MWC23: Risk and Reward

March 1, 2023

Written by Alex Lawrence

MWC23 has featured meetings, interviews and encounters with a wide variety of people across the telecoms environment. It was surprising to see how, despite very different backgrounds, there were a few themes that were top of mind as they look to the longer term. This piece outlines a few that stood out, and more will be covered in other articles. In each case, 6GWorld will follow up with more in-depth analyses once the dust has settled.

Surprisingly, the status or desirability of 5G Standalone was fairly controversial.

A source who requested anonymity shared the story of a large European MNO who has a full SA core ready to go, but it hasn’t been switched on due to concerns that there is no clear business case for it in practice. This gave a surprising reinforcement to a more general comment from ETSI that, for mobile companies who are still operating and monetising in the ways they always have done, a 4G core with the added bonuses that a 5G RAN can bring may well be enough and avoids the need for the complexity of implementing the core. As a result, we are seeing a growing gap between the standards being created and the deployment of networks using that standard.

On the other hand Aayush Bhatnagar of Jio Platforms mentioned in passing the hundreds of cities in India where Jio had deployed 5G Standalone in a matter of months. Of course Jio is hardly overburdened with legacy equipment, but they did start with 4G. However, both Bhatnagar and AT&T’s SVP Igal Elbaz emphasised that the hoped-for commercial benefits from 5G and, in time, 5G Advanced depend upon a Standalone core network.

Ultimately this is likely to come down to a question of mindset and philosophy for individual operators. Finances and operational considerations will affect the speed of change, but fundamentally it seems to be a question of how each operator sees its role – either to be the best data transportation platform possible or to become something new. There are risks in either course.

There are, of course, ways to reduce the risk of introducing new services. Kimberly Parsons-Trommler, Head of Thinknet 6G, discussed the work they are doing with other industries to understand their needs beyond 5G. The key take-away is that most other industries are much less concerned about speeds, latency or other KPIs that the telecoms industry cares about – their overwhelming focus is on reliability and security. Above all, they’d like to be involved in the development of the technology, which would in itself create a ready market for the services as they roll out.

Kalyan Kumar, Chief Product Officer at HCLSoftware had a slightly different take on how to reduce operator risk. Speaking of evolutions in the next few years he forecast “the way people buy infrastructure, software and capability will move more and more towards an as-a-service and outcome model rather than selling on CAPEX.”

In turn the operators will change their model for how they sell to the customer, whether business or consumer, he proposed. “There will be a big play of what I call ‘software-plus’ services for the telco – yes, offer software but bring some outcome or services capability to drive value.”

That value would be exposed through exposing network capabilities, whether through services, APIs or SDKs.

Whether the market exposes network capabilities, involves end users, or both then that opens the door for service co-creation and active engagement with an ecosystem of enablers in a way which has not previously been possible. However, telecoms providers will need to adapt their operations, processes and incentives to accommodate these different approaches.

Repeatedly people referred to the skills that need to be brought within the industry as a whole, and the expertise within operators in particular, to make this work. However, the industry faces some substantial challenges in that regard which won’t change without some very deft work to alter perceptions of the industry as a whole, the telecoms providers, and the work they do.

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