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Mobile Communications December 2022/January 2023 Viewpoints

2022: The Year in Review

By Gary Eastwood

Overview

Deployment of 5G networks continued apace in 2022 with the long-awaited completion of 3GPP‑Release 17 specifications, which focused—among focusing on other specifics—on enhanced ultrareliable, low-latency communication, private networks, and spectrum expansion. While initial 5G deployments were of Non‑Standalone Architecture—a hybrid of 4G LTE and 5G radio-access network—operators focused more on deploying 5G Standalone Architecture networks during the year. 5G SA networks include a 5G RAN and a cloud-native 5G core, which enables essential 5G tasks such as reduced latency, improved network performance, and centralized network management. Some operators also introduced software-defined networking, including Vodafone, which upgraded its global transport network using software-defined networking to increase capacity, scalability, and flexibility. Private networking also experienced significant growth in 2022, enabled by network slicing that guarantees distinct slices of bandwidth and capacity to specific services, organizations, locations, or campuses. Network slicing also enables the 5G Service-Based Architecture, which is a significant step forward over 4G because it allows a set of Network Functions that can operate independently from one another and are free from hardware dependencies. Nonterrestrial 5G networks also came to the fore during the year, with the launch of multiple low‑Earth-orbit satellites that can link to 4G and 5G mobile devices directly. The shipping industry is embracing satellite-based networks to maintain connectivity at sea, where terrestrial coverage is negligible. The digital transformation of shipping is also advancing onshore, with several ports announcing significant 5G smart-port projects and deployments. As 5G advances, eyes are also already turning to 6G, with Samsung outlining its 6G vision during the year.

The year 2023 will see more 5G Standalone (SA) deployments. With the move to 5G SA, new enterprise-focused use cases such as smart factories, massive Internet of Things (IoT), smart transportation, banking, and remote health care will come to the fore. In remote areas, 5G initiatives such as fixed wireless broadband and Open RAN will offer the next generation of connectivity. Private networks will drive 5G demand in 2023 as enterprises seek guaranteed bandwidth, capacity, speed, and security. 5G will also drive the monetization of industrial IoT. Alongside increased automation, IoT will allow businesses to streamline processes and boost efficiency. Advances in AI will play a central role in 5G and connectivity capabilities, on two fronts. The real-time, dynamically orchestrated 5G network requires AI‑based management to ensure maintenance of network and service performance. Second, AI will collect, process, and analyze the vast amounts of data that 5G networks and IoT sensors will generate for enterprises. Sustainability will also move up the telecom agenda as energy costs rise. The GSMA estimates that 15% to 40% of the telecoms industry's operating expenditure went for energy consumption in 2021. Expect a greater focus on more energy-efficient 5G technologies in 2023.

Key Developments Identified by SBI in 2022

  • Clash over Potential C‑Band 5G Interference Issues. A public clash between cellular companies and aircraft operators over C‑band 5G demonstrates the difficulties of reallocating wireless spectrum while ensuring new wireless use cases do not interfere with legacy use cases. The situation highlights the need for government rulemaking to lay a stable foundation for the continuing evolution of wireless technologies and associated applications.
  • Open RAN's Pros and Cons. Open RAN remains a hot topic for the telecoms industry, but a number of challenges remain—namely, about security, costs, and the performance of existing silicon. The technology is also still reliant on the dominant network-equipment suppliers and on Intel silicon—an awkward situation given that the whole concept of Open RAN is to boost competition and innovation.
  • Wireless Technology in Warfare and Defense. Recent global events and the information war that is waging have brought the security implications of wireless technologies into sharp focus. Developments have led both NATO and the US Department of Defense to advise about their inclusion in future talks about the standardization and development of 5G technologies for military and defense applications.
  • Network Slicing. Network slicing creates virtual and independent logical networks within a physical network infrastructure. The approach enables new and innovative services and use cases with a basis in 5G stand-alone networks. In the United Kingdom, Vodafone and Ericsson recently tested dynamic network slicing for a virtual-reality retail use case with on‑demand quality of service and guaranteed bandwidth.
  • Samsung's 6G Vision. Most operators are still in the early stages of deploying 5G, but interest is already growing in 6G technologies, with some stakeholders speculating that such networks could be available by 2030. Samsung has historically played a significant role in developing new mobile technologies, and it is continuing that practice with the publication of a white paper outlining its vision for 6G.
  • Google in 5G Private-Networking Market. Google has launched a turnkey 5G private-networking offering that puts it into direct competition with AWS and Microsoft and that is likely to shake up the entire enterprise-wireless-networking ecosystem. 5G private networks for enterprises offer significant advantages over Wi‑Fi connectivity—from optimized quality of service (QoS) and latency to tighter security. The battle for this potentially huge market has only just begun.
  • Vodafone's Global Network with Software-Defined Networking. During July 2022, Vodafone performed a global upgrade of its transport network using software-defined networking, which will increase capacity, scalability, and flexibility by enabling the delivery of bandwidth according to demand. This upgrade represents the next step in the evolution of telecommunications networks as demand for capacity grows and 5G deployments continue to go live.
  • A Global 5G‑Satellite Network for All. The race to develop global 5G nonterrestrial networks to link 4G and 5G mobile devices directly with low‑Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites has been heating up recently. LEO satellites have been in use for some time to provide connectivity to remote areas, but this new approach aims to develop a global 5G‑satellite hybrid network for all types of mobile devices.
  • Rapid Growth of Private 5G Networks. Private networks are not new. Private 4G long-term-evolution (LTE) networks have enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, but 5G is set to supercharge their deployment during the next few years with its promise of ultrareliability, high speeds, and low latency. Such private networks will transform the digital environment in nearly every industry vertical.
  • The 5G Smart-Port Revolution. As 5G deployments become more common, smart ports are becoming one of the first sectors to benefit from the low-latency, ultrareliable, high-speed capabilities of 5G networks, with greater safety and efficiency the low‑hanging fruit among the benefits. With increasing attention on supply-chain resilience, transport and logistics operations are in line for such technology upgrades.

