Throughout the history of technology development, it took about six years for a new generation of mobile technology to go mainstream. The same goes for 5G, a technology that no longer exists only in the future. According to statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as of the end of last year, a total of 1.425 million 5G base stations had been built and opened in China, and the total number of 5G base stations accounted for more than 60% of the world’s total, and the 5G network has achieved coverage in all prefecture-level cities and urban areas across the country, with more than 98 % of county towns and 80% of townships. At the same time, the scale of domestic 5G users is also expanding, and the number of 5G mobile phone users has reached 355 million. Given that 5G networks are firmly in the mainstream, the following major trends are expected to emerge this year and beyond.
- Open RAN moves from laboratory to application
According to GSMA Intelligence data, 77% of mobile operators plan to adopt Open RAN as part of their 5G migration. This is in line with the momentum seen in the last few months of last year, with VIAVI providing benchmarks and validations for Plugfest testing and demonstrations around the world during last year’s O-RAN Plugfest. Critical work has been initiated in the laboratory and will continue this year. Interoperability testing will be critical today as both non-traditional and traditional vendors race to enter the growing O-RAN space.
This type of work will continue in the lab, and we will increasingly see operators roll out limited O-RAN pilots. And each new pilot launch will generate buzz, and operators and suppliers will be proud of their results. If all goes well, this year promises to be a year of celebration and expansion for the entire O-RAN ecosystem.
As a leader in O-RAN standards development, wireless lab validation platforms, and fieldworker solutions, VIAVI offers a comprehensive test platform. With extensive experience in network product validation for operators and manufacturers around the world and close collaboration with leading vendors, VIAVI is committed to helping network operators ensure interoperability, which is exactly what happens in a multi-vendor O-RAN environment’s main consideration.
- Cloudification brings service assurance into focus
Over the past few years, many operators have begun implementing software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) in search of greater operational flexibility and freedom from vendor constraints. This process will continue in 2024, driven by bodies such as the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Project (TIP), and 3GPP Release 16. But this also comes with responsibility, and software and cloudification mean operators are now more clearly in a leading position to ensure that this new multi-vendor, decentralized environment can deliver the quality of service customers demand ( QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE). Given that the scale of 5G users continues to expand today, the importance of service assurance will become more prominent this year.
The VIAVI test tool portfolio supports comprehensive measurement of the entire network life cycle, providing functional system integration and performance testing for gNB, core network, core network components and O-RAN subsystems to achieve true end-user QoE visibility.
- 5G and fiber, complement each other
By the numbers, 5G has surpassed fiber in global availability. Mobile operators are also keen to highlight the advantages of 5G networks in helping to bridge the digital divide. Even so, it is not correct to view 5G and fiber as a “zero-sum game” (i.e. the success of one technology comes at the expense of the other). On the contrary, every 5G base station, whether macro or small, requires fiber, which means higher revenue generation for telcos and other fiber providers. In addition, every time fiber is extended to serve new 5G sites, it will also become closer to more home and business businesses.
This synergy and its impact will also accelerate in 2024, given operators’ efforts to increase 5G coverage density and range. One of them is increased competition: Whether it’s residential broadband or branch office SD-WAN, to be an alternative to fiber or copper, 5G needs to be extremely reliable. This highly competitive environment is another reason why mobile operators are making service assurance a top priority in 2024.
- Edge computing goes further
The acceleration of edge computing has been going on for several years, and this trend will be further developed as more and more mobile operators focus on the fixed broadband market. For example, mobile operators can leverage edge computing to minimize latency and backhaul costs for their fixed wireless services. Since edge computing can maximize QoE and save costs, it can help operators to set more competitive pricing for their fixed services while ensuring profitability, which can directly help them strengthen their competitive position in the market.
According to the GSMA Intelligence survey, in the enterprise market, 12% of mobile operators say that edge computing is the main value proposition of 5G. This is the same percentage as private networks, and edge computing power is also key to private networks attracting and retaining customers. For example, many enterprises are focusing on 5G virtual private networks, i.e. owning part of the public network, rather than owning an entire core and RAN. This year, reliable and high-quality edge computing will become increasingly critical for mobile operators targeting slicing or hybrid 5G private network deployments.
- Hello, 6G
As 5G becomes mainstream, preparations for 6G technology are also on the horizon. Focusing on China, the IMT-2030 (6G) promotion group officially released the “6G Overall Vision and Potential Key Technology White Paper” in June last year. In the future, the 6G business will form eight major business applications such as holographic communication, digital twin, immersive cloud XR, and sensory interconnection. In addition, in the “14th Five-Year Plan” Information and Communication Industry Development Plan issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the development of 6G basic theory and key technology research and development is also listed as a mobile communication core technology evolution and industry promotion project. We hear more about 6G being shared every day as industry leaders analyze lessons learned from current 5G deployments, share ideas for next-generation services and supporting network architectures, and develop plans for standards development.