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5G Factor: MWC24 Preview – Innovations on the Rise

5G Factor: MWC24 Preview – Innovations on the Rise

In this episode of The 5G Factor, our series that focuses on all things 5G, the IoT, and the ecosystem as a whole, I look at the top 5G innovations and what’s going on that caught my eye in the lead up to MWC24. Key innovation developments include DTaaS making strides in China that indicate readiness for 5G deployments on a global scale, the Multi-G initiative’s major industry support from key 5G value chain players such as Cohere, Intel, Juniper, VMware, and Mavenir, including top-tier operators Vodafone, Bell, and Telstra, and Wind River’s pivotal role in the launch of NTT DOCOMO’s first vRAN commercial service.

My analytical review spotlighted:

DTaaS Ready for 5G Prime Time. Digital Twins as a service (or DTaaS) is emerging as a technology that can drive ecosystem-wide 5G innovation, since it can eliminate the need for users to deploy a local digital twin network system, thereby reducing system overhead and maintenance costs in 5G-related R&D. DTaaS built-in benefits include usability, sharing, flexibility, stability, security, and cost-effectiveness that can accelerate wireless network technologies and application innovation such as greater network self-intelligence, service quality improvement, and energy efficiency enhancements. In a Q4 2023 white paper, ZTE proposed a double closed-loop DTaaS architecture, including physical networks, digital twin networks and use cases. Double closed-loop refers to the twin closed-loop and the virtual reality closed-loop during the operation of the network. I examine why DTaaS can power 5G innovation in 2024 as it has already found its application in several regions of China, including port and high-speed railway use cases that use the technology to enhance network planning efficiency and cost optimization.

Cohere, Intel, Juniper, VMware, and Mavenir Fire up Multi-G Initiative. In Q2 2023, Cohere Technologies, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir and VMware embarked on a collaboration to develop the industry’s first framework for a multi-generational (Multi-G), software-based Open RAN architecture. The Multi-G initiative would define frameworks, interfaces, interoperability testing, and evaluation criteria that would provide the interfaces to support full coexistence of 4G, 5G, and future waveforms. Intel’s FlexRAN platform is used by most current vRAN deployments; Mavenir has a strong presence in providing open RAN equipment and software; and Juniper Networks and VMware are both contributing their work with RIC development. Cohere’s contribution is through its Universal Spectrum Multiplier software that can be integrated by RAN vendors or as an app into a telco cloud platform. I review why I see the initiative can ensure network programmable all the way from layer one to the highest layers of the mobile architecture. Plus, why it’s a positive indicator that major operators such as Vodafone, Bell, and Telstra are already on-board to help advance performance and capacity benefits for all existing cellular networks as well as assisting the publication of the critical E2 interfaces into the relevant O-RAN Alliance and TIP Working Groups.

Wind River Studio Cloud Platform. Wind River delivers software for mission-critical intelligent systems, including Wind River Studio which is being used by NTT DOCOMO for its 5G virtualized network, which started commercial deployment in Japan during Q3 2023. For the launch of NTT DOCOMO’s first vRAN commercial service, Wind River Studio Cloud Platform was integrated with Fujitsu’s vCU and vDU along with the latest NVIDIA-converged accelerator. I assess how Studio Cloud Platform provides a fully cloud-native, Kubernetes- and container-based architecture, based on open-source software, for the development, deployment, operations, and servicing of NTT DOCOMO’s distributed edge networks at scale.

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Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Transcript:

Ron Westfall: Hello, and welcome everyone to The 5G Factor. I’m Ron Westfall, Research Director here at The Futurum Group. And today I will be honing in on the major 5G ecosystem developments that have quite simply caught my eye. And today’s focus will be on 5G innovation, especially with Mobile World Congress up on the horizon here in late February, something we’re all looking forward to, and what these emerging innovations can do in terms of benefiting the 5G ecosystem in 2024 and beyond.

So with that, I’m going to jump right in. And to start with the first area that I think is interesting, I’ll table set my perspective and that is going to be on digital twins as a service, or I’ll refer to it as DTaaS as shorthand. And this is something that has been brewing for a little while and digital twin technology has been around for a while. It certainly has proven very effective in areas such as industrial applications and for that matter across many different industries. And now it’s time I believe for mobile networks to also benefit more directly from digital technology, digital twin technology with digital twins as a service in particular, I think playing a key role. And as a new delivery model of digital twin functions, DTaaS can provide services for a variety of users as well as naturally the mobile operators, vertical industries, institutions, government agencies, and more. Basically, anybody who’s participating in the 5G ecosystem.

And for starters, I believe they can eliminate the need for users to deploy a local digital twin network system independently, that is go through the expense, the resources to set a digital twin up. And this is something that’s gotten better. There’s definitely been improvements in how to streamline the implementation, but it’s still, it’s an extra step that some organizations either cannot really afford on the one hand or quite simply using digital twin as a service can streamline the entire process of getting digital twins on board to improve your overall network. And as such, yes, it can reduce the overhead associated with maintenance costs as well as system complexity. And it’s being featured increasingly by the ability to extend security and cost-effectiveness as well. And as we know, security is a prime driver in decision-making for the entire digital ecosystem. And 5G networks are no exception.

