Gearing towards the 5G transition

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Back in our childhood, we have all long awaited the time to see flying cars and holograms, and it seems with the introduction of 5G, we are a step closer towards a digital transformation. The accelerated adoption of smart cities, smart factories, next generation in-store experiences, and autonomous cars is the start of a major digital transformation trend that is impacting consumer behaviour and public sector engagement. 

Boiling it down to layman’s terms, 5G will pave a path to the digital world, with radio frequencies ranging from below 1 GHz all the way up to very high frequencies, called “millimetre wave”.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has a platform with a rapid rise in mobile broadband penetration over the past six years, driven by rising usage of online video and the price drop of LTE-enabled smartphones. However, its market is at an early stage of development, and lagging vastly behind in the penetration stage in comparison to other developed Asian countries.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) Director General Oshada Senanayake said that a smart Sri Lanka is envisioned on the horizon; thereby, 5G is essential to ensure to support the implementation of an automated environment and robotics.  

“TRCSL is in the trial stage to activate 5G broadband connections to the island, and is currently in the process of ensuring the spectrum is allocated. Once the trial is completed successfully, it looks forward to implementing it in a period of two to three years, and complete it within a six-year duration,” he added.

5G Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication

Although the anticipation of the fifth-generation (5G) is growing at an exponential rate opening new doors to exciting features and business models, the provision of these requirements for such intense traffic and diverse services remains a challenge for the telecom industry.

5G is critically dependent on ultra-reliable low latency connection (URLLC); thereby, challenges are further enhanced by elements such as expectations of node-to-node or machine-to-machine communications requirements, the uncertainty of topology, diverse application requirements, backward compatibility, user equipment resource limitations, and the rapidly increasing number of devices. These elements exacerbate the technical complications of the implementation of future 5G networks.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) bridging towards 5G

MNOs enjoy an edge because they own infrastructures for edge technologies, which will force hyperscalers to partner with them. There is mounting evidence that suggests that AWS, Microsoft, and Google are moving fast and developing their edge infrastructure. We should expect big ripples in the tech world over the next decade.
Sri Lanka’s leading MNOs have paved the path towards 5G, with Dialog Axiata last year announcing the launch of 5G roaming, which would enable Dialog subscribers to roam on 5G networks while overseas.

Dialog, having the widest 4G roaming network in South Asia with 369 operators in 150 countries, expanded with its 5G roaming footprint providing a world-class data roaming experience to its subscribers. 5G connectivity also offers ultra-low latency, which will enable major breakthroughs in areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence, and next-generation entertainment.

In Sri Lanka, 5G is available in Dehiwala and Bambalapitiya in the main city of Colombo, and the transition from 4.5G to 5G is underway.

Dialog assures it will provide 5G connectivity by next year, since IOT products cannot function in 4G; because to do those, and for artificial intelligence, we need good connectivity speed, and 5G will be able to provide this.

Meanwhile, Hutch teamed up with ZTE, a global leader in telecommunications and information technology for this groundbreaking 5G trial, which included several demonstrations and use cases of 5G.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business Hutch General Manager Danath Fernando said that the 5G is different to the other technology, and the ecosystem plays a vital role in the establishment of 5G.

“5G is more applicable for industrial uses with massive IOT, where all the cameras and monitoring systems, such as in smart agriculture, everything gets collected to a massive network. However, launching 5G with a huge investment without a proper ecosystem will not be able to utilise 5G fully,” Fernando stated.

The Sunday Morning Business reached out to the other mobile network operators Airtel and Mobitel, but did not receive a response on their role on 5G.

Ecosystem

To be successful in a 5G-enabled world, partnerships and collaboration between MNO and 5G ecosystem players would be of utmost importance, as operators sit at the centre of new ecosystems developed around the ultra-reliable low latency, real time data at scale, and responsiveness that the “edge cloud” delivers.
However much 5G may seem sustainable right now, the industry is still very much at the infant stage. A major downside of 5G adoption is that it puts the entire service provider ecosystem at great risk for cyberattacks. With consumers and businesses becoming steadily reliant on digital services, security shouldn’t be an afterthought. Securing applications and data across the network, endpoints, data centres, branch locations, and the Cloud remains the critical challenge. 

