opinion


4G to 5G: avoiding the gap of disappointment

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Danny Itzigsohn, Senior Director, Technology & Strategy at TEOCO, takes a look at what can be done to increase the chances of 5G delivering on its promises.

Great excitement has surrounded the switching on of live 5G networks around the world; from South Korea, to the UK through to the US, many operators have reached a milestone moment in their 5G journeys. But while these advancements are a step in the right direction on the road to full, commercial, interoperable 5G, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Today’s 5G is non-standalone, which means that it relies on both the 4G core as well as the 4G RAN to function. In that sense, 5G today is more of a 4G-5G hybrid (what is called a NSA – Non-Stand Alone 5G implementation), and it will continue to be for some time yet. 5G is currently deployed mainly in densified “islands” of limited coverage and sometimes leverages 4G connections to achieve improved throughput (Dual Connectivity). As soon as mobile users move out of these “coverage islands”, they fall back onto 4G. As a result, mobile subscribers’ 5G experience could be largely dictated by their experienced Quality of Service (QoS) while on 4G, especially as the human mind is more likely to remember a negative experience over a positive one. For operators, this can present a challenge: How to maintain subscriber experience in a hybrid 4G/5G world?

Analytics equals success

One of the biggest challenges for operators when assuring their networks is visibility – or lack thereof. As with everything in life, you don’t know what you can’t see. For operators, a lack of network or service visibility could lead to degradations caused by faults or performance issues going undetected for some time. Maintaining consumer confidence in 4G and 5G service quality is critical to all operators – they simply can’t afford to allow network glitches to undermine network and service QoS or Quality of Experience (QoE). Consumers are becoming more demanding, and they’re not afraid to switch providers should they find their experience wanting. This has stark consequences for all operators looking to achieve 5G ROI by effectively monetizing early adopters.

To do so, operators must ensure they can monitor both 5G and 4G in a holistic manner to maximise QoS across both. We are still in the early days of 5G deployments. This means that 5G today exists in islands, or pockets, whereby only small geographical areas benefit from its enhanced broadband capabilities. But industry marketing will have consumers think otherwise. For this reason, it is critical that operators offering “5G services” are able to manage QoS and QoE as subscribers move between 4G and 5G. Subscribers will expect nothing more than a seamless experience as they move between 4G and 5G; failure to manage that could have a serious impact on 5G adoption and operator churn rates.

Operators must therefore have a crystal-clear picture of their network and services using advanced analytics, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to understand the events, trends and outliers occurring across the network and its services. Most importantly, they must move from a reactive to a proactive and predictive approach, whereby they are able to anticipate service degradations or events before they have even impacted the subscriber experience. In addition to this, operators must apply advanced analytics in a correlative fashion to ensure they understand what is occurring across both 4G and 5G networks. This will become particularly important as data volumes associated with 5G grow drastically; 5G brings with it a significant increase in monitoring complexity, which will not only make it more difficult to identify network degradations, but will also make their impact on subscriber experience more challenging to address. By leveraging advanced analytics to predict service degradations, and understand outage and event patterns, operators will be better positioned to monitor QoS closely across both 5G and 4G networks.

Bridging the gap in a network slicing world

Advanced analytics will also prove particularly important in helping operators harness the power of network slicing. Network slicing is set to make the business of QoS monitoring even more challenging. In a network slicing world, different applications, services and end-users have varying network requirements challenging the underlying network’s ability to address all of them efficiently. Take for example connected cars: They will rely on ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC) for assisted driving and road safety slices and on mIOT slices for telematics; while passengers streaming UHD videos will require enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for infotainment services. Taking the example of telematics services to connected commercial vehicles; it’s critical that these enjoy continuous connectivity through both the 5G and 4G covered areas. Failure to assure the required service availability could have significant repercussions on road safety and fleet operation’s efficiency. Operators must therefore use advanced analytics to ensure real time optimal subscriber experience on a per-slice and service basis. That means understanding what is happening across the entire network, but at slice-level too, and correlating the information gathered to guarantee QoS for each application or service.

Subscribers are becoming increasingly demanding—they simply won’t tolerate events that impact their QoS, not even slightly. Operators need to assure experience in real time for both their 5G and 4G subscribers; those who have invested in 5G handsets will expect a 5G-level experience, while those who remain on 4G will accept no disruption to their existing service. Managing this can be a tough balancing act and require operators to plan ahead and think carefully about the impact their new 5G networks will have on their existing infrastructure and services.

5G will undoubtedly revolutionize our digital lives, and huge opportunities are attached to this next wireless generation. But operators will only capitalize on these opportunities if they harness the right tools that will see them capable of guaranteeing QoS, and ultimately will see them succeed today, and tomorrow.

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