And I think specifically it can enhance innovation efficiency for the mobile networks by promoting technical evolution and development as well as quite simply raising the self intelligence level, proving energy efficiency. And naturally reducing costs. Now when considering twin-building capabilities, service openness is certainly something that’s going to be important. And recently, specifically ZTE in that white paper that was released in Q4 of 2023, proposed a double closed-loop digital twin as a service architecture that includes the physical networks, that is the part of the network that is laid out into the open greenfields and brownfields out there, as well as one, a twin closed loop that is for virtual reality closed loop. And that is something that is emulating what the physical network is doing.

So why I think this is important is that you definitely need to combine both of them. You had to have both a closed loop for naturally the physical network that’s been deployed, that is being upgraded as well as its virtual emulation, and being able to combine both of them to have optimal outcomes from using digital twin technology, certainly DTaaS. Now, to again emphasize when it comes to the physical network that provides the API interfaces for the twin network to collect data and activate the configuration and capability calls from the twin network. As such, the digital twin network, which is the core of the entire architecture, is divided into three critical layers, the service layer, the application layer, and the network layer.

Now, when building on the overall architecture, this is something that ZTE is suggesting can benefit from having nine callable microservices inside the service layer of the digital twin. And this includes twinning basic capabilities, twinning advanced capabilities, future open prototype network capabilities, as well as user invocation methods. And so specifically how this is going to make a difference is that for different scenario requirements, users can use an app that integrates various microservices through a natural user interface or directly call microservices that can carry atomic capabilities through an API interface.

And what I like about the natural user interface aspect is that this is bringing our friend AI also into play. And so naturally AI can definitely play a role in terms of improving digital twin capabilities. But also as we see, it’s already having an impact with mobile operators in areas such as improving call center efficiencies, improving overall service support, but also stay tuned it’s going to have an impact on the networks themselves in terms of proving O & M capabilities advancing automation and so fourth. And certainly, digital twin technology would fall under that umbrella. And so what I think is helpful is that currently DTaaS is already being deployed in China in different regions as well as for different use cases and that includes ports as well as high-speed railways. And that is actually being used to enhance again, the network planning efficiency as well as reduction in subsequent optimization costs. And so it’s getting kicked off in China, but clearly, it can have implications for the rest of the world. I can anticipate that there will be adoption in North America and Europe as well as Mideast, Southeast Asia, et cetera.

And so this is something that will, I believe drive the innovation that’s so important to the 5G ecosystem because as we understand the operators are searching for ways to quite simply make 5G monetization more tangible as well as simply accelerating it. And so that is I think one carrier of innovation. I’ll turn to a second area that has jumped out at me and that is, I’m going to shine the spotlight on the Multi-G initiative that started in Q2 of 2023. And as background specifically Cohere Technologies, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, and VMware, now part of Broadcom got together to develop the industry’s framework for a multi-generational or again, Multi-G software-based Open RAN architecture.

Now, we definitely have addressed Open RAN on several of our webcasts. And so now is the time I believe to look at why the Multi-G framework can make a positive impact. And for one, the Multi-G initiative would define again the frameworks but also the interfaces, interoperability testing, and evaluation criteria that would provide the all-important interfaces to support full coexistence of 4G, 5G, and very importantly future waveforms. And to basically provide a foundation here as I see Intel’s FlexRAN platform is used by most current virtualized RAN deployments or quite simply vRAN.

Now, in addition, Mavenir has a strong presence in providing Open RAN equipment and software as well as Juniper Networks and VMware are both contributing their work with the RAN Intelligent Controller or RIC. And this is something that has gained more prominence I believe from, for example, HPE’s proposal to acquire Juniper Networks for $14 billion, as well as finally the just completed merger between Broadcom and VMware. And also critical to this is Cohere’s contribution, which is through its universal spectrum multi-plier software that can be integrated by RAN vendors or as an app into a telco cloud platform. And what I think is critical here is that Intel’s involvement in this initiative is significant because it’s quite simply the company that is enabling the deployment of FlexRAN.

And again, it’s the predominant way for vRANs to be implemented today and into the foreseeable future. And as a result, I believe it can also put Intel a step ahead of rivals such as Qualcomm, Arm, and AMD that are now aggressively targeting the Open RAN silicon market. And as we know Open RAN is making progress. We saw for example, the significant deal between Ericsson and AT&T for $14 billion over five years as well as announcements coming out of Europe for example. Vodafone for example is continuing a pace with its build-out of Open RAN, as well as other partnerships that are driving this.

However, as we know, Open RAN is only a single-digit portion of the overall ran market at least in 2024. And it hasn’t quite taken off as originally anticipated by many observers. And from my view, I believe that it was going to be something that was going to require hold handling at least in the nascent stages, the beginning stages between at least the top tier telcos as well as their existing partners. And thus that’s what we saw with the Ericsson AT&T deal. Now, in terms of the greenfields, I’ve touched on this before. As we know when it comes to networks such as Dish as well as 1&1, they’ve committed to the Open RAN framework naturally. However, it’s going to take them more time to quite simply get it ready for prime time on a enduring and scalable basis. And so hopefully we’ll see progress in that regard in 2024. Now, back to the Multi-G framework, what it would do is disaggregate RAN intelligence and scheduling functions, enabling future code releases of Intel’s FlexRAN reference architecture to support higher capacity software-defined deployments for 4G, 5G, and next-generation waveforms and standards.

