Una operadora con servicios 5G ya existentes en una determinada zona despliega soluciones 5G FWA con espectro mmWave y una cantidad significativa de espectro sub-6 GHz.
3. Un proveedor de servicios de Internet despliega una red FWA 5G totalmente nueva.

Tras estudiar el mercado, ha quedado claro que dichos escenarios son representativos de los enfoques que las operadoras pueden adoptar cuando analicen el despliegue de la banda ancha fija. Los dos primeros escenarios son relevantes para las operadoras de telefonía móvil que quieren ofrecer servicio a nuevos mercados y para las operadoras convergentes que pretenden mejorar sus redes o complementarlas para ampliar su cuota de mercado.

El tercer escenario es relevante para los proveedores de servicios de Internet que quieran ampliar sus redes o desconectar sus redes de cobre y toman en consideración diferentes opciones, como por ejemplo la adquisición de espectro para ofrecer servicios FWA 5G.

El primer informe que ofrece contexto de mercado ya está publicado aquí.

No se pierda nuestro seguimiento de este tema.

– Federico Agnoletto – economista sénior, GSMA Intelligence


Intelligence Brief: FWA 5G set to bring disruption to broadband market

Fixed wireless access (FWA) is one of the most promising 5G use cases. Why? Because 5G brings considerable performance improvements which can place FWA in direct competition with the main wireline alternatives available such as fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and hybrid fibre-coax (HFC) networks. For operators looking to grow revenue beyond smartphone data, it also represents an incremental opportunity to maximise the value of existing network assets.

While FWA solutions have been available since the late 1990s, they are logically seeing a lot of renewed interest. The official buzz word is wireless fibre (see chart, below, click to enlarge).


Strong demand drivers
The fixed broadband market has been growing in most parts of the world. For instance, in OECD countries, it grew by 21 million connections in 2020. This has been driven by the shift to more activities online and rising requirements in terms of performance. Video streaming, for example, has been one of the most popular and data-intensive use cases, accounting for 58 per cent of global internet traffic in 2020 and 80 per cent when considered together with social networking and gaming accounts. The Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has only strengthened the growth in data consumption and shifted consumer patterns, with home broadband now regularly used for work. This has brought to the fore the importance of robust, high-speed fixed broadband infrastructure and the need to deploy it in a timely and cost-efficient manner, in developed and developing countries.

The result is continuously growing demand for fixed broadband services and a shift away from DSL-based solutions to the benefit of technologies which can deliver the capacity required in the places where it’s required. Namely, to the benefit of fibre, cable and FWA. In OECD countries, DSL subscribers have fallen by 21 per cent over the past five years, while fibre, cable and FWA subscribers grew by 93 per cent, 26 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively. Over the next five years, Ericsson predicts 5G FWA connections are expected to grow to more than 70 million due to a combination of new subscribers in greenfield areas, mainly in developing markets, and subscribers migrating from xDSL, cable and FTTH solutions.

Strategic potential
What justifies the bullish outlook above? For a start, 5G FWA is a reality in several markets worldwide. As of September, 65 operators offered 5G FWA services, while another 19 had announced plans to launch. This compares with 84 operators with live 5G networks.

Overall, we see several strategic use cases for 5G FWA:

First-time broadband adoption. In developing countries FWA is being used to drive first-time broadband adoption. The case of Globe Telecom in the Philippines, the first operator in Southeast Asia to launch a commercial 5G FWA service, is a great example. Globe Telecom’s proposition, targeted at the country’s growing urban middle class, aims to build on its 4G FWA success by offering download speeds of up to 100Mb/s and a data allocation of 2TB.
Faster speeds in underserved areas. 5G FWA can be used in developed and developing countries as a replacement to copper, to target users looking for faster speeds. The clearest opportunity is likely to be in markets where a significant number of households rely on xDSL products delivering low speeds, where 5G FWA can be positioned as a performance booster, particularly in terms of download speeds.
Complementing optical fibre networks. 5G FWA can be used to complement fibre offerings in developed countries for instance by operators looking to expand into new areas to complement their FTTH networks or by mobile-only operators seeking to challenge cable and FTTH broadband providers
Enterprise. In the enterprise segment 5G FWA can be used where offices and work spaces tend to be temporary (for example music festivals, sport events, construction sites), to provide fast connectivity in underserved areas or as a back-up option. 5G FWA comes with the embedded security of 5G and saves enterprise customers on premise wiring costs.

