As more people worked remotely during the early stages of the pandemic, operators shifted investment to fixed infrastructure underpinning home broadband connections.
Looking to 2022, we’ll see renewed focus on the growth of 4G and time spent on evaluating the most pragmatic ways to add capacity and capability into 5G deployment plans. We see three major trends in the market for the coming year.
Trend 1: Determining a Strategy to Simplify 5G Rollouts
Operators across the globe are seeking ways to monetize their networks. We will see the first layer of 5G gain traction mainly in cities with 5G expected to contribute US$5 trillion to the global economy by 2025. In fact, mobile operators in Korea have already made 5G profitable according to consulting firm Omdia. Accounting for 11% of total base stations in Korea, more than 162,000 5G base stations are deployed across the country, where the number of 5G subscribers had surpassed 17.8 million before the end of 2021.
Pandemic trends spurred by faster mobile speeds will continue to grow. For example, we will see 5G takes mobile gaming to a new level. In a recent OpenSignal report on Japan’s 5G Experience, SoftBank users enjoy the best multiplayer mobile gaming experience in Japan when connected to 5G. As remote workstyles go mainstream, it will also drive more 5G applications to support new digital experiences in work and education. The spectrum used for such widespread applications and services will require densification and operators will seek technology that enables local coverage.
We may also see business model innovation coming from industries like healthcare or logistics, for example. This is no surprise given AWS recently launched a new managed service that helps enterprises set up and scale private 5G mobile networks in their facilities in days instead of months. This trend may continue as vertical application specialists decide to purchase a slice of the 5G network to be rebranded and sold as a niche industry solution for their customers.
Trend 2: Uncovering Ways to Maximize Existing Infrastructure
The race to 5G has become as much about civil engineering as it is about technology. In fact, we are hearing from customers that the telecommunications industry perceives 5G to be a major civil engineering program. With 5G there are new frequencies, meaning new equipment will have to be deployed on top of already crowded towers. Operators face significant challenges as this combination of heavier 4G and 5G equipment puts phone masts under additional strain.
Mobile operators are looking for ways to maximize use of their current infrastructure while reducing power consumption. The goal is ultimately to minimize the need to build new towers or add structurally to existing ones.
To address this, engineers will need to combine 5G active antennas with passive base station antennas already used in the legacy cellular networks. Operators will seek technologies that optimize their tower space and wind loading while combining multiple antennas under one radio. More network operators may turn to neutral host providers to reduce footprint, cost, and increase energy efficiency.
Looking ahead, operators will also continue to ramp up investments in greener technologies, such as investigating how much power is used to manufacture 5G components. This might include additional green commitments based on concerns around energy storage, new energy usage and heat dissipation. Energy-efficient equipment, renewable electricity, and new ways to power the network will continue to be measured as operators aim to reduce their carbon footprints.
Being green has never been more important in an increasingly 5G world, especially as network operators could face significant growth in their energy bills. As operators turn to multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) techniques for 5G readiness, they could potentially consume 2.5-3 times more energy than previous systems. This means that in the foreseeable future, the millions of cell sites at the heart of the 5G network will require more power than their Long Term Evolution (LTE) predecessors.
Although passive antenna solutions draw very little power and use less energy to manufacture, operators will become more concerned about power consumption in 2022 as they deploy more massive MIMO antennas for urban and suburban areas.
Furthermore, C-band spectrum has only recently been allocated, so operators have yet the time to finetune C-band networks for commercial use, but as they do, power consumption will loom larger as a key factor to address. In the future, we may see cloud-native network management software using analytics to collect data from devices in the field. This could help to identify looming network performance problems before they occur.
Trend 3: Seeking Ways to Support O-RAN
Before O-RAN becomes a core 5G technology, there is still plenty of work to be done around interoperability between vendors. We expect to see further commitments in promoting network architecture and industry standards in 2022.
The focus will be on long term planning with specific emphasis on O-RAN as a concept for 4G as operators consider new strategies on how new standards will play out in 5G rollouts.
While Japan’s largest telco claims to have built a 5G network based on O-RAN fundamentals, the journey towards 5G continues to be fragmented, with markets like Australia, China, and Singapore already striving to be global 5G leaders, while other developing economies like India and Indonesia still see much room for 4G growth. Although 5G is still in its infancy, the potential of 5G services will be incremental for APAC’s future, with some countries having launched some form of commercial 5G services, and others actively planning 5G launches.
Preparing Outdoor Wireless Networks for the Future
This will be a year of building experience in planning and deploying 5G networks. Vendors who can help simplify 5G rollouts and maximize previous investments will be crucial to driving 5G growth for network operators in APAC. For example, active/passive hybrid antennas can reduce tower loading and operational costs. Simplified base station and radio connections speed deployments and reduce labor costs. Power conditioning equipment can cut power consumption. In addition, telecom equipment vendors will be expected to deliver network-agnostic solutions, so their customers have more flexibility on deployment options.
Article by Femi Oshiga, VP Sales, Service Providers, MEA & APAC (ex Japan), CommScope