Telecom Review successfully presented its 8th virtual panel of 2023 entitled ‘Trends in 5G and Digital Transformation’ on November 16, 2023.
The lineup of esteemed speakers included:
- Mohamed Radwan, Director Strategy & Architecture, NEC GCC
- Noman Waheed, CTO, Middle East, Mobile Networks, Nokia
- Ersen Omuris, Head of Technology Strategy & Planning, Vodafone Qatar
- Majd Coussa, VP Business Development - IoT & AI, e& enterprise
Ming Chan, Associate Partner, TMT, PMP Strategy, was the moderator for the panel session.
Below are the edited excerpts from the wide-ranging discussion on 5G.
Best Practices for 5G Use Case Monetization
There has been a lot of discussion about 5G and what the future might bring, but practically speaking, Noman Waheed emphasized the key use cases in the near term for 5G monetization: enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless access (FWA) and social services such as cloud gaming and metaverse.
“I’ve been here in the Middle East since we had the first 5G commercial launch in the Gulf countries in 2018,” stated Nokia CTO. “What we have seen compared to the previous technologies is that the rollout and adoption of 5G has been faster than any of the previous generations.”
In fact, 300 operators have deployed commercial 5G networks, and the number of 5G subscribers is expected to grow to 8 billion by 2028. “We see that service providers across different parts of the world continue to deploy 5G despite the global macroeconomic condition and political uncertainties,” added Waheed.
5G subscribers make more use of digital entertainment services compared to 4G users. When we look at the behavior of consumers with the advent of 5G, smart data traffic has risen almost three times, mainly driven by videos, gaming and immersive reality services.
DSPs were experiencing negative growth in ARPU, but as soon as 5G was launched, that trend was reversed. Compared to other regions in the world, Europe is lagging a little bit behind because they weren't as aggressive in deploying 5G.
Going back to the key use cases, enhanced mobile broadband offloads traffic from 4G networks. With ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), 70% of mobile traffic is generated by videos. On the other hand, 40% of 5G networks have FWA services. Last but not least, combined with 5G services, social platforms such as cloud gaming and metaverse are thriving.
From another vendor’s perspective, Radwan highlighted that CSPs — the ones who invest heavily in 5G — are the ones working hard to monetize this good investment.
Radwan confirmed Waheed’s thoughts on the two most killer use cases: enhanced mobile broadband and FWA. More importantly, he pointed out that “5G is not more about the consumer; it's more of a service-based architecture.”
Hence, the promise of 5G not only targets consumers but also businesses, enterprises and governments, among other verticals. In smart manufacturing, they are starting to utilize public and private 5G models. “For their internet connection with other users, they would use public 5G and they deploy private 5G inside the manufacturers when doing remote management plans,” the NEC executive explained.
From an operator’s perspective, Majd Coussa said that they indeed serve both B2B and B2C customers. One real-life case study he shared is e& enterprise’s partnership with DMCC to transform the JLT area into Dubai's first 5G-powered smart, sustainable district. With their collaboration, the Smart District Platform enhances residents' and visitors’ experiences and offers operational control and efficiencies.
Another notable use case is being the Digital Services Premier Partner of EXPO 2020. e& enterprise is proud to have enabled EXPO 2020 Dubai, making it the first 5G commercial site of the MEASA. The international participants in the pavilions consumed one of the fastest, smartest and most connected sites on Earth.
When it comes to the public sector, Omuris specified some use cases within the public sector. He started by saying that both the public and private sectors have different motives and interests. Smart cities, public safety, healthcare, education and environmental monitoring are key considerations for 5G adoption in the public sector.
Integration of 5G, Automation, AI, Cloud and CNOC
As for AI/ML and automation and how they are shaping industries and the future of telecommunications, Coussa said, “I believe, as you mentioned, there isn't a single discussion that requires involvement in all parts of the ecosystem. Telcos, as custom businesses, have invented this concept, and it applies to human beings as well. It's important to understand what AI means in the AI field. For AI to function effectively, it needs data. This includes both structured and unstructured data, which must be stored, transmitted and analyzed for AI and machine learning models to work properly. I won't go into the details, but we can all understand how it functions, whether it's wired, wireless, or 5G networks gathering data from various sensors. The collected data can then be processed by AI algorithms to generate predictive insights and use cases.”
