The 5G Promise Relies on Partnerships and Collaboration

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Yann Begassat, Business Development Director at Broadpeak told Digital Media World that the expectations surrounding 5G can make it easy to lose touch with reality. If you believe the hype, he believes, you may risk over-simplifying the challenges, underestimating the adoption barriers and assuming that 5G will become indispensable. The reality is that network operators need solid business cases to deploy 5G networks and, at the moment, very few new, viable applications are open to 5G.

“The most frequently cited application of 5G is wireless virtual and augmented reality,” Yann said. “In general, VR/AR market forecasts have turned out to be overly optimistic, overlooking adoption hurdles related to head-mounted displays (HMD) in terms of 3D interface design, convenience and comfort, accessibility, control and price. Consequently, VR/AR is currently still a niche market, and it is not clear how 5G will change the situation.”

The IoT industry is suggested as another promising market for 5G. But questions remain about how long it will take 5G to become a commoditised and natural standard for objects and machines – that is, to convert the installed base, to succeed where the IoT industry has so far only been able to create a highly segmented market and to reach chipset unit cost levels giving IoT a real chance. It seems unlikely that 5G for massive IoT application will happen before 2025.

The network ‘edge’ layer, another focus for the 5G network, is expected to be the driver of its most sophisticated and demanding applications. Yann said, “However, it is difficult to find credible business case studies that thoroughly analyse and quantify the need to be closer to end-users, and that also take the time to clearly assess the cost-benefits of creating and maintaining an edge infrastructure. As a result, development of the edge ecosystem is still below expectations as well.”

Network Slicing

The concept of network of slicing is attracting attention right now, including its applications for video. 5G architecture relies on 5G network slicing, which separates virtual networks that operate on the same physical hardware for different applications in order to increase network flexibility. Each network slice has its own architecture, provisioning and security that supports a particular use, which determines its speed, capacity, connectivity and coverage allocations.

While remote video production is starting to grow, it is not yet taking full advantage of slicing, which is still very complex and lacks standards. It is also demanding to create in terms of automation, vendor interoperability, business models and workflows. Yann estimates it will probably take three to five years before network slicing is in common use for video delivery.

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He said, “Considering the difficulties operators face regarding increasing amounts of mobile cellular video traffic, the 5G network does have huge radio capacity and operators also anticipate upgrades on their backhaul, aggregation and backbone transport networks. However, it is important to keep in mind the challenge operators already have managing traffic generated by OTT applications and content providers.”

A Market Approach

The common denominator in the above examples is identifying tangible business cases for new 5G applications and services, looking for markets with clearly expressed needs and appropriate, economically viable solutions.

“The real promise of 5G may not be directed as much toward the mass market and its consumption of high-speed mobile broadband services, as toward public and private industry,” said Yann. “The vertical segments of the industry such as video streaming, the enterprise market, the public sector including health and education, and connected cities stand to gain the most from specialised services combining attributes ranging from low latency, massive connectivity and critical reliability, to high capacity and throughput.

“Therefore, deep understanding of these targeted businesses and their specific needs is critical, both in terms of creating demand and supplying solutions. Contrary to the previous mobile generations 2G, 3G and 4G, 5G is not a business proposition composed of consumers or end-users on one side and a self-sufficient service provider on the other. The great expectations raised by 5G require much more effort, obliging market players to be creative, open and, above all, no longer act alone.

“In other words, what really matters in the 5G environment, more than the actual network, is collaborations and partnerships.”

Network Collaborations

In the demand-creation phase, for 5G to succeed, systems developers and other providers need to gain a better understanding of the requirements of enterprises and verticals. This understanding calls for cooperation and in-depth discussion, because these two groups have not traditionally had to communicate closely or speak the same language. For instance, industry requirements are very different by nature from performance targets set out by the 5G 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project).

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Yann Begassat, Business Development Director at Broadpeak

Yann said, “If you ask a modern manufacturer what it needs to improve the productivity of its automated production lines, the answer will be in terms of system availability, maintainability, reconfiguration flexibility, safety and cost efficiency. Meanwhile 5G will answer with throughput, latency, reliability, connectivity, and capacity figures. In this sector, initiatives like the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) have been created aiming to ensure the best possible application of 5G to manufacturing.

“The video and broadcast industry is especially in need of strong collaboration. When delivering their content, content providers generally look for simplicity, uniformity of interfaces, scaling and video asset management flexibility. On the other hand, network operators think in terms of streaming efficiency, transport network and CDN capacity requirements, and end-user quality of experience (QoE). Therefore, providers and operators need to talk about a joint plan.”

