5G: a revolution in the making - Pat VI - the Ecosystem

There are already many companies operating in the SDN market-space. Many more will come. Credit: Woodside Capital Partners

As I mentioned in the previous posts the revolution in 5G will not be a technological one but a landscape change involving new players in addition to the established ones.

The possibility of having a device to select the radio access and beyond, the network resources it needs to deliver a service, the existence of a plurality of access networks and a multitude of network resources that will become accessible is, indeed, changing the landscape.

The NFV is moving network resources to the Cloud and in doing that is slashing the transaction cost. One could operate at the Cloud level, on bits, to define the desired network performances and for that one can use SDN. So although SDN is quite a different beast from NFV the two are connected in the offering of flexibility.

The flexibility has a twofold impact. On the one hand, obviously, it makes the exploitation of resources, by the Network Operator and by third parties, more effective. On the other hand it changes the perspective of  “ownership”. 

If something is really flexible (can be used in different ways) and open (anybody, in principle, can use it) you would move from an ownership approach to a leveraging approach and for the parts you own you move from a product to a service view.

We have seen over the last few years Wireless Operators shed their radio towers, creating ad hoc companies and then renting services from them. We have seen some Operators outsourcing their network maintenance (like Reliance with Ericsson) and in some cases entering into agreements with Telecoms Manufacturers whereby they purchase the service and that service is actually made possible by the Manufacturers by  introducing their equipment into the existent Operator Network. The next step, of course, will be to have Network Operators getting rid of their networks, in terms of maintenance AND evolution, keeping the right of use and negotiating service level agreements with the “manufacturer/provider”.  This is actually a situation of a Network Operator WITHOUT (owning) the network but it is nothing really new! We have plenty of Virtual Mobile Network Operators already today (there are 16 MVNO as of 2016 in Italy, almost 70 in Germany!).

The deployment of NFV and SDN is just going to accelerate this de-materialization and will stimulate the creation of both


  • Companies that will manage access to resources
  • Companies that will be exploiting resources

The formers are likely to be major players (today’s players with an aggressive consolidation in the coming years, particularly in Europe), the latters are likely to be new companies offering services and likely to embed connectivity in the service offering, be it a washing machine that connects to the Internet, a sport car that will be able to dynamically provide different “performances” to the driver based on the driver request (today I want it more “sporty” – more HPs, tomorrow I want a “leasurely” drive requiring less HPs and more assisted drive…) and so on.

These companies, particularly the latter ones, will create an ecosystem that is created by the virtualization of network resources (NFV) and their open access and management (SDN).

This will be the real revolution and 5G, because of its characteristics of being a blending of technologies not centrally governed and deployed by a wide variety of players, particularly at the edges, is going to be the enabler.


Think about a Municipality that in its drive toward a smarter and smarter city decides to leverage on the variety of infrastructures that has and is deploying, smart lightning, smart garbage collection, smart roads, WiFi for citizens’ services… It makes sense to have these infrastructures open to third parties that could develop new services and leverage on the deployed resources. To make the leveraging of resources more effective SDN can be a natural approach. The future existence of 5G enabled terminals creates the market and users space providing the economic motivation to SMEs and Start ups to invest in the creation of services. SDN then becomes a platform seamlessly supporting both 5G and smart city deployment. 


Think about a car manufacturer that wants to create its own “network” to support its cars autonomous drive across a variety of physical networks. SDN can be an answer to those needs.

The work that EIT Digital is steering in this area, through its partners and through its ecosystem, including the ones in the US where the evolution of the edge has already begun, is at the forefront of this shift. Its cooperation with major worldwide players (including IEEE, EU programs, ONLAB, standardisation organizations like ETSI) and its support to innovative SMEs and start ups leads to an acceleration of this process. As I stated in the title of these series of blogs 5G is a revolution in the making and EIT Digital is fully committed to accelerate the “making”.

The recent joint workshop with IEEE in San Francisco is a step in this direction.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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