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Mobile World Congress 2024: An exciting halftime show for 5G in North America

  • In advanced markets, there is an emphasis on 5G revenue generation shifting to smartphones and fixed wireless access as well as premium experiences. 
  • There is a multifaceted network evolution ahead that integrates standalone architecture, Open RAN, cloud infrastructure, and 5G Advanced.  

Head of 5G Marketing North America

Documentary, photography

Head of 5G Marketing North America

Head of 5G Marketing North America

As Mobile World Congress 2024 has just finished, this is a summary of impressions about a show halfway into the 5G deployment cycle. I want to present the ten key takeaways I brought home from this year's show.

What is new?

The main impressions are the focus on revenue growth and the network platform evolution moving into action mode on multiple fronts. 

Why it matters?

The second half of the 5G cycle can bring more variety on both fronts and be an action-filled period. Not a lift-and-coast until 6G comes around.

Successes in the first half

The network coverage builds in advanced markets have focused on massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) in the mid-band spectrum and non-standalone architecture (NSA). A platform enhancing mobile broadband to smartphones and fixed wireless redefining the fixed broadband strategies for consumers and businesses. 

The world's first 5G network for fixed wireless access (FWA) went live in October 2018, and the first for mobile 5G went live in April 2019. The metrics that stood out in 2023 are that 5G connects 62 percent of all North American mobile subscriptions. FWA captured all fixed broadband net adds, and the North American mobile traffic growth in 2023 alone (3 EB/month) is on par with the total amount of mobile traffic in 2019.

1. Two strategic 5G choices for enterprises

5G connectivity for large enterprises has become a choice between a slice of the existing public 5G network or a build of a private 5G network to serve specific use places. 

Both are novel to enterprises but are now two solid options for adoption and further innovation. 

2. Corporate IT redefines hybrid work experiences

Laptops and tablets can soon be managed by corporate IT in a way that satisfies both employees’ expectations of always-on connectivity everywhere and the secure management of all devices in an enterprise. 

Virtual private networks over 5G, with solutions defined from the IT end of the equation, are a big game changer. Simplification is at the core of this evolution.

3. One broadcast innovation tells a big story

Sony demonstrated an innovation built on two critical advancements. First, on the device side, they have integrated a five-inch screen and a 5G modem to connect professional video cameras to a slice of a 5G network.

Second, the broadcast production end allows the producer to dynamically request which camera to connect to the slice through a network via an open network API. 

If you view network slices and open APIs as two sides of the same coin, you will see clear opportunities for revolutionary experiences.

4. Applications already care about connectivity

Few clearly know which type of slices we should target and how many we need. If you dive into how application developers already think when optimizing for layer 4 networking and transmission control protocol/ user datagram protocol (TCP/UDP), there is an opportunity to extend this into a few precise slices. 

Giving applications the ability to connect to more than one network slice within an application is a new opportunity introduced with open network APIs. 

5. FWA ecosystem momentum

The momentum in the fixed wireless access (FWA)/ wireless wide area network (WWAN) ecosystem moves beyond indoor customer premises equipment (CPE). Exciting new developments are terminal variety and the introduction of 5G reduced capability (RedCap) enabled devices to lower costs further. 

Network automation and AI - KOA

6. Standalone is a foundation, not an option

The NSA architecture accelerated the introduction of 5G New Radio (5G NR) by two years, but many markets have lost three to five years for core and end-to-end capabilities.

The transition to standalone architecture is foundational and growing in importance. Getting to full performance, enabling network slicing, and paving the road to 5G Advanced are vital outcomes. 

7. Network slicing ecosystem complete

The ecosystem for network slicing is complete; phones supporting user equipment route selection policy (URSP), radio and core slices, and slice orchestration capabilities are now in place.

Ericsson outlined a vital few slices that can serve various experiences. Consider network slicing as synonymous with the ability to create and charge for premium experiences.

8. Introduce Open RAN in existing networks

Three new interfaces and vendor strategies are in focus. There are multiple options for disaggregation for processors, servers, and cloud execution environments.

The automation is vital to transform operations into a cloud-native world. Lower layer split Cat A radio interworking between vendors and single vendor Cat B interworking as starting points.

9. Cloud infrastructure

Flexibility and options remain high, and performance, reliability, and life cycle management are important considerations when deciding on the best cloud infrastructure.

The choice of cloud infrastructure for cloud-native applications was a part of the network evolution puzzle before introducing 5G Core and Open RAN.

10. 5G Advanced is around the corner

The addition of 5G advanced capabilities in the network platform enables both cost-sensitive and performance-critical applications.

The RedCap option is compelling, as seen with surveillance cameras and fixed wireless terminals as early device types. The simplifications of antenna variants and reductions in power consumption raise my expectations of the role RedCap can play.

The bottom line

The ten topics I mentioned above are key impressions I have about the 5G cycle specifically looking at the North American market. Beyond these, Open APIs and AI were all part of conversations at MWC 2024. AI affects most business processes coupled to the network platform, becoming an integrated part of making managing a more complex network platform easier.

There are three areas that I think are worth paying attention to in 2024. The first is to plan for an exciting second half of the 5G deployment cycle, not a lift-and-coast to 6G. Second, the 5G revenue generation focus in advanced markets is moving beyond mobile broadband to smartphones and fixed wireless access. Network slicing, private networks, and Open Network APIs are essential in delivering premium experiences. Finally, the network evolution will be multifaceted, with the introduction of standalone architecture, Open RAN, cloud infrastructure, and 5G Advanced combined in new ways, where the correct sequencing is vital to get right.

Overall, I look forward to an action-filled second half of the 5G build cycle for American innovation. I hope you explore these insights and opportunities with your company and apply them in your 5G strategy and plans.

Read more:

Read the Ericsson Mobility Report: Business Review 2024

Learn more about the network evolution

Watch the on-demand MWC 2024 broadcasts now

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