Recently I’ve had the (very fortunate) opportunity to participate in many 5G planning meetings, involving customers, academia and public sector organizations.  Believe it or not, even among such distinguished company, a recurring theme among the participants is “What really is 5G?”

The Road to 5G - with twists, turns and cloud obscuring the prize ahead
The Road to 5G – with twists, turns and cloud obscuring the prize ahead

5G is about High-Speed Radio, right? Wrong!

Some will you “Aha – 5G is about high speed (1 Gbps+) ‘new radio’”. It’s not surprising that some will reach this conclusion, given the hype on 5G from the radio vendors.  However, this is not quite the reality.  Let me cite a few examples.

  • A few months ago, Light Reading published an insightful article entitled “DT [Deutsche Telecom] Is Not Going Radio Gaga About 5G” in which they outlined that “NR [new (5G) radio] specifications are the least revolutionary thing about 5G”. DT went on to describe that the key aspects of 5G hat matter to them: network slicing, “cloudification”, and ultra-dense networks – and not a 5G radio in sight;
  • How fast do we need mobile networks to go? EE in the UK (see the captured tweet on the right – thanks to Marc Allera, BT Consumer CEO!) are running some 4G sites at 430 Mbps. For most purposes, do we need to go much faster? Or are there bigger problems to solve? Let me argue the case on the latter.

So …. if 4G can deliver 430 Mbps today … surely any 5G vision should be focused on solving other problems?  There are of course a range of 5G use cases being investigated just now, from IoT to autonomous cars to Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR).  However, there are other pressing problems with mobile networks in many countries, including in the UK.

The Government Challenge

Recent figures from UK regulator Ofcom and highlighted by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland show that (geographical) 4G coverage of England by all 4 UK mobile operators is 60% of the country.  With 2012 being the 4G initial launch, 60% coverage 6 years later in 2018 (again across all 4 operators – there are individual exceptions who have significantly higher coverage) is not exactly a figure to write home about.  And in Scotland – which is far more geographically challenged than other countries in the UK – the mobile 4G geographical coverage is 17%.  With pressing challenges like this, there is then a clear case for 5G to be about more than high-speed new radio.

What is 5G?

OK, if 5G is about more than just new radio, what is 5G really about?

Many believe that 5G is about one specific or even a range of potential use cases.  This is true for sure, however, believe that this is a limited vision.  I’ve came to a different view – that 5G is about new business models and the opportunity for change, in order to tackle the key connectivity challenges facing governments, industries and communities.  Models that help address the country-level challenges outlined above. And models  that help address the business case challenges highlighted by The Economist, BT, DT and others.

Well, 5G is, of course, an opportunity to align the technical use cases with economic gain, and an opportunity to drive new sources of network value via network slicing, automation, software-defined and disaggregated radio, and advanced applications such as augmented reality. 5G is an opportunity  to look beyond the hype, beyond “speeds and feeds”, and discovery 5G use cases that can add value and differentiate your plans. 5G should provide the opportunity to drive and adoption of “neutral host” and shared infrastructure business models – perhaps involving innovative local industry/public sector/community collaboration models – to drive more pervasive coverage, and empower communities who currently suffer from poor 3G/4G mobile coverage. It’s an opportunity that may see establishment of “virtual” MNOs, changing the competitive landscape for today’s MNOs.  5G is also an opportunity for countries to reduce digital exclusion, mirroring Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins view on the need for “.. a sense of urgency to make sure that our communities are thriving and its citizens can actively participate in the digital economy”. 5G, then, is a platform for disruption.

Exploiting the 5G Platform for Disruption with Cisco Services

Steve Yager, Vice President Global Service Providers Services, blogged earlier this week on the need to find a best route on any journey you take your business on, and how the right partner can help you find and travel that best route.  This advice is “spot on” for 5G transformation efforts.  With 5G, it helps to rely on a trusted guide to help you identify, prioritize and exploit the opportunities that 5G provides, be you a service provider, government or enterprise business.

Cisco Services are leaders in helping our customers exploit network transformation to drive new business opportunities.  Being at the leading edge of 5G with industry, academia and governments around the world puts Cisco Services in a unique position to help you exploit 5G disruption.  We can help you explore your specific business case for 5G.  We can help you re-architect your network’s “move to the edge”.  And we can help you understand the various 5G use cases and which (if any) make sense for you.  With Cisco 5G Advisory Services – as highlighted in the video – we can help you explore the 5G platform for disruption.  I’ll be at Mobile world Congress in Barcelona next week  (26th Feburary to 1st March). If you are around please drop by and talk to my Cisco Services colleagues and I and we can tell you lots more!

To wrap up … are my points above valid?  Or do you subscribe to another perspective on 5G? I’ve love to debate.  Feel free to connect via Twitter – and thanks for reading my blog!




Stephen Speirs

SP Product Management

Cisco Customer Experience (CX)