In an increasingly fragmented SVOD and OTT market, those two groups have another good reason to cooperate. Content providers want to differentiate themselves by offering superior QoE and reduce delivery costs, and network operators need to offer content aggregation, restore balance of power, and better monetise their network.

One practical outcome of that collaboration could be, as a first step, an agreement to cache the content deeper in the mobile network – whether the caches are owned by the operator or the content provider – and use network slicing as a second step to further increase QoE and service differentiation.

Operator, Network and Application Partnerships

When it comes to finding solutions, the 5G use cases for vertical markets are complex. Therefore, the final system often requires a massive combination of inputs supplied from multiple parties. “It’s not unusual to see 5G use cases requiring seven to eight different partners,” Yann said.

“Take, for example, an automated guided vehicle application in an industrial environment. Strong collaboration between network operator, site owner, network solutions provider, robotics manufacturer, 360-degree camera manufacturer, VR software supplier, 3D mapping specialist and AI software partner will be critical.”

That example is straightforward, but others involve many interdependencies. One is the recommended pre-integration of cloud infrastructure components – virtualised network functions; software-defined network, automation and orchestration; cloud computing software, hardware – and the necessary collaboration between vendors, as the industry matures and moves forward with network disaggregation. Disaggregation will give customers the opportunity to choose switching hardware and software operating system from different vendors.

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“The recently announced cloud partnership agreement between Nokia and Microsoft is a good example,” Yann said. By joining Microsoft cloud systems and Nokia’s expertise in networking, the companies say they will develop services to help enterprises and communications service providers take advantage of cloud, AI and IoT.

Streaming and Satellite

In the video streaming industry as well, partnerships will become essential to get the best out of 5G, take advantage of new business opportunities, and address different markets. “One example is the edge,” he said. “It’s expected that PoPs of cellular networks will eventually be decentralised to improve streaming and caching efficiency, and end-user QoE. Therefore, edge players like MobiledgeX, Edge Gravity, EdgeConneX are likely to play an important role in helping network operators and content providers build, finance, and operate this edge network layer, as well as facilitate and intermediate their business relationships.

“The issue of business models is particularly relevant when we speak about the edge layer. Network operators, application providers, and edge brokers will have to discuss and agree on issues such as who owns the end customer relationship, the revenue sharing scheme, and whether the application supplied by the partner should be white-labelled.”

Yann also sees the partnership with the satellite carriers as promising because of their role in video delivery contribution in mobile/5G networks, especially in markets where landline broadband infrastructure is missing or not well established, using new streaming techniques like multicast adaptive bitrate. As the satellite industry begins its transformation, 5G is likely to open new collaborations and business opportunities, different from the monolithic approaches the satellite industry usually takes.

Internal Cooperation

Yann anticipates that 5G will be very demanding in terms of collaborations within organisations. The complexity of networks, sophistication of the new applications and services, and the massive use of video and internet mobile services will require network engineering, services, global partnerships and marketing departments to coordinate their efforts.

Regarding gaming and latency, for example, the gaming and network or cloud engineering teams will have to work together and make joint decisions about acceptable latency thresholds, the right edge locations for GPUs – taking into account multiplayer games requirements – and the final cost-benefit ratio.

The need for deep internal collaborations applies to the video delivery domain, as well. “It’s impossible to make a reliable technical and economic assessment of the right number of video caching PoPs and their optimal position in the network architecture without close cooperation between video and CDN, transport and marketing teams,” he said.

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“In order to leverage open network APIs, joint analysis from video services and network engineering departments is necessary. You can’t optimise in-depth, video-over-cellular streaming QoE without using radio network information or mobile network policy control functions.”

Broadpeak in the 5G Ecosystem

From Broadpeak’s point of view, Yann talked about the partnerships the company has formed by working with set-top box and home gateways vendors, service platforms, Android TV ecosystem stakeholders, video player suppliers, video delivery chain partners and satellite carriers.

“5G is no exception,” he said. “Broadpeak has established collaborations in this domain with the objective of exploring and testing systems like edge caching or congestion management with server-controlled functions, driving standards such as 3GPP and SVA, fostering satellite and other new ecosystems and defining new business models between network operators and video content providers.”

Though the video-over-cellular market has grown smoothly so far, the changeable nature of the video streaming platforms landscape – for instance, with the recent launch of Disney+ - the expected boom of video-over-cellular traffic with 5G, and the new 5G techniques designed to improve QoE, streaming efficiency and network monetization should continue to push progress in new directions.

5G is clearly an opportunity for the video-over-cellular industry to increase its revenues but this will fail if there is not an intense level of collaboration between the various stakeholders.