Areas to Monitor Highlighted by SBI in 2022

Macro/Dynamic Issues (Frequently Featured)

  • Incremental versus Revolutionary 5G

    Deployment strategies for 5G can cause significant changes to business opportunities. Vendors may choose to deploy 5G services rapidly by using 4G core networks and enabling incremental improvements. Alternatively, developers may pursue stand-alone 5G implementations that enable a wide range of disruptive applications.

  • Internet of Things

    The IoT is increasingly in use to track individual cargo and vehicles, monitor traffic and pollution in smart cities, manage crops and climate change, and serve in countless other use cases. As the amount of data collected by remote IoT sensors grows exponentially, AI will become an increasingly integral component of IoT projects in order to process and analyze huge volumes of data.

  • Network Automation and AI

    5G presents a dynamic, disaggregated, virtualized environment, which requires automated orchestration that utilizes AI to ensure meeting of the required network performance and service level requirements. Doing so will require active monitoring and automated network management, in combination with advanced AI, to fulfill the real potential of 5G.

  • Regulation to Spur Deployment

    Despite the proliferation of 5G deployments, the number of connections is still likely to account for only 20% of total connections in Europe in 2023. In order to speed up 5G rollout, regulators and governments need to take a light touch to 5G regulations, while providing incentives such as reduced spectrum fees and lower barriers to entry to accelerate 5G adoption.

Micro/Semi-Stable Issues (Sometimes Featured)

  • Standards Development

    Standardization efforts often become convoluted as competing industry consortiums, technology ideologies, and even geopolitical interests exert their influence. The complex standardization of 5G protocols and technologies is no different. 3GPP is the only standardization body that every stakeholder participates in and liaises with. This level of continued cooperation will be essential for the commercialization of 5G and the IoT.

  • Industry 4.0

    5G will enable a wide range of solutions for Industry 4.0, which leverages machines, parts, and services to create self-sufficient, efficient, agile systems. Support of this end will require a diversification of the equipment-system ecosystem enabled by open-networking and open-source initiatives such as the O‑RAN (Open‑RAN) alliance, which is actively enabling a wider supplier ecosystem with defined architectures and standards to ensure interoperability.

  • Edge Computing

    Edge computing and 5G are inextricably linked. With significantly faster speeds than 4G, 5G will enhance edge-computing applications by reducing latency to near zero and will help not only to fulfill the promise of 5G use cases, such as autonomous vehicles and smart-city traffic management, but also to create new ones. In the meantime, operators are likely to mix 4G and edge computing to create good‑enough capabilities.

  • Base Stations in the Sky

    Several companies are focusing on building out a hybrid 5G‑satellite network and have already launched large numbers of LEO satellites. The European Union–funded Satellite and Terrestrial Network for 5G project has helped to develop solutions that can integrate a standard commercially available 5G core network into a live satellite network. Recently the 3GPP approved Release 17 of the 5G specification, which adds support for satellite-driven Nonterrestrial Networks. The aim is for satellites to connect directly to 5G‑enabled devices.

  • Internet of Everything

    Some stakeholders imagine a world beyond the Internet of Things, where all aspects of daily life—including people and processes—connect to digital ecosystems. Optimists say that only 1% of Internet of Everything objects are connected today. Significant cost reductions in electronics manufacturing are necessary to increase this percentage.

  • Remote Automation

    Service providers and carmakers seem enthusiastic about the possibilities of cellular services that would enable cloud-based machine automation and machine-to-machine communications. Possibilities include vehicle-to-everything communications that might supplement or enable driverless cars, autonomous drones, and robots. The vast volumes of data that 5G will create and the complexity of 5G networks will require advanced automation in place.

Look for These Developments in 2023

  • 5G stand-alone networks. The continued deployment of 5G SA networks will start to deliver the true potential of 5G. So far, owners of 5G devices consider them to be more of the same, but faster. 5G SA will start to unlock use cases such as end‑to‑end network slicing that will provide specific organizations, locations, or services with guaranteed performance, optimized security, and elastic on‑demand capacity.
  • AI and automation. A disaggregated, software-defined, virtualized, dynamically orchestrated 5G network requires advanced AI to ensure delivery of services with guaranteed QoS and automatic discovery and self-repair of network issues that cause service-performance disruption before impacts to the end user. Security will increasingly rely on AI to spot suspicious traffic and patterns.
  • Diversified 5G ecosystem. Until now, operators have driven the deployment and adoption of 5G services. But as 5G deployments advance, and 5G SA networks proliferate, the delivery of innovative consumer and enterprise-focused use cases and digital services will create a burgeoning supplier and provider ecosystem. Here, standardization must ensure interoperability.
  • 6G into the conversation. 6G operates in the terahertz frequency bands (which, for reasons of simplicity, the industry considers to be above 100 gigahertz) and has the potential to build on the advances that will be made by 5G SA growth. Although 6G's true benefits remain nebulous, many large tech companies and research institutions have already developed 6G projects and experimented with 6G's potential, and they will continue to do so in the coming year.