Now as such, I see this effort would help drive higher performance, which is something that has to be built into it as well as connectivity. And this is also critical across satellite, private networks, as well as ad hoc networks like we see at sporting events for example, as well as autonomous vehicles. And all this can quite simply potentially increase new service and revenue opportunities for the operators. And I already touched on why 5G monetization is essential. Now, also this initiative is going to make the network programmable all the way from layer one to the highest layers of the mobile architecture. And as such, for Open RAN to truly achieve its full vision, it needs to open the E2 interface because that’s where the innovation is going to flow from, I anticipate.

And in a nutshell, because all the complexity in the ecosystem is basically concentrated in what is the E2 interface proposition, this has to basically unlock more innovation across the mobile ecosystem. That is, it’s a critical barrier that needs to be overcome, not just for Open RAN to become more mainstream, but also Open 5G networks in general. And basically, the E2 interface works by tapping into near real-time X – Apps, running in a RIC to monitor and optimize an operator’s RAN deployment.

And typically that’s either a vRAN or an Open RAN moving forward as we see with some of the Open RAN developments that have occurred over the last quarter and as well as across naturally the different spectrum bands. Now, this in turn allows an operator to support more stringent SLAs and also advance private network deployments that can quite simply achieve those all-important revenue objectives as well as diversification. As a result, from my perspective, a positive indicator is that the major operators such as Vodafone, Bell, and Telstra are already on board for the Multi-G initiative. And that’s going to prove a difference in terms of advancing not only the performance and capacity benefits that are built into the effort, but it’s also going to benefit the entire mobile ecosystem, basically all cellular networks.

And as such, I anticipate that it will also assist the publication of the critical interfaces into closely relevant and adjacent industry bodies such as the O-RAN ALLIANCE and naturally the TIP working groups. And this segues I believe into the third area that I would like to emphasize in terms of what’s going on with 5G innovation. And that is looking at Wind River and its Wind River Studio platform and the integral role it’s playing in terms of 5G virtualized network evolution. Now, as some foreground, Wind River is a firm that delivers software for mission-critical intelligence systems.

So yes, they address certainly the mobile ecosystem, but they also play in other key industries such as software-defined vehicles and so forth. Naturally, I’ll be focusing on how they approach the mobile network industry in particular. And one thing that I thought was important was in Q3 of 2023, NTT DOCOMO is using the Wind River Studio to advance its 5G virtualized network deployment, which basically became commercialized again in that timeframe. And for the launch of NTT DOCOMO’s first vRAN commercial service, the role that Wind River Studio Cloud Platform is playing is the integration with Fujitsu’s, a virtualized central unit as well as naturally its virtualized distributing unit with the latest NVIDIA converged accelerator.

So again, the ecosystem play is vital. Now, we’re seeing Wind River, Fujitsu, and NVIDIA coming together to really provide critical impetus to NTT DOCOMO’s all-important vRAN deployment. And in addition, Studio Cloud Platform is providing that cloud-native Kubernetes and container-based architecture that is based on open-source software, again aligning with NTT DOCOMO. As well as it’s playing a key role for the development, the deployment, and also the operations in terms of servicing distributed edge networks at scale. And that’s the important point. It’s not just simply being able to implement it, but it has to be able to scale into well the foreseeable future. And that has been something that’s been a contributing factor to some delays in kicking the tires for vRAN and Open RAN deployments.

I also see the industry is moving toward vRAN and Open RAN, I touched on that already, but this can also provide benefits in areas such as network flexibility and scalability as well as reducing deployment and maintenance costs. And such I anticipate that it will again be able to seed in terms of what other operators can do with their Open RAN implementations at the critical opening stage. Now Wind River by working with proven experts like Fujitsu and NVIDIA is enabling NTT DOCOMO to quite simply already have commercial lever feature support and quality that can help transition and basically accelerate their innovation efforts to meet quite simply the demands of their customers. And that is both naturally on the commercial side, but also on the consumer side. And so this is something that I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on, is the role of that Wind River Studio technology is playing in terms of advancing, not just the vRAN, Open RAN deployments out there, but also boosting the all critical innovation, especially as we’re going into Mobile World Congress 2024.

And with that high note, I appreciate everybody joining The 5G Factor. I always appreciate our viewing and listening audience to hop on and naturally please reserve, bookmark The 5G Factor for not only today’s webcast but also future ones, which will include various, I would say, speakers that also can provide very insightful perspectives. And with that, thank you everyone, and have a good 5G day.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

Vodafone, Cirrus360, and Intel: Let’s Speak RDSL for Open RAN

5G Factor: Open RAN Fireworks

5G Factor: Intel, Marvell, Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia Advance vRAN

Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.

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