Amid all the hype about 5G, there are still plenty of concerns about the future impact and immense challenges of this next generation of mobile technology. Questions such as why is it needed and who is going to pay for it are likely keeping industry executives up at night.
Efforts are being made to find use cases that can specifically take advantage of these new networks – although that has not proved to be easy given the increasing capabilities of 4G LTE networks. There is growing consensus that 5G’s success will largely depend on its ability to enable new use cases for industry and enterprise, and how techniques such as network slicing and multi-access edge computing (MEC) can be applied to support the different characteristics of new applications and services.
Network sharing is likely to play a big role in keeping 5G costs down – with an increased focus on sharing passive and active network elements. McKinsey noted in a report last year that network sharing was a “key lever to reduce cost and make 5G deployments feasible.” The consulting firm added that 5G technologies will build on existing sharing models, but will be supplemented with new features such as network slicing that allows the dynamic allocation of network resources to specific applications and use cases.
McKinsey also highlighted what it described as the most “extreme” example of network sharing: building a single 5G network that provides wholesale access to all mobile operators within a particular market.
In Poland, where T-Mobile Poland has already launched a 5G network using equipment from Huawei, one operator is already lobbying for such a network sharing model. State-owned Exatel, which operates a fiber optic network in the country, believes that the formation of a consortium of private and state-owned companies is the “safest and cheapest way” to implement 5G.
In an interview with Business Insider Polska, Exatel CEO Nikodem Bończa-Tomaszewski said his company is convinced there should be one common network in Poland for all 5G network operators. He also suggested that operators would benefit from the “softwareization” of 5G networks by being able to carve out their own piece of the network.
Exatel is of course an interested party here: it wants to run such a consortium and build a shared, nationwide 5G network.
Bończa-Tomaszewski also cited benefits such as increased state oversight of networks as cybersecurity becomes increasingly important and referred to the growing tensions between governments and China-based vendors as one reason why this would be a good idea.
As for what Poland’s operators think about all this, Orange Poland apparently wants to go it alone with 5G, while Polkomtel-owned Plus is said to be more receptive to the sharing idea.
The issue of 5G network sharing has also become a hot topic in the Netherlands. Het Financieele Dagblad published an article noting that sharing expensive 5G infrastructure is now in vogue and pointed to developments such as the recent agreement between Vodafone Italy and Telecom Italia to share 5G networks in Italy.
However, the three Dutch operators are cautious about the idea. KPN told Het Financieele Dagblad that it would be reluctant to hand over control of such an important asset as its own network, and T-Mobile Netherlands and VodafoneZiggo were also lukewarm to the idea.
It remains to be seen whether operators will have a choice as the cost of building 5G networks mounts. They must also consider the environmental impact of building new base stations in urban areas – an issue that is already giving rise to potential health concerns.
“I think it is untenable to build three more networks next to each other,” Remko de Bruijn, telecoms specialist and partner at consultancy firm AT Kearney, told Het Financieele Dagblad. “Financially, the telecom companies have to start working together more.”