Earlier this month, I was in Zurich in Switzerland for a visit of Sunrise Joint Innovation Center organized by Sunrise and Huawei.
I had the chance to interview Sunrise CTO Elmar Grasser. Elmar Grasser has been Sunrise CTO since 2013 and prior to Sunrise, he occupied other CTO roles at Orange Austria, E-Plus in Germany and tele.ring in Austria enabling him to build a strong technical expertise as well as extensive international experience over the years.
During the interview, we discussed Sunrise’s 5G network, 5G services and ecosystem of partners that have made of Sunrise a pioneer of 5G. When Sunrise launched its 5G service in 2019, it was indeed one of the very first operators globally to do so. In 2022, Sunrise celebrated the third anniversary of this 5G launch which means that the operator has more 5G experience than most. Sunrise has deployed a nationwide 5G network and has launched services including mobile broadband, fixed wireless access and cloud gaming, and the next big target is the enterprise market.
These are my key takeaways from this interview:
Deploying 5G was a strategic choice: Sunrise’s network did not always have the best reputation and before 5G, the operator first had to build a solid foundation with 4G. By 2018, Sunrise’s 4G coverage had become very strong and 5G was a strategic choice to build the additional capacity needed to cope with fast data growth while reducing operational costs. Elmar, I quote, “strongly believes that to deliver a gigabyte with 5G is more cost efficient than with 4G.”
Building the right network helped the operator improve its reputation and position as a leader: when 5G was introduced, the strategy was to combine the benefits of low-band 900MHz spectrum for extensive coverage and mid-band 3.5GHz spectrum for high capacity in order to ensure the best possible experience for customers. Today, 5G is available across the country with more than 96% population coverage, and high-speed 5G enabled by C-band massive MIMO in more than 1,000 cities/towns. 5G is also available in key indoor locations. Thanks to these efforts, Sunrise has been able to improve customers perception and brand reputation, and for years now the quality of Sunrise’s network has been also recognized by third-party tests (“outstanding network” according to umlaut connect mobile network test 6 years in a row).
5G for services innovation: 5G was firstly about faster and higher capacity mobile services but it can do more than that. FWA for example is not a new service but 5G made it more attractive. Switzerland is already covered with a good fiber and cable infrastructure, and FWA is not a solution to replace fiber where it is already deployed. But 5G FWA is an efficient way to expand coverage and provide a high-speed, low latency, reliable, and easy-to-deploy home broadband solution where fiber deployment is too costly or unpractical. New capabilities offered by 5G such as massive connectivity, higher speeds and ultra-low latency combined with guaranteed service-level agreements will also be critical to address the enterprise market whether customers just need a basic connectivity service, a customized network slice or if they build their own private network.
Cooperation is key and places like the Joint Innovation Center are needed to encourage it: when introducing a new technology like 5G, operators necessarily cooperate with their technology vendors to solve inevitable technology and deployment challenges. These are the strategic partners, the first circle. And then there is a broader ecosystem, the second circle made of applications providers, universities, and other stakeholders. The JIC is a place where Sunrise’s partners can come together and demonstrate what 5G is capable of and which kind of services 5G will enable in the future such as smart factories, smart farms or smart stadiums, to name just a few.
To conclude, I would like to say a word about sustainability. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of this topic in the telecoms industry, but more concrete actions need to be taken by operators to make their operations and networks more sustainable. Sunrise provided two examples of positive initiatives: first deploying software features to save energy when the network is not heavily loaded, and second powering the network with renewable energies.
To learn more about Sunrise’s 5G journey, I invite you to watch the below interview clips:
This content is sponsored by Huawei.