As key enablers of the 5G value chain, mobile network operators are in a position to enable connection and security of the 5G digital economy. There are few potential health risks that we can encounter during the transition to the world of 5G.

How will 5G contribute to smart cities and urban development?

Smart cities represent a combination of solutions deployed in an urban environment, with the intention to transform the administration and support of living and working environments. 5G communications and enabled applications, commerce, media and content will accelerate this transformation, paving the way for both enhancement of existing services, as well as completely new business opportunities. The preponderance of these opportunities will be business-to-business (B2B) rather than direct to consumer.

A smart traffic light system will require millions of data points to be communicated back and forth very fast to decide that a particular light has to be changed depending on the traffic in this direction. Therefore, 5G provides that low latency package for the smart city concept.

While 5G deployments are still in their infancy, early use cases are now emerging by first-mover smart cities in areas, such as smart transportation and healthcare with more applications sure to follow. Many of the earliest examples of 5G smart city services have already found benefits from the high bandwidth and low latency capabilities of 5G, which have enabled next-generation smart city services.

Smart cities are dependent on three components, fast speed, ultra reliable low latency, and the availability of the Internet of Things (IOT). 

Dialog Enterprises Accounts Manager Aqeeb Imtiaz told us that 5G is not only for corporates it also connects with projects with the Government. “In future, the Government is planning to implement automated train booking, and 5G will provide the capacity to complete it, and as service providers, we are anticipating to give connectivity to complete these projects.”

Singapore, the leading 5G giant in Southeast Asia

Singapore, which is presently leading 5G development in the region, is not the only country in Southeast Asia pursuing 5G at scale. In April 2019, Cambodia’s telecoms regulator announced that it had signed a deal with Chinese firm Huawei to deploy 5G infrastructure in the country by 2020.

Singapore was seen as leading the way in launching 5G in 2020, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand, according to research by AT Kearney

Singapore’s three incumbent network operators – Singtel, StarHub, and M1 – have all started 5G trials with industry partners, including a 5G pilot network in the One North district, by Singtel and Ericsson.

China

The initial 5G services will be available in about 50 Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as second-tier provincial capital cities like Nanjing and Wuhan, according to local reports.

In Beijing, as many as 5,000 base stations have been installed by China Mobile alone, covering a majority of the core areas, but it is still unavailable for vast rural areas, according to the report. 

The launch of 5G by Chinese carriers is a step slow in comparison to local smartphone brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi, as they have already introduced several phone models over the past few months that can support 5G networks. 

South Korea

In 2019, South Korea completed a tender process through which it awarded spectrum in both the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands, making available a total of 280 MHz in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band and 2,400 MHz in the 28 GHz band.

The three South Korean carriers, SK telecom, KT, and LG Uplus, launched limited 5G commercial services in December 2018. The simultaneous launch, which spanned limited areas in Seoul and some other major Korean cities, was part of an agreement with the ICT ministry to avoid excessive competition.

Meanwhile, amidst the coronavirus pandemic Thailand is the first country in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to have commercial 5G services. The top two mobile operators of the country, Advanced Info Service and True Corp, are racing to deploy 5G networks at hospitals to lend support to doctors and medical personnel fighting the coronavirus.

Additionally, Indonesia launched trials for its own 5G network in Jakarta and Palembang during the 2018 Asian Games. 

Conclusion

Sri Lanka’s market is now preparing to move from 4G towards 5G mobile services. Dialog Axiata and Mobitel conducted pre-commercial 5G trials during 2019, and Dialog has thus far repurposed 20% of its LTE antennae for 5G.

In the foreseeable future, 5G services will start to emerge as a power tool that mobile operators can use to enhance current smart city services. And TRCSL, as the regulatory authority, will have a broader role in facilitating dialogue in implementing 5G. Therefore TRCSL should be vigilant in questioning whether the ecosystem will be in place to support the transition smoothly from 4G to 5G.

In addition, the combination of high bandwidth, low latency, better energy efficiency and processing massive numbers of connected devices will enable new services to be created, especially in the areas of transportation, public safety and security and citizen services.

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