5G: a revolution in the making - Part IV -

The radio access for 5G is going to be a slate of existing and future systems. The future ones are still under debate, no standard has been agreed so far. The picture shows a proposal from Huawei. The interesting thing is that present radio accesses will be embedded in 5G and the devices can select the one fitting best. In case of smart phones they might be able to use several radio access at the same time. Credit: Huawei

When terminals are no longer terminals but network nodes and they can decide autonomously when and where to connect to the big networks (the ones provided by Operators) they are basically taking the upper hand. The tail is wagging the dog.

Of course as soon as a terminal has become a network node with the capability to interconnect with a variety of network domains (networks owned by different players), the game changes dramatically. You no longer have the 150 years long situation where a terminal is “owned” by the Operators providing the connectivity in an exclusive way (today you can connect your cell phone to a different wireless Network Operator only if that Operator has been granted the permission through a contractual agreement with the Operators “owning you”. Without such a contractual agreement the Operator providing the connectivity service will not get reimbursed by the Operator owing your “wallet”.

Software apps will manage the “right of way” when a connection is established. They will actually be able to negotiate the price for the connectivity given a certain SLA required for the particular service you are interested in at the very moment. Of course, third parties may step in and do the negotiation on your (cellphone) behalf, as it is the case already today (a revolution in the making) with the Kindle where Amazon is negotiating through AT&T agreement with most wireless network operators around the world, paying for your Kindle ubiquitous connectivity, or with Apple that is negotiating connectivity rights for the iPad you bought from them (not yet applicable in all Countries, but it is just a matter of time…).

So, from a technical point of view your smartphone can be(come) a network node, having the needed processing power. It can connect to a variety of networks at the same time. This is what 5G is all about in terms of market reshaping. This is something that Operators may not be looking forward to. They would rather have 5G as the 4+1G with no changes in the rules of the game. 
 In the end, since the authentication is still happening through their networks why should they go for killing their biz? It would just be enough to stop the cell phone to manage the session and require it to stick with their management. This was, as I mentioned, also the first approach many Operators took on tethering. Tethering is decreasing the direct control of the Operator on the device connected, it shrinks the potential market. Then, as one Operator saw this as a potential differentiator and allowed it, the others, after a while, had to follow.

In any competitive market advantages brought by technology evolution will end up to benefit the customer. This is a basic economic rule and this is why technology has resulted in lower and lower price to the end customer.

In 2017 the European market will be completely open. No more roaming charges. That means that the over 100 mobile Operators in Europe will be competing on a market the size of the one in the US where there are just 4 main Operators (12 in total but the other 8 have very small footprint…). It is clear that this fragmentation, so far protected by Countries boundaries and regulations, will not survive and competition will drive 5G evolution in the direction of customers.

True, the Network Operators (with capital N and capital O) will get the major share of the spectrum, they are likely the only ones having the money, capability and the interest to negotiate with public authority to get other portions of the spectrum, will change their wireless networks to accommodate the technology evolution brought forward by the 5G (like BDMA – Beam Division Multiple Access or the SCMA – Spares Code Multiple Access) but the fact remains that for the first time 5G could be deployed at the edges, directly by consumers using their smartphones with the appropriate software to create networks and to benefit from existing networks. And this is what will push present mobile operators to be part of the 5G revolution. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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