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General

Nokia and Inria ponder the future of networks

Nokia and Inria sign a four year collaboration designed ‘to solve the key scientific challenges linked to the evolution of networks and network applications.’

The two firms are extending their collaboration for another four years as their boffins collectively scratch their heads and try to work out what networks will look like in the future. The new collab will create 15 new PhD student and post-doctoral researcher employment opportunities at Nokia Bell Labs and Inria, and will specifically look at ‘smart networking and edge computing.’

The Nokia Bell Labs-Inria collaboration will look at three things in particular – distributed learning over 6G, AI-based smart network management, and network aware industrial applications.

“Future networks will have to connect digital, physical and human worlds to unleash the innate potential of human beings in the metaverse era,” states the release. What the firms appear to be getting at is that they reckon future networks will need to be flexible in accordance with a wide variety of customer needs – which is hard to argue with.

Networks will also, we are told, develop ‘heightened sensing capabilities, and increased context-awareness in terms of user status and intent, dynamically and automatically adapting connectivity to meet user needs.’ Which sounds like it means dynamically scaling bandwidth, but we’re sure there’s more to it than that with so many smart cookies spending their days pondering the issue.

“Inria and Nokia Bell Labs have enjoyed a rich and fruitful relationship for more than 20 years,” said Thierry Klein, President of Nokia Bell Labs Solutions Research. “Inria is part of the Bell Labs Distinguished Academic Partners program, engaging the best and brightest minds from the world’s top universities and academic organizations to collaborate with us on transforming human existence. This new phase of our collaboration addresses the strategic challenges of the future digital connected world infrastructure and applications, and we are excited about the collaborative advantages of this continued partnership for Nokia, our industry, and society to enable enhanced experiences in a digitalized world.”

Bruno Sportisse, CEO of Inria, added: “Nokia Bell Labs is one of our major strategic partners and I am pleased that we are strengthening our partnership. For Inria, working with a world leader with a European footprint such as Nokia is one of our priorities, whether to position ourselves on major scientific topics, to maintain joint scientific and technological excellence, or to have an impact on the scale of our work. The gradual evolution of our partnership also shows the importance of building long-term relationships based on trust, within a joint strategy and roadmap. Together with Nokia, we will work on the new frontiers for 6G mobile networks, which pose new technological and theoretical challenges, where software design and data exchange must be jointly addressed.

It’s not immediately obvious what the entirety of the above means and how in synch it is with the predictions of the rest of the future gazing scientists out there, but to summarise the release makes the assertion than in the future networks will be 100% cloud-native and support a distributed architecture, they will have zero-touch management and orchestration though AI, and devices will rely on a combination of edge cloud and local near-device computing, resulting in a massively distributed computing architecture.

All of this might be true, or alternatively future networks might take a different currently un-articulated form – time will tell but certainly the genesis of what the telecoms/tech industry ends up flogging comes out of theoretical conversations and research labs like this, so it’s worth taking a look at the big picture from time to time and taking note of where the soothsayers think technological progress is taking us.

General

Telcos face ARPU pressure in 2023

Telecoms operators, and the industry as a whole, face tricky times next year as a result of economic difficulties and existing market pressures, Analysys Mason warned this week.

That headline conclusion is hardly rocket science. The vast majority of people and businesses are having to face up to economic uncertainty, and the telecoms industry was never going to be exempt form that. But the analyst firm looks at some of the specific pressures that will hit telecoms next year, and that makes for interesting reading.

One of its key takeaways is the fact that operators will raise prices – despite various nudges to the contrary from regulatory bodies – but could nonetheless struggle to maintain average revenue per user.

“We believe that operators will be able to raise retail prices, but it is possible that ARPU will not keep pace with inflation, meaning a cut in real terms,” Analysys Mason notes it in a piece outlining key focus areas for the industry in 2023.

With telecoms sucking up a much smaller portion of a household budget than food, energy and so forth, the impact will be mitigated to an extent, but ARPU reduction is never good news for telecoms operators, most of whom are working hard to maintain these types of metric in the face of growing investment requirements.

“After a decade of low inflation and low interest rates, the telecoms sector faces the uncertainty of how it will be affected by these cost increases and the degree to which it can increase its own prices in response,” said Larry Goldman, Chief Analyst at Analysys Mason.

“Combined with high investment costs and questions about potential returns, the market outlook is challenging as the telecoms industry tries to steer its path through price rises, rolling out network availability and launching new services,” Goldman said.

