In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum

Service providers differ on the importance of moving fast to 5G, a difference that was true when some had reasons for going slower on 4G to maximize the value of 3G investments. There are, to be sure, reasons to develop the full set of standards, rather than portions of the standard that can be put to use right away.

In large part, differences in perspective on the need for faster settings of standards on air interface relate to the perceived value of pre-5G, for human users, “soon,” rather than the perceived value of full 5G for non-human use cases, in several years.

That, in turn, reflects expected pre-5G revenue opportunities related to the value of mobile bandwidth for human users, in advance of full standards being set. Simply put, some service providers see clear ways to profit from moving fast on pre-5G, to serve existing customers, rather than waiting a few years.

Standards always are contentious, as any new standard–no matter how valuable–offers potential gain for some; losses for others. That seems to be the case for 5G NR decisions, where calls to “slow down and get it right” are opposed by other participants who are moving faster and need some stability now to deploy platforms.

That is not to deny either of the technology viewpoints, only to note that pre-5G deployment speed leads, in large part, to the difference in perspective. Some service providers, clearly seeing enhanced mobile broadband as a big opportunity with scale implications, do not mind moving fast, and now, to grow those markets. Others, with reasons for more-deliberate strategies, emphasize the elements of 5G standards that speak to new potential markets.

It is worth noting that participants also vary on the strategic value of 4G, compared to 5G. In some markets, it is logical to emphasize reaping the value of 4G (amortizing the investment) before moving too fast to 5G (and postponing for some time the next round of capital investment).

It is rational to argue that 4G platform capabilities are going to increase, offering many of the multi-gigabit speeds and lower latency performance that will define 5G, enabling innovations for human and machine users, as well as fixed wireless.

That latter point is important. In many markets, there is no substantial new fixed wireless opportunity to pursue. In many markets, mobility remains the key revenue opportunity, as demand for fixed access is relatively limited. In other markets, enough capable fixed network infrastructure exists to foreclose a big fixed wireless opportunity.

In yet other cases, current upgrade plans already are in motion, emphasizing fiber to the premises.

Separately, full 5G standards will include some elements of network functions virtualization that some carriers have deployed faster than others. Again, a difference in business perspective exists. Some might want to maximize the NFV positions they already have deployed, and gain a year or two advantage, compared to waiting for full standards.

Some might want to wait for full network virtualization standards to support end-to-end network slicing, to support different quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) requirements (bandwidth, latency, and reliability) on a single physical network.

Again, there are business implications. Full 5G is going to do a better job where it comes to use cases not involving humans. Arguably, it will be easier to create virtual private networks with business models based on granular bandwidth, QoS and value-added services.

But some suppliers will see an chance to take advantage of some of those opportunities already, without waiting for full 5G standards.

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