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Change of plans: Re-planning your journey to 5G

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You know that feeling when you’re at the airport about to head off on a long-planned trip and your flight gets cancelled, leaving you scrambling to find a new way to reach your destination? Many communications service providers (CSPs) who were in the middle of implementing their plans for 5G deployment when COVID-19 hit had a similar experience. Faced with surging traffic volumes and unprecedented subscriber behaviors, they now have to figure out how to adapt to what will be the new normal for the foreseeable future and get their 5G journeys back on track.

How COVID-19 turned everything upside down

Most CSPs’ 5G plans and strategies were based on well established, predictable network traffic patterns, but the usual peak loads and traffic origination points were completely undone by the pandemic. They designed their 5G infrastructure to concentrate on delivering capacity in dense urban areas and along the major transitways leading into and out of those areas. They poured considerable effort into thinking about how to capitalize on 5G’s enterprise opportunity — based on the ways enterprises used to work, right up until March 2020.

Today, however, we’ve got demand skyrocketing in residential/suburban areas while business districts, train stations and other venues that have typically handled massive volumes of traffic are now underutilized. And the “enterprise network” is no longer confined to a single office or campus, becoming a borderless distribution of stay-at-home remote workers.

To respond to these new traffic patterns and capitalize on what the market wants, CSP’s continue to adjust their operations and plans. The good news is they don’t need to start from scratch or make extensive additional physical network investments.

Five ways to make the most of pre-pandemic network investments

CSPs can maximize their existing network investments and start to get their 5G journeys back on track by adopting the following strategies:

  • Maximize fixed network capacity. To deliver more throughput to more users, CSPs can boost the performance of the DSL and copper lines they already have in place by using vectoring technologies or protocols such as G.fast. Hybrid access technologies that combine mobile and fixed-line connectivity can also help boost the capacity of their existing networks — and is a particularly effective option for mobile operators with limited spectrum but access to DSL or fiber.
  • Concentrate on coverage. While capacity matters, CSPs equally need to make sure they have the right mobile network coverage to reach customers where they are — and in our COVID-19 reality, that’s likely to be at home rather than at the office. Adding small cells can help fill coverage gaps and increase capacity, while massive MIMO can be used to further extend cell ranges to improve coverage. Tapping unlicensed spectrum with licensed assisted access (LAA) helps boost capacity and, by adding zero-footprint microwave, cell site deployment can easily be extended into suburban and rural locations.
  • Adapt service offerings for the new normal. CSPs need to think differently about how they charge for and monetize connectivity services during the COVID-19 period. If they’ve already adopted a converged, real-time charging and billing platform for their 4G services, they can quickly and easily launch temporary offers and promotions that will meet customers’ current needs in a way that rigid, highly structured data plans cannot. Such offers might include zero-rated access to healthcare or streaming video services, increased data usage allowances for mobile subscribers, or even free voice calling for critical service providers such as hospitals and medical workers. One of our own CSP customers in North America, for example, was able to apply a temporary promotion to more than 20 million subscribers in less than four hours thanks to the flexibility and agility of our monetization platform.
  • Embrace the cloud to engage with enterprise customers. Many enterprises are looking to adapt to new remote/hybrid working environments. By taking greater advantage of the cloud partnerships and ecosystems they have already established and by virtualizing even more of their offerings, CSPs can reach enterprise users with the services and applications they need no matter where they’re located.
  • Inject intelligence into network security. Enterprises demand a higher level of security for their sensitive corporate data — even as ingress/egress routes for network traffic have shifted and that data is now being accessed and used remotely. Of course, CSPs can’t install firewalls and other network protection infrastructure on-premises for home-based workers the same way they could for enterprise campuses. They can, however, adopt automated, network-based monitoring and protection, using software-based artificial intelligence and machine learning to proactively detect and respond to attacks from end to end. This approach also makes it easier to scale protection up or down as needed.

With the right software and the right strategies, every CSP can adapt to the current situation without sacrificing their long-term goals — and get where they always intended to go. While many uncertainties remain, these investments will help CSPs weather the COVID-19 storm and set the goundwork for them to continue their journey to 5G.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia or @nokianetworks using #5G #spectrum #covid19 #LTE #fiber #broadband

Jason Elliott

About Jason Elliott

As head of CSP cross-portfolio solutions and partners marketing, Jason combines broad technical and market knowledge to advance the future of communications. He has contributed to showcasing many industry firsts at technology events around the globe and is impassioned to show how technology can have a positive impact on our world.

Tweet me @jre_elliott

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