Regulatory recognition
Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, governments understand reliable broadband connections have become more important than ever and are investing considerable amounts in programmes aimed at improving digital infrastructure and reducing the access gap. There is a clear role for 5G FWA in these programmes. Perhaps more importantly, it already has regulatory acknowledgement in the European Union (EU), since the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) explicitly note FWA as one of several technologies which will be used to construct very high-capacity networks (VHCNs) in the EU.

Is 5G FWA cost-efficient?
Against this backdrop, the key question is under what conditions 5G FWA can be a cost-effective alternative to wireline technologies in urban, suburban and rural areas.

To identify these conditions, we have developed a unique TCO model and we will be publishing the results in a series of research focusing on three scenarios:

1. An operator with existing 5G services in the area deploys 5G FWA with mmWave spectrum, but with limited sub-6 GHz spectrum available.
2. An operator with existing 5G services in the area deploys 5G FWA solutions with mmWave spectrum and a significant amount of sub-6 GHz spectrum.
3. An ISP deploys a greenfield 5G FWA network.

After surveying the market, it was clear these scenarios are representative of the approaches operators can adopt when looking at fixed broadband deployment. The first two scenarios are relevant to mobile-only operators looking to service new markets, or converged operators aiming to upgrade their networks or complement them to gain market share.

The third scenario is relevant to ISPs looking to expand their networks or switch off their copper networks, and are considering different options including acquiring spectrum to offer 5G FWA services.

The first report providing some market context is now online, here [2].

Stay tuned for our follow-up research on this topic.

– Federico Agnoletto – senior economist, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


Intelligence Brief: Assessing the impact of Indian market reform

The announcement of a series of reforms [1] for the Indian telecom sector represents a game-changer for both the digital and wider economy.

While the growth of mobile broadband in India has been an incredible success story, with 4G networks available to almost the entire population and consumers paying some of the lowest prices for mobile services in the world, a combination of low ARPUs and high regulatory costs threatened the financial sustainability of the sector. This would ultimately be to the detriment of Indian consumers.

It is not an exaggeration to say the reforms are a lifeline, as many have argued. But the impacts could be far more reaching, by enabling operators to make the investments needed to upgrade networks and rollout the 5G services which could form the lifeblood of India’s digital ecosystem.

How so? A moratorium on statutory dues and rationalisation of bank guarantees provide a vital short-term boost to liquidity that the sector currently needs, especially Vodafone Idea.

But looking further ahead, these measures combined with the revised definition of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) and removal of usage charges on future spectrum acquisitions, will provide operators with improved means to invest in their networks. The extension of spectrum licences from 20 years to 30 years will also allow operators to plan for long-term investments and business strategies. This is especially important for 5G, which will require more intense investments than previous generations. Meanwhile, the removal of the additional charge for spectrum sharing, along with operators being permitted to surrender spectrum after ten years, should promote more efficient use of spectrum.

Furthermore, while the structural reforms have received most attention, the procedural reforms which were also announced should not be overlooked, particularly know your customer (KYC) changes which will permit online self-KYC. This will significantly reduce subscriber acquisition costs and make it easier for consumers to get a new mobile connection. These processes could potentially allow more lower-income and rural populations to get online, helping to close the country’s digital divide.