He highlighted a single area of focus, which is industry-specific use cases. In his opinion, these are prevalent not only in the United States but also in the region. Industry 4.0 represents the transformation of different industries. For example, the manufacturing industry is currently experiencing this transformation, utilizing AI to optimize operations, increase productivity and enhance manufacturing practices. A good example is maintenance, which moves from reactive to predictive approaches. By analyzing large amounts of data, manufacturers can predict equipment failures and proactively enable maintenance interventions. This helps minimize downtime, especially unplanned downtime, optimizes scheduling and extends the lifespan of critical assets.
Another area where AI is beneficial is supply chain optimization within enterprises. Real-time data analytics enable better inventory management, understanding demand patterns, identifying outages and aligning with customer needs. This ultimately leads to improved demand forecasting, inventory management and production planning.
There are several other AI use cases, both internally and externally, that add value to businesses. One interesting example is Microsoft using AI within their buildings to enhance Office 365 suites and improve the customer experience. Language models, such as bilingual ones, are utilized to support interactive chat and voice-based services to provide consumers with personalized recommendations and assistance regarding consumption-related queries.
In summary, the power of AI lies in its ability to address industry-specific challenges and bring relevant value to businesses. Utilizing AI effectively is crucial in order to achieve desirable outcomes. From a backend perspective, network optimization plays a significant role as well.
Furthermore, Ersen gave insight into the capability of operators and vendors to differentiate themselves by utilizing AI/ML. He said, “The information flow through mobile phones has significantly increased, and customers are a primary focus for operators. They provide customers access to the data flow as well as the services and products they use. These three pillars define operators' operations. AI has already enabled operators to create certain capabilities.”
Following this, he noted that operators began optimizing their networks. Automation played a vital role in network optimization, focusing on reducing human intervention and instead utilizing AI-driven systems.
Moreover, with the Industrial Revolution came a focus on customization. This involved offering personalized experiences based on customer preferences, similar to what the retail industry, including companies like Amazon, AliExpress and Alibaba, has been doing.
Regardless of location, operators strive to provide customers with the best-quality network. This includes connectivity options like fiber and mobile networks, which have merged into a single pipeline. Nowadays, network efficiency and optimization using AI and machine learning play a crucial role in reducing operational costs, increasing quality, managing customer interactions through digital channels and differentiating operator products. Customer segmentation may have reduced the overall customer base, but these segments continue to evolve and shrink as operators adapt to changing needs.
Investment in Public and Private Infrastructure
The focus shifted to the considerations businesses should weigh when choosing between public, private, or hybrid infrastructures for deploying 5G. Omuris emphasized the transformative impact of 5G on communication and operations within private industries, acknowledging the uniqueness of each industry's case.
He highlighted key points, including the convergence of all connectivity into a single pipeline, the growing interest in private 5G networks and the disruptive nature of 5G across various industries. Omuris highlighted the expectation of 5G transforming current networks into more responsive systems and distinguished between fixed wireless access, cloud gaming and the metaverse.
He also explained that agility emerged as a crucial factor, emphasizing the need to rapidly offer services. Collaboration with key hyperscalers and active engagement with a diverse range of enterprise customers across industries underscored the commitment to adapt to evolving technological landscapes. In the Middle East region, Omuris noted active involvement and collaboration with different Communication Service Providers (CSPs), further emphasizing the paramount importance of connectivity for enterprises in this era of technological advancement.
While asking about the role of investments in fiber, including WiFi-6, data centers and satellite services, particularly Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, in advancing the broader objective of enhancing 5G connectivity, Radwan shared insightful observations. Addressing the connectivity landscape, he pointed out that approximately 2.7 billion people remain unconnected to the internet, highlighting the pressing need for inclusive solutions.
Radwan then brought attention to the future, noting that 6G will play a significant role in addressing connectivity challenges. He projected ambitious data rates of up to 20 gigabits, signifying a leap in network capabilities. Additionally, he highlighted regional initiatives, with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia investing in autonomous vehicles, indicating a broader integration of technology into various sectors.
The discussion delved into technical aspects, emphasizing the importance of network support for better slicing, a critical factor in optimizing 5G performance. Radwan also underscored the necessity for a change in mindset, recognizing that evolving technology requires a shift in perspective to fully harness its potential for connectivity and innovation.
