5G to dominate operator innovation in 2019

Mobile Marketing

In the latest in our series of predictions pieces running between Christmas and the New Year, Matija Razem, vice president of business development and operator partnership at Infobip, gives looks at the results of a survey the firm conducted among more than 300 mobile network operator leaders.

At this year’s GSMA WAS#8 event, Infobip polled more than 300 mobile network operator leaders globally to uncover the mobile trends of the future. When we asked what single trend or development would have the most profound effect on the mobile industry in the near future, we received a wide range of responses. But, at the same time, there was a clear leader. The continued development and early rollouts of 5G will be a game-changer over the next two years.

Having lived through the evolution of mobile data from GPRS back in 2000, to 4G, which is still being rolled out to some areas, it’s natural that people will have developed some weariness around the launch of the next generation network. They know it will be a bit faster, and thus allow for some applications that weren’t really feasible before: effectively another step up on the dial.

While 5G will indeed offer extremely fast data speeds, as the mobile execs we spoke to confirmed, it is, in fact, a much broader set of technologies that create the conditions for a wide, and growing set of revolutionary new service propositions.

This includes the ability to connect many thousands more devices to any given base station, using parts of the technology called Massive MIMO and millimetre wave, as well as extremely low latency. This will make the kind of network overload you may have experienced at large outdoor events a thing of the past.

Better things
But the most anticipated beneficiary of Massive MIMO and millimetre wave in 5G telephony is the Internet of Things (IoT), which was – not coincidentally – the experts’ second-hottest trend in our study. The related item, M2M (Machine-to-Machine – an older term for some parts of what we now call IoT), appeared in fourth position in their list of key trends.

IoT for large-scale, industrial and consumer use has been touted as the ‘next big thing’ for several years. But though the technology for creating minute, power-sipping sensors is already available through technologies like NB-IoT, keeping them connected in situations where wi-fi is not practical, such as in automobile, agricultural and logistics applications, has proven trickier to implement. With 5G, this barrier will hypothetically be lifted, and we can expect IoT applications to grow significantly in popularity and scope as the new network standard becomes reality.

Road to riches
The third trend getting the industry excited is RCS (Rich Communication Services). Described as next-gen SMS messaging, RCS – as the name implies – allows for the kind of rich content and interactivity that has, to date, been restricted to OTT chat apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

The RCS open standard has been developed under the stewardship of the GSMA, and is already available to use in the form of Google’s Android app, Chat. RCS messages can easily switch to regular SMS if the message recipient’s device is not compatible, or no mobile data connection is available, so the standard retains the reliability of message delivery – a major factor in the enduring appeal of SMS. In 2019, operators expect the service to extend and for commercial organisations to begin to adopt RCS for marketing and transactional messaging more widely.

One potential roadblock for this is Apple’s current refusal to work with the standard, though only a minority of the operator experts at WAS#8 viewed this as a significant challenge. The rollout of 5G, allowing more, faster network traffic and lower latency, is viewed by more operators as a factor in successful corporate adoption of the standard, as is the availability of tools to manage RCS as part of a varied diet of omnichannel communications offerings.

Network effects
There is no consensus at this point on how much capital investment will be needed by operators to create their 5G networks. The standard itself will not be exactly the same from every operator, and the extent to which existing infrastructure can be re-used and upgraded, as opposed to using entirely new infrastructure, will vary tremendously between them. However, it is significant enough that its commercial success is absolutely imperative for the future of every operator that chooses to participate.

For this reason, it is clear why topics directly related to operators’ income dominate the remaining items on their agenda. Consumers have become highly resistant to paying roaming charges as they travel, for example, a practice which has now been scrapped in the EU. Similarly, consumers and businesses alike rankle at high data charges and are making use of wi-fi and OTT apps to avoid such charges.

So, the success of 5G for operators will not just be about being able to repay whatever they need to spend on infrastructure upgrades. It is also about creating and curating new services that can provide significant ongoing revenue streams that people will happily pay for, replacing those services for which they will not. Think about potential services such as sensor-driven remote doctor’s consultations, live VR news reporting from major events, and entertainment events sold as richly immersive experiences.

The challenge for operators to monetise 5G effectively should lead to a much brighter future for us all.