Nonetheless, the analyst firm believes that 5G investment will not be impacted by the downturn, despite the fact that the prospects for a short-term term return are not good. Essentially, they need to tap into revenue-growth opportunities, and this means having the ability to support higher-volume and low-latency services like cloud gaming, AR/VR and the metaverse, and digital businesses. As such they need to carry on investing in 5G and fibre.

“Operators will continue to depend on joint ventures to support their investments,” Analysys Mason said, presumably referring mainly to the fibre space, where JV announcements have been coming thick and fast in recent months. Rumours that T-Mobile US is working on a $4 billion fibre joint venture emerged earlier this month, for example, while AT&T is apparently on the same track. Meanwhile, European operators have already inked a raft of deals with investment partners.

But its not just network investments that will cause operators to feel the pinch.

Analysys Mason describes telcos as having been “relatively unscathed” by the Covid-19 pandemic, but points out that they will now need to reduce costs. Investments in automation in recent years will help with that, but there is also the thorny issue of cutting energy bills to address.

Efforts to deal with rising inflation and increasing energy costs featured in Vodafone’s first half FY2023 results last week, chief among which was price rises, reinforcing Analysys Mason’s view that consumers will have to deal with bigger bills. Meanwhile, BT added £500 million to its cost-cutting plan, in no small part due to growing energy costs.

Analysys Mason identifies decommissioning older networks more quickly than previously planned as an area of focus for cost-conscious telcos.

Other predictions from the analyst firm include a continued push on digital services from telecoms operators, as well as ongoing metaverse initiatives, although it expects the metaverse will not truly materialise until 2024.

On the networks and software side, it is looking at take-up of private networks in tier-two organisations, many of which will need greater simplification and as-a-service pricing; big growth in aaS deployment models in general, especially in traditional OSS/BSS areas; accelerated enterprise demand for multi-cloud connectivity; and open RAN expansion.

There are some big industry buzzwords in there. It’s a positive sign that analysts expect these growth areas to keep growing, despite the obvious economic headwinds looming.

General

Ericsson highlights emerging market 5G potential

Ericsson underlined the role of 5G to the economic growth of 15 emerging markets, touting the potential of mid-band coverage to advance services and operation of smart national infrastructures.

The vendor commissioned research company Analysys Mason to study the impact of 5G in a wide range of sectors including commercial, industrial, logistics, rural and public services.

It also focused on how multiple 5G spectrum deployments have improved the delivery of mobile broadband and fixed wireless access services in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The countries observed in the study included Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.

Among the key headlines, the research found the deployment of 5G across the business and industrial sectors could trigger a GDP growth of between 0.3 per cent and 0.5 per cent in the years to 2035, noting network-enabled infrastructure including smart industry and rural clusters accounted for “85 [per cent] to 90 per cent” of the total economic benefits in each market.

Sectors
Ericsson identified mid-band 5G coverage as a key enabler of the gains in economic infrastructure, with its high capacity and bandwidth making it suitable for services in manufacturing, industry, automation and agriculture.

Agriculture was identified as a thriving sector in all 15 countries, accounting for up to 10 per cent of GDP “in some markets”, with enhanced rural 5G connectivity potentially delivering a further 1.8 per cent growth in GDP.

Ericsson stated the research highlighted enhancing 5G mobile broadband could deliver a consumer surplus of between $1 billion and $10 billion per country, along with social and environmental benefits.

Andrew Lloyd, head of government and policy advocacy at Ericsson, stated the backing of governments, regulators and governments for 5G connectivity offered many potential benefits.

“In addition to economic benefits, 5G can also reduce climate impact, increase social inclusion, wellbeing and tackle the digital divide in areas where fixed infrastructure availability is poor.”

General

EU approves in-flight 5G services

The EU has approved the use of 5G aboard aircraft during flight. In an amendment of its spectrum regulations, the European Commission also opened up the use of Wi-Fi in the 5GHz band for road transport.

Mobile communications using previous generations such as 3G and 4G is already possible in-flight in the EU, and the new decision means airlines will be able to provide the latest 5G technology as well on their planes. The Commission said it updated the implementing decision on spectrum for mobile communications on-board aircrafts, designating certain frequencies for in-flight 5G services. 

Passengers will be able to access messaging, phone calls and data services over 5G while flying in the EU, the same as when on the ground. The service is provided within the cabin using special network equipment, the so-called ‘pico-cell’, to connect the users and route communications typically via a satellite network, between the airplane and the ground-based mobile network.