It is therefore not surprising the response to the reforms has been overwhelmingly positive, across all operators. As quoted in local media:

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises: “We congratulate and thank the government, who under the decisive leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has undertaken these seminal reforms to lift an industry that’s at the core of his Digital India vision. The latest reforms ensure that the industry is able to invest fearlessly and support India’s digital ambitions.”
Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO of Bharti Airtel (India and South Asia): “These fresh reforms will further boost our efforts to invest in this exciting digital future and enable us to be one of the leading players in India’s digital economy.”
Mukesh D Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries: “Telecom sector is one the prime movers of the economy and the key enabler for making India a Digital Society, I welcome the Government of India’s announcement of reforms and relief measures that will enable the industry to achieve the goals of Digital India. I thank Honourable Prime Minister for this bold initiative.”
Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group: “We commend the resolve shown by the Government of India, under PM Modi’s leadership, to find a comprehensive solution that would support a competitive and sustainable telecom sector in India. Although the sector has struggled for many years, we expect that the government’s constructive initiative announced today, along with the continued strong support of the telecom minister and finance minister, will be the beginning of a new era for India’s digital ambitions and for Vodafone Idea’s continued contribution to creating an inclusive and sustainable digital society to the benefit of all citizens.”

What next?
While the operators are right to be positive on the reforms, it’s also true that more needs to be done.

The reforms are a critical first step in helping the country to meet the Digital India vision. Now, it is important the government builds on them to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector. This will enable 5G to play a central role in India’s effort to become a $5 trillion economy.

A key area for further reform is spectrum policy [2]. Despite India’s large geography and population, operators have less spectrum than in most other countries. Yet when taking revenues into account, they have paid almost nine-times more per unit over the past ten years. Therefore, in the short-term, a key priority is for the government to release sufficient amounts of 5G spectrum in the next auction, now expected in early 2022 [3], at modest reserve prices. The market is getting ready, with many Indian consumers already owning a 5G device and all of the main operators having started network trials [4]. An enabling spectrum framework could accelerate the rollout and adoption of 5G in metro and rural areas.

In the longer-term, it is important that a full spectrum roadmap is developed, detailing what will be available when.

This will help operators to better-plan their investments. In particular, given the capacity requirements of 5G and expected demand by Indian consumers, the government will need to release around 2GHz of mid-band spectrum for 5G, in addition to mmWave spectrum [5]. Not only will this improve network quality and allow all consumers to access 5G, but it will also reduce the need for cell site densification. This will enable more efficient and environmentally-sustainable network deployment, helping operators to reduce their carbon footprint and meet their emissions targets.

Operators in India are already moving forward on ambitious green strategies [6], but support for those agendas is important given the critical importance of addressing climate change.

– Kalvin Bahia – principal economist, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


September 2021 in telecoms: it’s all about networks!

In this edition of CURATED, we look at the latest energy efficiency efforts from operators and the progress they have made. We also look at how network sunsets are helping operators with their energy efficiency goals in addition to supporting newer technology launches.

GSMA Intelligence takes on green transformation and the network sunset developments of operators

In recent years, the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) agenda has made its way to the top of the list of priorities for most organisations. Unsurprisingly, the question of “how” organisations can support efforts to tackle climate change sits at the centre of many of these ESG discussions and has driven the mobile industry to be one of the first to align itself with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

In this edition of CURATED, we look at the latest energy efficiency efforts from operators and the progress they have made. We also look at how network sunsets are helping operators with their energy efficiency goals in addition to supporting newer technology launches.

Green transformation: The way forward

Did you know?

In February 2019, the GSMA board, on behalf of the entire industry, set an ambition for the mobile industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest (Read the details here). This ambition has been supported by the launch of science-based pathway and milestone targets, with step-by-step guidance for operators to align their carbon reduction targets to the pathway.

This spurred a clear commitment from the industry; as of April 2021, operators representing 65% of the mobile market (by revenues) have committed to science-based targets for carbon reductions and net zero emissions. This is also echoed in our operator survey results: more than 50% of operators surveyed identified sustainability/energy efficiency as extremely important and one of the top network transformation priorities. (Source: Network Transformation survey 2021)

Against this backdrop, operators are identifying and adopting numerous energy efficiency measures such as use of renewable energy sources, infrastructure level improvements like new lithium-ion batteries, AI enabled sleep and wake patterns of BTS to save energy, power efficient equipment, and modernising networks through retiring old and legacy networks.