Telecom's Role in Sustainable Networks
Coussa responded to a question about the growing prominence of the climate agenda within organizations and industries. The question focused on how the telecom industry can expedite the development and implementation of green and sustainable networks.
“It's a highly relevant and trending topic, especially in our region,” he noted. There's significant activity and commitment from organizations and businesses to understanding their position on the sustainability journey and defining their roadmap. As a telecommunications company, e& is dedicated to decarbonizing its activities, modernizing the mobile network and promoting energy efficiency. Many organizations are moving in this direction, addressing inefficiencies to achieve sustainability targets.
Beyond telecom, leveraging networks for green energy and sustainability is gaining momentum. The power of 5G networks, particularly in smart cities, supports initiatives like smart utilities. An example is Dubai's utility company using AI and telecom connectivity to detect and reduce water consumption. Digital strategies, 5G networks and AI converge to drive sustainability, with many more technology-driven approaches supporting companies' sustainability efforts.
The Role of Collaboration and Innovation in the Future of 5G Networks
Given the complexities of new technologies today, collaboration among industry players for the success of 5G networks is crucial to driving innovation.
In response, from a vendor’s perspective, Waheed aptly cited an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” In regards to 5G, he said that this was the first time where not only vendors and CSPs but other industry players such as the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) and satellite providers, among others, were also part of the 3GPP discussion on 5G on how to best use the 5G technology for the greater good of mankind. He referred to the introduction of eMBB, URLLC and mMTC communication functionality as part of 3GPP Releases 15 and 17. He also projected an optimistic view of the enhanced non-terrestrial networks (NTN) and RedCap for better functionality in 5G. He stressed the importance of satellite communications to bridge the “white gaps” for “ubiquitous” connectivity. He said that Nokia was working with direct-satellite connectivity solution providers to help CSPs enhance revenue generation capabilities.
Talking about innovation using emerging technologies in shaping the future of 5G networks, Radwan pointed out that the importance of AI and ML cannot be overlooked and cited “near-real-time” scenarios as examples of such enhanced capabilities. He also emphasized the capabilities of Open RAN as being instrumental in 5G innovations.
Strategies to Drive Digital Transformation
“Before approaching any initial plan, it is a must to identify your scope,” stated Omuris. “Defining all the pieces of the puzzle will be the engine in building the target use cases.”
In this way, telcos and other digital transformation drivers can modify their use cases by “considering the end goal.” To sum it up, a combination of people, culture and process transformation is needed in businesses in the long run.
“To achieve successful digital transformation, the last step is cultural transformation — the alignment of technological and organizational capabilities,” cited Omuris. Agreeing to this, Coussa said that “the transformation of the culture and the mindset of the people can generate more use cases.”
In addition, he stressed that “it’s not about the journey; it’s about the end result.” If you don’t have the use case in mind, then ask, “What are the KPIs you’re trying to achieve?” Without making sense to the stakeholders, this can be an expensive failure.
Another key reason to fail is not only having the right people involved but also not having the right management. “It’s crucial if the decision-makers are just signing the checks and supporting the budgets but not closely monitoring, understanding and following the progress of the development.”
In a nutshell, a successful digital transformation journey must have the support, budget and ecosystem forces to rely on.
During the Q&A session, Omuris and Coussa responded to an audience question on what the most pressing challenge was that operators were facing in the digital transformation journey.
In his view, Omuris believes that the most critical element is the linking of the commercial and technological targets of the transformation, where the people factor plays an important role in defining the required scope of work.
Putting his point across, Coussa said that the departments of an operator must work in harmony to achieve the desired outcomes of the digital transformation.
The results of the poll questions initiated for the audience were as follows:
- Digital transformation accelerators
- Cloud – 13%
- IoT – 0%
- Artificial Intelligence – 0%
- All of the above – 87%
- Cost Optimization differentiator
- Human resource and work culture – 13%
- Customized B2B services – 13%
- Network virtualization and cloudification – 25%
- All of the above – 49%
- Best Sustainability initiatives for operators
- Renewable energy to “green networks” – 67%
- AI and machine learning tools – 33%
- Sun setting of legacy networks – 0%
- Network Competitiveness Factors
- Quality of experience (QoE) – 57%
- Deployment speed – 0%
- Innovation in network services – 43%