Why 5G is a lot more than just 4G on steroids?


By Stefano Mattiello, Cisco Director for Global Services Providers

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to faster mobile internet as much as the next person. But the significance of 5G goes much further than that – particularly for mobile network providers.

The 5G mobile broadband connected society

Last September, the United Nations’ information and communication technologies agency ITU shared its vision of a 5G mobile broadband connected society of the year 2020. It “brings together people along with things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in a smart networked communications environment.” This grand-sounding concept relates to an idea we’ve heard a lot about lately: the Internet of Things.

By 2020, it is predicted there will be some 3.1 billion machine-to-machine connections live. According to a Cisco report, the IoT is also projected to  generate R152.58 Billion ($14.3 Billion) in value for South Africa’s public sector over the next decade, helping the South African government create value by saving money, improving employee productivity, generating new revenue (without raising taxes) and enhancing citizen benefits. 

IoT is part of every business discussion and digital transformation is driving operational efficiency, increasing employee productivity, garnering greater customer loyalty and creating new revenue streams. As digitisation accelerates, cutting edge infrastructure will increase a country’s GDP, reduce spending and create jobs.

5G plays a key part in ensuring that we can keep going down the road we’re headed. ITU says that international mobile telecommunications (IMT) is “increasingly becoming the sole means for accessing communication, information, and entertainment” and that it “continues to grow at unprecedented rates and supports connectivity, applications, and services that were not envisioned even a few years ago.” And we need a new kind of technology that’s capable of being the foundation for all of that.

Not just faster 4G

So 5G isn’t just 4G with a new high-speed air link interface. It’s the next step toward the mobile broadband connected society of the future. It needs to support tomorrow’s services using a range of different connectivity and provide unprecedented scalability – not just of bandwidth but also of connections and devices. Because tomorrow’s world will be focused on connecting things as much or more than connecting people, or even people to things. ITU describes the current situation by saying that “systems, technologies, and architectures supporting mobile broadband continue to evolve to improve on spectrum efficiency and utilization. They are adopting new deployment architectures which help but are not the total solution.” They continue to state that operators “must continue to seek new ways to advance the capabilities and push out the boundaries of the technology.” The agency adds that this “requires adequate spectrum if these society benefits are to continue.” 5G plays a key part in ensuring that we can keep going down the road we’re headed.

Getting 5G-ready

But what can we do now to prepare for this future? Anticipating what’s next, Cisco is helping mobile service providers to realize the vision of an analytics-driven, dynamic, knowledge-based, 5G-ready network. It’s an elastic and programmable mobile architecture that leverages virtualization and the cloud to capitalize on the Internet of Things and network knowledge. And it allows providers to quickly and easily innovate services like Voice over LTE (VoLTE), Licensed Small Cells, Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi), Service Provider Wi-Fi solution (SPWi-Fi) and mobility analytics. That’s all possible using Cisco’s Universal Intelligent Access, combined with an industry-leading packet core, orchestration and additional mobile capabilities anchored into the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). And what’s more, Cisco has already partnered with Ericsson, as well as teaming up with Intel and Verizon, with the aim of creating a next-generation 5G router. It’s vital that mobile network operators start putting the foundations in place now, to make the most of what’s coming.

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