As I write these predictions late in December, there are obvious ones that the industry is watching closely: T-Mobile-Sprint’s merger trial, Dish’s entry into wireless, the continued roll out of 5G networks and devices, and Cable’s growing share of net wireless subscribers, among others. Here what I focus on are trends that I think will have a profound impact on how wireless network will be built and architected – I’m watching for things that will significantly change cost structure, competitive landscape or customer experience.
- 5G AND CLOUD INTEGRATION: The seeds for collaboration between carriers and cloud started with AT&T’s announced collaboration with Microsoft, and VZ’s announcement at the AWS re:Invent show. In 2020, 5G and Cloud will make a lot of progress integrating their platforms. Telcos will start integrating cloud into the 5G networks in earnest and the cloud will continue to enable wireless integration with their applications. Concepts like containers, micro services, bare-metal, local data centers, enterprise edge-compute, and dev-ops become normalized into the telco vocabulary. What to watch for: The decisions that Dish Networks will make in their network build-out strategy and any announcements from T-Mobile to collaborate with a cloud partner.
- PRIVATE NETWORKS: We have seen a lot of build-up to the theme of private networks throughout 2019 with bold predictions from Nokia, the launch of Sprint’s Curiosity IoT network, and many other examples. In 2020 Private Networks will dominate the conversation about wireless enablement within the enterprise segments. Digitization, automation, and enablement of AI will lead to more enterprise demand for private 4G/5G networks that will mostly remain unfulfilled as the wireless industry retools for this trend. What to watch for: Major Private Network trials from large enterprise customers in logistics, manufacturing, and retail customers.
- MIDBAND SPECTRUM: Spectrum-clearing and re-allocation was very active in 2019 compared to previous years. In addition to the MM Wave auctions, CBRS commercial deployment was approved in September and progress was made on C-Band clearing, culminating in a planned auction. In 2020 midband spectrum will solidify its position as the most attractive flavor of airwaves. In addition to C-Band and CBRS, we will see significant movement towards enabling other very large blocks of partially used midband spectrum: 6 GHz and 3.1-3.55 GHz. Additional bands will start joining the conversation such as 12 GHz and 7 GHz. What to watch for: Commercial trials and regulatory progress on spectrum sharing for 6 GHz.
- SINGLE APPLICATION NETWORKS: Another trend that is gaining momentum is the deployment of wireless solutions attached to one or two applications, instead of complex multiservice network solutions. Late last year we demonstrated a quick set up with an Amazon DeepLens camera over a CBRS network, and have seen many such commercial deployments since then. In 2020 end devices and IoT applications will take additional prominence in driving 4G/5G deployments as we start seeing more single application network deployments. Top application driven deployments will continue to be digital cameras and security, digital signage, last mile/wiring replacement, and Wi-Fi backhaul. Watch to watch for: Announcement in devices, tablets and applications to enable better image recognition, integrated security systems, more advanced push-to-talk solutions, and embedded robotics.
- WIRELESS DISAGGREGATION: There has been a lot of discussion and anticipation of further disaggregation of wireless networks and definitely some progress. Vodaphone’s Open RAN announcement at the Telecom Infra Project Summit meeting in Amsterdam is a definite milestone. Rakuten’s all virtual network plan is another. In 2020, beyond virtualization and Open RAN progress, we will see only modest progress in application disaggregation as OEMs continue to push for integrated vertical solutions. Edge Compute implementations will gain momentum, but within the boundary of existing networks – instead of pushing for disaggregated networks. What to watch for: Increasing popularity of orchestrators that allow for application disaggregation foreshadowing future network architectures.