How can operators unlock full potential of 5G in Asia?


Spotlight on 5G |

Service providers in Asia are leading the 5G charge. But they must make adaptive service assurance a priority to meet the expectations of humans . . . and machines.

Despite all the hype, 5G remains a new technology. It is difficult to say exactly what 5G standalone will really ‘be’, or how people and machines will use it (more on that later). However, if you look at the regions in Asia where large-scale commercial deployments are becoming a reality—such as Japan, China, and South Korea—we can make an educated guess as to its full potential.

There have been 24 commercial launches of 5G networks in Asia to date (Global Mobile Supplies Association).A360-degree interactive sporting experience in Japan for the much-delayed Tokyo Olympics highlights one of the truly cutting-edge innovations that 5G enables. Brands are looking to use this experience to offer augmented and virtual reality experiences close to the stadium.

But this is just the beginning: 5G standalone is set to bring many new use cases to help drive operator revenues. An estimated $400 billion will be spent on additional 5G infrastructure in Asia between now and 2025, and 80% of that will be on 5G. The real ‘killer apps’ can only be developed once the network shows its unique strengths.

Humans are not at the center of 5G standalone IoT

Industry 4.0 has the potential to be the most lucrative of 5G use cases, and will account for over 70% of 5G revenue by 2025 (Omdia, 2021). It is a broad category, ranging from industrial automation to remote health monitoring to home security and more. However, for successful deployments, we must keep in mind that while humans are tolerant of poor network performance, machines are not.

A common example: if a human experiences issues with their mobile service, they may call the provider to report the problem. A quarter will also switch providers if it results in a better mobile streaming video experience (Sapio Research, 2020).

However, if a 5G-connected IoT device suffers an outage, it simply fails. In some cases, the impact of such a failure could be severe: a connected health device with unstable or unreliable connectivity could potentially even cost human lives. Even less severe outages will cause disruptions, damage businesses, limit 5G adoption and impact the operators’ chances at 5G revenue success.

5G IoT use cases can be successful only if 5G networks consistently deliver top performance. To do so, operators need to rethink their approach to service assurance by evolving to adaptive technology. Adaptive service assurance automatically pre-empts and resolves service problems to ensure a high-quality user experience. But for it to work, you need to have the right data—and big data is not the right data.

Small data is critical for 5G standalone service assurance

The arrival of 5G standalone brings new challenges to service assurance that make ‘big data’ solutions largely obsolete. Big data is often costly to collect, store, and analyze. It is too slow to be effective when making real-time decisions. The disruptive infrastructure changes that are linked to5G standalone—cloud-native, virtualization, network slicing, as well as the massive increase in connected devices and traffic—mean that big data cannot identify and fix service issues in a practical way.

Data gathered by EXFO found that 90% of quality of experience (QoE) visibility is lost in big data delays and aggregate key performance indicators. This problem will have a major impact on the bottom line because half of 5G revenue depends on meeting per-device service level agreements (GSMA Intelligence).Reliable, high-quality service will rely on the ability for operators to obtain granular visibility into the experience of the individual human user or connected device in real-time. Also essential is the contextual nature of adaptive service assurance: it sees and understands all that happens with network performance, service delivery, and user experience, which are all related..

Context: The secret to powerful 5G standalone assurance

The adaptive element of next-generation service assurance counts on context across several layers of service delivery such as the core, the transport layer, and the edge. Once AI-driven monitoring is integrated into existing systems, it collects only the necessary data from a variety of sources, locates the context between the events, and manages with the orchestrator to recommend and implement corrective actions.

This small data approach works well because it is very elastic and responsive, keeping pace with the user experience. But does it work in real time? Or is that even the right question?

Don’t think ‘real-time’, think ‘right now’

Increasingly, ‘real-time’ has become a buzzword to such an extent it might be considered meaningless. It’s worth taking a closer look.

In virtualized 5G networks, service delivery and user experience are very dynamic. As discussed above, waiting for stacks of big data simply will not work. Instead, a combination of AI and machine learning is needed, allowing for automated, orchestrated service assurance. This will deliver the ideal combination of the right data, in context, right now.

‘Now’ means 100ms or less for insight into any device on the network, according to leading Tier-1 MNOs. It means predicting and detecting outages and impairments, figuring out the root cause of problems, and fixing them before humans lose their patience, or machines fail. Adaptive service assurance helps resolve outage up to 90% faster than with traditional troubleshooting processes (Heavy Reading. 2019).

An urgent need to act

By 2026 there will be more machines than humans on mobile networks (Ericsson). In the Asia-Pacific region, unique mobile subscribers are projected to reach 3 billion by 2025 (70% penetration rate), compared with 11.5 billion IoT connections (GSMA). This is going to transform how we think of customer experience.

Adaptive service assurance needs to be a top priority in Asia, not only to protect the region’s ever-expanding5G infrastructure, but to ensure that operators and governments get a timely return on their investment in 5G, and can drive new revenue opportunities. The technology is already here; the challenge and opportunity are to incorporate it into network planning and deployments. Adaptive service assurance is essential to ushering in this new mobile era—for humans and machines alike.


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Michael Scheppke was appointed EXFO's Vice President, Sales – APAC in October 2016. Michael is responsible for managing telecom sales, both direct and indirect, and executing sales strategies across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. He developed his expertise working in the industry in both the USA and Asia. Following several years at HP and Agilent, he spent a significant part of his career at Ixia, where he held various senior roles. Michael has developed and executed the go-to-market strategy for their network monitoring business in APAC by successfully leading diverse sales teams and expanding sales coverage with channel partners. Michael holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida.