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10 May 2022

5G enterprise opportunities for MNOs are not just in private networks 

Amid all the furore and hype over private 5G it is easy to ignore the potential of public networks to provide a range of enterprise services. This can include specific functions or capabilities enabled by 5G, as in control of unattended automated vehicles (UAVs) and drones, or provision of connectivity in locations away from a campus or enterprise site. Such opportunities are where carriers have been looking to derive new revenue streams that justify their 5G investments at a time when consumer markets are increasingly saturated.  

 

Private networks are an important part of that opportunity, but there MNOs face intensifying competition from various quarters, including equipment providers, hyperscalers, systems integrators, professional services firms and enterprises themselves. 

 

In the public domain they have opportunities to exploit the capabilities of 5G for specific use cases that may not justify or require a private network, and also engage some of these emerging competitors more as partners. To maximize these opportunities over their public networks, MNOs will need to upgrade their BSS/OSS systems and probably their analytics capabilities, to provide the required quality of service and demonstrate compliance with the associated service level agreements (SLAs).  

 

There will also be an overlap with private networks through network slicing, which will allow operators to carve off virtual segments of their network to emulate private network security and guaranteed capacity, or alternatively underpin SLAs for specific applications or services, especially off-campus. Remote monitoring and inspection of utility infrastructure such as overhead power lines or underground gas pipes could benefit from network slicing, or just adequate prioritization over a public network.  

 

There will be a growing number of applications in the field involving drones for inspection, maintenance and component delivery that will not necessarily be ripe for dedicated private networks but will require guaranteed levels of performance, which in some cases could be enabled through network slicing. 

 

Supporting such opportunities, with or without network slicing, will involve changes in network architecture, in provision of distributed edge compute capabilities for analytics services close to the points of use or data collection. Such capabilities can be combined with private networks, or just delivered from the edge of the public network, often with the help of a hyperscaler’s cloud compute capability. For example, AT&T was one of the first MNOs to deploy Microsoft Azure Edge Zones in the USA, focusing on densely populated metro areas where enterprises require low-latency compute resources.  

 

Azure services are directly connected to AT&T’s 5G core, so that the latency-sensitive services are routed from the Azure Edge Zones to the operator’s public mobile network. 

 

Verizon, on the other hand, has developed its own multi-access edge compute (MEC) system and connected that both via AWS Outposts and Microsoft Azure, similarly offering low-latency services at the edge of its public network.  

 

We are also seeing MNOs in different countries joining to offer international enterprise services over public networks, or at least trial such capabilities. Singapore’s Singtel and Telefónica claimed a first in February 2022 for interconnection between their heterogenous MEC platforms, as part of the GSMA’s Foundry Telco Edge Cloud trial, a project to develop and then launch a global edge computing service enabling developers, enterprises and others to deliver services worldwide from the edge of their mobile networks.  

 

This first trial was also supported by the Bridge Alliance (formerly Bridge Mobile Alliance) comprising 34 telcos in Asia, Australia, Africa and the Middle East to enable value added services while roaming on each other’s networks, and MobiledgeX, the edge computing software start-up just acquired by Google (see separate item).   

 

To exploit these opportunities springing from MEC, network slicing and the ability to provide differentiated QoS – as well as provide specific services – clearly operators will have to operate both their BSS and OSS, as some are doing. On the BSS front, the ability to offer services beyond basic connectivity and bill for them accordingly will have to be instilled. On the OSS front, the challenge comes under the heading of automation, to streamline the tasks of provisioning, and troubleshooting. These are areas that we will later examine in more detail.