Amid all the noise around initial 5G launches, players across the industry continue to argue that 5G isn't just a better version of 4G. Instead, as the argument goes, 5G will enable all kinds of new and innovative business models.
Key, clearly, to reaching that goal is leveraging the capabilities of 5G technology into a cohesive 5G strategy. And since 5G can enable new functions and services, that strategy by its very nature must be innovative.
Thus, it's worth taking a clear-eyed look at what kinds of innovative 5G strategies are hitting the scene in 2019. Here are our Light Reading finalists for the annual Leading Lights award for Most Innovative 5G Strategy:
- A10 Networks
- Casa Systems
- Cisco Systems
- Lumina Networks
- Ooredoo Qatar
- Parallel Wireless
- SK Telecom
The Leading Lights Award winners, as well as this year's inductees to the Light Reading Hall of Fame, will be announced at the Leading Lights dinner and party at the Pinnacle Club in Denver, Monday, May 6, following a day of workshops preceding our Big 5G Event. The Big 5G event opens on Tuesday, May 7. For more info, and for tickets, please visit the Leading Lights Awards 2019 page.
Let's talk about these shortlisted companies:
Cybersecurity provider A10 Networks has lasered in on perhaps one of the most important but least discussed aspects of 5G: Security. And if 5G ever does live up to the massive amount of hype around it by connecting virtually all manner of objects and devices, then security will become that much more important in an age of digital hacks and breaches.
Thus, A10 Networks' new Thunder Convergent Firewall (CFW) sports all the bells and whistles you would expect in a security offering for 5G, covering items ranging from traffic steering to DNS protection to DDoS and analytics and management. And that's all packaged into the kinds of virtualized services operators have been increasingly leaning toward.
Allot remains focused on the core performance and protection of networks, and in 5G the company is working to bring that expertise to the forefront.
Specifically, Allot is working on technologies for both analyzing 5G networks in terms of how they perform, as well as security offerings that ensure 5G networks won't buckle under attacks and other threats.
In analytics, Allot said its technologies could in part prioritize applications and services within and between network slices, focusing on quality indicators that leverage the company's ability to detect and control traffic in alignment with operator policies automatically. And in security, Allot said its DDoS Secure and IoTSecure could protect 5G infrastructure from threats via the detection and mitigation of malicious traffic.
The 5G industry is clearly rushing toward a future built not on proprietary hardware but on open stacks of software. That's evident in technologies ranging from virtualized RANs to network slicing.
And Amdocs is hoping to sit directly in the center of this transition, boasting of an open, software strategy that involves everything from network planning and placement to densification and rollout to integration and optimization.
Perhaps most importantly, Amdocs has pledged of an embrace of open, software-focused efforts ranging from ONAP to Acumos to the ORAN Alliance.
Casa Systems, a longtime cable provider, is working to leverage its networking expertise into the 5G industry with a core product that supports functions ranging from network slicing to hybrid access. Those, of course, are key elements in 5G considering operators' network cores are going to have to support all kinds of new business models as 5G services extend increasingly beyond simple smartphone connections.
And already Casa has boasted of progress in its efforts: The company said it demonstrated with BT residential and enterprise applications and services running over a common 5G control plane, a demo that included wireless, fixed wireless and hybrid network slices with interactive video entertainment and enterprise VPNs.
As one of the world's largest networking equipment vendors, Cisco has proven an ability to push past legacy network trappings and to embrace an increasingly open and software-powered network design -- elements that many expect to form critical pillars of any successful 5G offering.
For Cisco specifically, the company continues to tout a software-powered, disaggregated, edge infrastructure approach that focuses on items including speed to market, high-resiliency services and zero-touch provisioning and self-healing.
And highlighting the company's strategy is Cisco's work with both Reliance Jio in India and Rakuten in Japan, operators that are on the bleeding edge of new, more flexible network designs on the path toward 5G.
As one of the biggest wireless networking equipment vendors in the world, Ericsson is sitting at the forefront of the 5G transition. And the company's products and services highlight that potentially winning strategy.
Specifically, Ericsson boasts that its dual-mode 5G Cloud Core solution includes seven components from the user plane, control plane and data layer, all based on a cloud-native/microservices architecture with network exposure capabilities to enable programmability. The result, the company said, is simplified and automated operations and maintenance, with scalability and performance thrown in.
Most importantly, Ericsson said its new 5G offering could enable up to 20% savings in infrastructure and 30% less user plane footprint, among other bonuses.
Lumina Networks makes SDN controllers, but more importantly, it makes the kind of controllers that AT&T and Verizon recently decided to invest millions of dollars into.
Based on OpenDaylight, Lumina's controller is a critical piece of the bigger SDN puzzle as it enables network operators to bring their existing networks forward into an automated, software-driven operation, providing the abstraction needed.
And in 5G, Lumina said that its efforts are now focusing on "working with ecosystem partners to help make sure 5G networks can reach their full potential of delivery-on-demand, customizable services." Strategy indeed.
Incredibly, Ooredoo in Qatar has emerged as one of the world's leading 5G operators in its efforts to prove out initial elements of the transmission technology. Specifically, the operator boasts that it was able to launch a live commercial 5G network on the 3.5GHz spectrum band in May 2018, well before most other operators.
But more importantly, Ooredoo has been testing noteworthy 5G services ranging from a self-driving, 5G-connected taxi to a 5G-connected bus that allowed passengers to access connections up to 2.6Gbit/s.
As other operators enter the 5G scene, Ooredoo has emerged as an operator to watch.
Parallel Wireless is one of the vendors leading the way in the effort to separate the network stack into its various components. Specifically, the supplier boasts that its support of RAN virtualization allows operators to decouple RF from baseband processing resources. The result, Parallel said, is that its solution (software and RAN hardware) is software upgradeable from any G to 5G.
Parallel, of course, is riding a growing trend among operators that seeks to create a disaggregated network whereby providers can swap in components from various vendors, rather than having to rely on one specific vendor for everything from the antenna to the baseband.
In whole-heartedly supporting this trend, Parallel is positioning itself to be an upstart among wireless equipment heavyweights -- an important position at the outset of the 5G transition.
In December of 2018, SK Telecom said it successfully commercialized a 5G network based on 3GPP standards. And on that same day, the company said it deployed a 5G-based smart factory environment for Myunghwa Industry, an auto parts company based in Gyeonggi-do in South Korea.
By doing so, SK Telecom proved itself to be at the forefront of the 5G wave but also aware that 5G isn't just designed to make smartphones go faster but instead to add wireless capabilities into new fields like factories.
Thus, this South Korean operator will be one to watch as 5G hits prime time.