Ericsson commissioned a detailed survey of 100 technology leaders from operators in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Central and Latin America with the aim to learn more about operators’ expectations, use cases and plans for 5G. Respondents included COOs, CTOs and CIOs, as well as heads of network operations, network innovation and network development.
Ericsson’s exclusive survey holds up a mirror to 5G – and reveals that objects in the future are closer than they appear.
Based on Ericsson Mobility Report, by 2021, it is estimated that there will be 28 billion connected devices globally – close to 16 billion of which will be part of the Internet of Things. 5G communication technology, along with the continued development of 4G, will be the foundation for enabling these connections and helping realise the full potential of the Networked Society.
Standardisation efforts for 5G have just begun and are expected to be completed by 2020. However, many operators around the world have started planning for 5G adoption and are taking initial steps toward vendor selection and early trials.
The results of this research include:
5G: a real game-changer
Almost all (95 percent) of the respondents in the survey agreed that 5G supports the ongoing influx of connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Glenn Laxdal, CTO and head of strategy for region North American at Ericsson, this is because 5G will increase network capacity, which will be required to handle the traffic generated by the expected 28 billion connected devices in 2021. In addition, 5G will decrease the energy requirements for devices, enabling battery life of up to 10 years in some cases. This will significantly reduce maintenance costs, making large IoT installations more practical and cost-effective.
Laxdal highlights: “Ninety-two percent of respondents agreed that 5G paves the way for the emergence of new technologies. One such example is haptic feedback, which brings the sense of touch to a user interface. This could enable someone controlling a remote robot, for example, to “feel” objects in the robot’s environment in real time in order to avoid collisions. The near-zero latency of 5G enables the quick reaction times that make this possible. Haptic feedback will enable new use cases such as remote surgery, and it will greatly improve the safety and effectiveness of remote robot or drone operation.”
Tarek Saadi, head of Ericsson GCC and Pakistan confirms that operators in GCC also agree 5G will play a fundamental role in the Internet of Things, saying: “In the Middle East operators are working towards increased network capacity, improved user experience and better monetisation of new and current services. The journey to drive the connected revolution towards LTE-A, IOT, Smart Cities and 5G has been embarked upon by many industry players in the region.”
A large majority of respondents (86 percent) believed that 5G enables a wider range of services than any network has done before, and 86 percent also believed that 5G will enable new disruptive business models and technology in industries.
Laxdal continues: “The introduction of 5G will allow operators to become more flexible and efficient by moving from a rigid network to an agile one that can meet many diverse needs with new, as-a-service business models using network slicing. A network slice conceptually decouples a network from the underlying physical infrastructure, thereby providing individual, isolated and elastic virtual networks on demand, with unique defined characteristics. To implement network slicing, technologies like software-defined networking and Network Functions Virtualisation, as well as management and orchestration processes, will have to work in harmony with a flexible radio-access network that can adapt to different requirements and deployment models.”
Overall, there is an expectation that 5G will be an innovation platform that provides the ability to bring new services to market quickly. This will enable operators to take advantage of market opportunities and dynamically meet changing consumer and business needs.
These findings explain why most of the executives surveyed (87 percent) agreed with the statement: “5G will be a real game-changer.”
5G use cases
Operators expect 5G to bring opportunities in the areas of IoT, broadband everywhere and anytime, critical control of remote devices, smart vehicles and transportation infrastructure, and media everywhere.
In the 5G era, operators’ traditional businesses will evolve and grow as many industries are transformed by new capabilities.
When respondents were asked about the most important potential 5G use cases for their organisations, mobile broadband topped the list, followed by public safety and health care:
• 64 percent – mobile broadband
• 41 percent – public safety
• 38 percent – remote operations in health care
• 36 percent – real-time remote control
• 35 percent – smart buildings
• 32 percent – smart cities.
While operators mostly agreed on important use cases, there was regional disagreement about whether 5G use cases will be primarily consumer-driven (as 4G/LTE was by smartphones) or if 5G will be primarily driven by business needs. A small majority of European and North American operators believed 5G will be more consumer-driven, while a similar majority in Asia Pacific and Central and Latin America expected 5G to be more business-driven. Although many of the new 5G use cases currently in the spotlight are more industrial in nature, it will also be important to maintain focus on consumer needs.
According to the survey, operators in Europe and Asia Pacific  plan to split their attention between 4G and 5G over the next five years, while it appears that North American operators are looking ahead to 5G and beyond.
Saadi adds: “Many operators have already begun preparing for this new technology in the Middle East planning for trials. Operators are currently exploring is which requirements identified for 5G can be enabled by their networks and what they need to plan for but one thing is certain, the ambition to impellent 5G in the Middle east and GCC in specific has been set high.”
Most respondents worldwide – 74 percent – have plans to roll out 5G at some point, but not all have timelines for those plans. North American operators lead the way, with 90 percent having plans in place to roll out 5G, followed by 80 percent in Central and Latin America, and 67 percent in both Europe and Asia Pacific. Most respondents believed their own trials would begin between 2017 and 2018, with a smaller spike in 2020.
Across all regions, there were high expectations for commercial deployment of 5G before 2020, when the standards are expected to be finalized. More than half of North American respondents expected their organization to have critical mass adoption in 2018. And in all other regions, at least half of respondents expected critical mass adoption by 2020.
Ericsson predicts that there will be 150 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2021– and that time is fast approaching. To capture the full value of 5G, operators around the world are aggressively pursuing 5G rollout plans – even before standards are finalised – to keep up with demand for low latency, higher performance, capacity, density and security.
The journey to 5G will be unlike any previous network technology evolution. Now is the time for operators to engage a trusted partner with the knowledge, expertise and experience to guide them through this critical transformation.