The Commission said it also amended an implementing decision on 5 GHz frequency bands, making the bands available for Wi-Fi in road transport, for example in cars and buses. The amending decision lays the foundation for innovations in the automotive industry and potentially for metaverse applications, the Commission said. 

EU states are required to make the 5 GHz frequency bands available for use aboard road vehicles as early as possible and at the latest by 30 June 2023.

General

Building a better intelligent world with 5.5G

Ubiquitous 10 Gbit/s experiences, the number of connected IoT devices reaching hundreds of billions, energy efficiency, and everything around will become intelligently connected, including wearables, intelligent vehicles and robots —these are what will be shaping the 5.5G era.

On the second day of Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum 2022, David Wang, Huawei’s Executive Director of the Board and Chairman of ICT Infrastructure Managing Board, shared a glimpse of what the future with 5.5G will be.

“And now a fully connected intelligent world is fast approaching. In this world, everything will be possible and the rapid changes we are about to experience will be accompanied by increasing requirement for digital infrastructure,” Wang said.

He said that 5G has become a pillar of global digitalization and serves as a milestone on the road to the intelligent world.

Through a common vision and collaborative efforts, Wang said the industry has made great strides and is now geared towards 5.5G. He urged all industry players to continue working together and be more ready to propel forward to the 5.5G era and eventually build a better, intelligent world together.

This latest breakthrough is expected to generate market potentials and open opportunities, despite the challenges in the next five years, including highly diverse and very demanding requirements. And amid all these, Huawei continues to evolve to lead the 5.5G era.

For individuals, immersive services like XR and holographic communication are constantly becoming more sophisticated, with 10 gigabyte per second services to bridge both time and space. In industry, digital technology will continue to reshape production with intelligence becoming central to almost every industry. This will need to support over 1 gigabyte per second uplink rates, lower latency and higher reliability.

“Since 2020, we have worked with our industry partners to define a vision for 5.5G. After 2 years of hard work, we have achieved a lot and three things have become clear,” Wang said. He Wang stressed that 5.5G has made remarkable progress and proved three things.

One of them is shifting the 5.5G concept into reality, which is now on course to fully develop its potential as its standardization has also been initialized.

Second, even more advanced key technologies for 5.5G have been developed, and ultra-large bandwidth and ELAA can now deliver 10 Gbit/s experience.

Wang also said that the industry now has a better glimpse of the IoT landscape. He specified the three types of 5.5G-enabled IoT technologies supported by 5.5G. These are: NB-IoT, RedCap, and passive IoT, which are all growing fast and will support numerous IoT connections.

Five steps to reach the 5.5G milestone

As Huawei constantly innovate standards, technology and the industry as a whole, it is now well-equipped to jump on to 5.5G.  Wang pointed out the five steps it will need to take to take to realize these goals. “5.5G has been kicked into high gear. Looking ahead, our task is to tackle these five new areas – standards, spectrum, products, ecosystems, and applications.”

Wang suggests the need to set standards and support key technological research. “Standards will steer the mobile communications industry and will guide the 5.5G industry forward alone are clearly defined path. Work on release 18 is already underway to further enhance the eMBB, we need to verify key technologies and ensure 5.5G increases natural performance by 10 times.”

Wang added that key industry milestone must be aligned to ensure release 18 is frozen by the first quarter 2024, its expected timeframe.

Achieving the full capabilities in 5.5G also requires new spectrum considerations and that is what Huawei is also focusing on. Wang explained, “Wide spectrum will be foundation for the 5.5 G technology innovation and capability delivery, millimeter wave is one of the key frequency band for the 5.5 G. Operators will need to take steps to acquire over 800 MHz of spectrum to realize millisecond level latency and become forerunners in this area. 6 gigahertz, on the other hand, is also a potential ultra wide band for the 5.5G.”

The successful commercialization of 5.5G will be closer to reality if more operators and equipment, device and chip vendors would also move along together with Huawei. They would need to begin testing technological solutions and system networking to ensure that interoperability device testing can be completed by 2024.

Wang has also put emphasis on the need for a collaboration to build a thriving 5.5G ecosystem to fulfil these requirements. He foresees that in the future, a single network will be able to support hundreds of billions of connections, including connections between people and things. And device vendors should be ready to adapt the costs and modular capabilities to application scenarios.

And amid the emergence of new generation of innovative applications, Huawei has developed a clearer vision of the intelligent world. Wang suggested that all industrial players should now work together, to explore and create these applications. He encourages all their ecosystem partners, “Together, let’s stride to 5.5G and build a better intelligent world.”

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