The network of the future: At the end of the 5G rainbow (sponsored content)
About 90% of mobile service providers globally have already moved to 4G LTE, to support the exploding mobile data demands of today. But each month, consumer mobile broadband traffic continues to grow unbounded and the Internet of Things (IoT) means there will be more than 8.6 billion connections, outstripping the number of humans on the planet by 2020, according to the GSMA.
Mobile networks that have traditionally provided access as the service to consumers are now enabling connectivity to a wide range of services delivered to and from smart objects, connected vehicles, cloud applications and, of course, people (who we hope have always been smart!).
The challenge and opportunity of the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is the ecosystem of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings and all kinds of other objects that embed electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity. As a byproduct, these objects collect and exchange vast quantities of information, generating a wealth of actionable insights made available through big data and analytics.
The challenge: The network of the future is critical for IoT, requiring highly scalable capacity and optimal handling of the differing service needs of various IoT verticals. Latency, bandwidth requirements, scheduling of consumption and service priority are widely variable for these IoT applications.
The opportunity: This network platform supports a diversity of potential use cases called logical network slices, which will enable optimized network experiences to be made available to specific services taking the idea of virtualization as applied to the data center in the development of cloud services and applying it to the radio network. Thus, slices of the radio network can be associated with specific services and can be logically applied to vertical segments for IoT/M2M purposes.
The 5G network slices allow the same infrastructure to address things such as IoT data collection, mission-critical real-time inter-vehicle control interaction and medical information or emergency and government services. This transition also sets the stage to leverage traditional enterprise features and applications such as skills based routing to tie IoT capabilities back into more personal, more intelligent responses. To do this, the network service architecture needs to be secure, scalable and elastic (carrier-grade) to match these expectations.
Today’s IoT is often thought of as simple elements of home automation or fitness monitors that are Wi-Fi-based. The communication services or experiences associated with these applications are typically implemented Over the Top (OTT) of broadband connections on a “best efforts” basis. For early adopters and un-stressed networks this is a satisfactory solution.
The mobile cloud–based IoT of 2020 will be embedded in the critical infrastructure of smart automobiles, smart healthcare, smart power distribution and smart cities. The integration of the service platform with the connectivity solution will be a key area of focus for the mobile network provider.
The role of the network provider evolves
In the 5G network, voice, video and messaging are embedded in a vehicle, incorporated into a smart home infrastructure or offered through a wearable.
Generally, the network provider will continue to host the service, but in specific enterprise use cases, there is no reason why the service cannot be hosted in the enterprise cloud. Today 4G LTE prioritizes carrier voice traffic (QoS implementation). With network slices and increased granularity of policy control, the 5G networks will be able to offer a wide variety of QoS to different network consumers.
We face a future where next-generation 5G networks enabling IoT will become central to everything that we do. The network provider will be just one of the providers of communications services in this world, and in many cases will use the slicing technologies of 5G to allow the Network as a Service (NaaS) to be directly monetized.