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The 5G market’s hype phase is coming to an end, as communication service providers (CSPs) at MWC20 shift their focus away from issuing abstract promises and toward actually demonstrating how 5G can deliver value to all kinds of applications. 

To realize the promise of 5G, CSPs now are investing extensively in radio access networks (RANs) to expand and enhance 5G coverage. As a result, the global 5G RAN market is set to more than quintuple during the coming years, rising to $21 billion in 2024, up from $3.9 billion in 2019.  

 Global 5G radio access network.jpg
Source: Omdia

The proliferation of 5G RANs is a critical element in the establishment of an end-to-end architecture for 5G that will enable the delivery of advanced services for diverse markets including factory automation and self-driving cars. 

These services include network slicing and ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). URLLC delivers the kind of high speeds and minimal delays required to support such time-sensitive applications. 

Beyond simply expanding 5G coverage, CSPs are pursuing other opportunities with their RAN upgrades. These include supporting in-building systems; small cell densification; low-band frequencies such as dynamic spectrum sharing; and RAN software features such as downlink carrier aggregation.  

This investment cycle won’t be cheap, so CSPs must make smart and bold RAN choices. 

In addition to RANs, 5G-specific transport network and backhaul investment driving cell site connections to 10Gbit/sec. speeds and the deployment of wider-network fiber will also be major themes at MWC20. Alongside building out their core networks, CSPs will be investing in edge network capacity to manage internet of things (IoT) applications and to embed capabilities closer to the end-user. 

More advanced networks will introduce 5G standalone (SA) networks alongside non-standalone (NSA) deployments. This presents an opportunity to deploy network function virtualization (NFV) infrastructure using virtual network functions (VNFs) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs).  

While it’s probably too early to see a full cloud-native 5G core, these more complex networks will require artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled automation to optimize infrastructure utilization across technologies such as network slicing and edge compute. Expect to see AI in 5G network planning, deployment, optimization and maintenance operations in 2020. 

The 5G market has entered a new phase when hype alone isn’t good enough anymore. Now is the time for CSPs to stick to their plans and follow through on commitments to deploy and scale 5G and deliver the benefits of the technology to new markets and applications.