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Leading Lights 2020 Finalists: Most Innovative 5G Strategy

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If you've been following our Leading Lights awards over the past few weeks, you've gotten to check out some of the leading companies in the fiber, cable and cloud sectors. That's all well and good, of course, but this is the Most Innovative 5G Strategy category.

This is the big one.

After all, 5G is all anyone can talk about, right? It's going to revolutionize everything, change the way we work and li and probably clean the house too.

At least, that's the conclusion you might draw from some of the more, ahem, inventive 5G marketing messages in the industry.

Nonetheless, 5G is a real thing, and it does really have some serious potential, and therefore it's important to point out that these seven companies have been shortlisted for our "Most Innovative 5G Strategy" award for their 5G efforts.

The seven companies in the running are:

The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on http://www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.

Here's a closer look at the companies shortlisted in the Most Innovative 5G Strategy category:

AT&T
AT&T is undoubtedly one of the leaders in the 5G space. The company was among the first in the world to launch commercial mobile 5G services, and today offers 5G across both millimeter wave and sub-6GHz spectrum. Perhaps more importantly, AT&T has also experimented with a variety of advanced 5G technologies ranging from edge computing with Microsoft to unique football fan experiences at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium. All that, coupled with the operator's investments into virtualization, cloud and software-defined networking, push AT&T into the upper echelons of 5G innovation.

Cradlepoint
Cardlepoint is one of the many hungry companies looking to aid the rollout of 5G with increasingly simplified modems and antennas. Further, the company touts a wide range of 5G products, from sub-6GHz scaling all the way up into the millimeter wave spectrum bands. And the company boasts that customers can use its NetCloud offering to simplify the deployment process, including selecting the best location and orientation for its radio units. But pushing Cardlepoint over the edge is its launch partner: Australian giant Telstra.

Linux Foundation Networking
A big part of what 5G enables is a cloud-native, software-powered networking architecture that can use open source platforms. While that certainly doesn't mean anything to the average end user, it's revolutionary for networking engineers that have traditionally dealt in antennas, servers and power cables. However, the road from traditional to next generation is bumpy at best – and that's why the Linux Foundation's Networking community stepped up. Roughly 80 volunteers across four open source communities, alongside 15 partner companies and two end users, collaborated last year to build a live, prototype 5G network that was unveiled during a keynote demo at the KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 show. The network – which supported an end-to-end video call initiated on a 5G handset – essentially proved that cloud-native architectures using open source software are possible. The future is now, apparently.

Parallel Wireless and Comba Telecom
Are you paying attention to the open RAN trend? If not, what are you doing? Open RAN is one of the hottest topics in the wireless industry today, mainly because it promises to disrupt the underpinnings of the networking industry by separating out the elements in a wireless network into Lego pieces that operators can mix and match. That's a dramatic change from standard designs that are tightly integrated and only supplied by one vendor. Thus, the open RAN solution introduced by Parallel and Comba is noteworthy as it paired a hardware supplier (Comba) with a software provider (Parallel) in order to prove out the open RAN mix-and-match concept. No wonder operators ranging from Dish Network to Vodafone are now talking up the technology.

Radisys
Speaking of open RAN, Radisys boasts that it has been integral to the development of the technology. Specifically, the company said that it contributed 5G seed code for things like RLC and MAC layers, PDCP layer and F1 interface and F1 simulator. While that might not mean much outside of hardcore wireless engineering circles, it means a great deal to the overall development of the open RAN space. After all, open RAN has the potential to dramatically disrupt the traditional market for networking equipment – which is probably why some of the market's biggest players have been a bit, ah, slow to embrace the technology. And that's also why Radisys jumped into the development of open RAN technology with both feet – the action gives the company a ground-eye view toward open RAN market momentum. And today, that momentum is significant.

SK Telecom
Much like AT&T, SK Telecom was among the world's first operators to launch real 5G network technology. Moreover, the company did so in style, with a widespread network and advanced services ranging from an artificial intelligence-powered machine vision solution to a mobile edge computing strategy to a successful demonstration of 5G handovers working at roughly 130 miles per hour. And the operator isn't stopping there; it has promised to launch the advanced "standalone" version of 5G – the one that some call "real" 5G – sometime in the second half of 2020. But the real reason SK Telecom is on this list is because it's one of the very few operators in the world that can actually boast of having several million paying 5G customers to show for its efforts.

ZTE
ZTE remains one of the most aggressive 5G equipment vendors in the world. That's probably not surprising given its work to supply critical 5G equipment to several operators in China, a country rapidly on its way to being the world's largest 5G market. But ZTE is on this list because of its "SliceStore," a network-as-a-service that allows operators to sell slices of their network to different vertical industries. This kind of "network slicing" has long been a hot topic in the 5G industry – the prospect of selling dedicated slices of network connectivity to automotive companies, for instance, has long enticed operators hungry for the revenues from such a service – but ZTE's SliceStore essentially brings this concept into reality in a way that the company said can make business and economic sense to both network operators and their enterprise customers. And that is one of the key goals of players in the 5G space.

— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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