These measures are paving the way for operators to achieve their energy efficiency targets in the net zero journey, and the reason why green telecom remains in the news on a daily basis:

So what?

The growing commitments of operators towards reducing their emissions not only have positive impact on the fight against climate change, but also on operators’ OPEX. For a telecom operator, maximum energy consumption happens at the network level, mainly the RAN (ranging from 70-90% of total energy consumption), which translates into a bigger slice of network costs allocated towards energy expenses (can be as high as 90%). The energy efficiency measures implemented by operators can therefore drive significant cost savings.

But what else does the industry need to do to achieve these targets?

Operators work with multitude of partners (infrastructure vendors, third-party data centres, and outsourced business operations) to deliver their products/services. It is therefore imperative for all the partners involved to work together, and not in silos, to align and achieve the industry wide targets of net zero emissions. An overarching framework, should bring all of the partners together and align their goals and targets.

At the same time, a list of universally agreed KPIs along with their definition and reporting criteria is important to measure progress and allow an apple to apple comparison for players; the absence of properly defined KPIs reporting criteria married with erroneous data availability of energy consumed at every point in the network makes things difficult and complex.

Done right, this will be a win-win for both the global economy and telecom industry!

Related readings:

2021: the year of network sunsets

Did you know?

Network Sunsets are also one of the measures used by operators in their energy efficiency initiatives, but also with wide-ranging impacts on device sourcing, roaming agreements, VoLTE rollout, and more

IT was only around 2015-16 when operators truly started warming up to the concept of network sunsets to support their LTE launch or expansion plans. Now, as 5G goes global, 2021 is the year when we will see the concept gaining full momentum. Compared with 43 networks shut-downs in the last six years, 35 networks will be shut down alone in 2021 (completed or planned).  In the five year period from 2021-2025, a total of 69 networks from 61 operators are expected to shut down. (Data as of September 15th ).

Below, we bring you the latest announcements from operators on their network sunset plans:

What spurred the growth in network sunsets and what is the one key thing that operators need to do right to make a network sunset a success?

The decommissioning of legacy networks offers a number of benefits to operators:

  • The spectrum can be refarmed (regulations permitting) for the launch and expansion of new technologies
  • It contributes to the energy efficiency goals of operators; the standards and infrastructure requirements for newer technologies allow for less energy consumption per bit of data, like with the NR standard of 5G
  • Legacy networks usually operate in low and mid frequency bands while more than 50% of 5G launches have been in the 3.5 – 3.7 GHz bands. Therefore, this makes legacy bands an ideal candidate to enhance the coverage and capacity of 4G and 5G networks
  • Where ageing 2G/3G networks eat up a significant portion of an operator’s opex, the new infrastructure innovations in 4G and 5G, such as Open RAN, RIC, and cloud based networks are touted to drive significant opex thereby presenting a good reason to sunset legacy networks

The above listed benefits seem to make the perfect case for network sunsets. But what often gets concealed behind these benefits is the challenges involved in the process. Phasing out a network generation completely is a complex process and usually takes years to complete. Transitioning of retail customers, for example, is still manageable by offering handset subsidies and continuation of existing tariffs, but transitioning enterprise / IoT customers can be a lengthy and difficult process given the reliance on low-cost 2G devices and networks.

To ensure no hiccups for customers (retail or enterprise), it is imperative that an operator undertakes a detailed risk assessment and fully plan for all implications, including new device demands, VoLTE support, etc. The entire transition process needs to be planned carefully while ensuring timely communication with affected customers and the provision of advice and customer support to ensure the smooth transition.

Related readings:

Finally, do you know that?

All of the above analysis is based on news curated by our team of analysts, and taken from our Industry Updates feed. Visit our feed today for more of the news shaping the mobile industry of tomorrow. It comes without interference!

By Radhika Gupta, Head of Data Acquisition, GSMA Intelligence