EE wins the grand slam in latest OpenSignal UK report

The latest OpenSignal report shows EE has come on top in all five categories, though the winning margin in video experience was narrow.

The latest report on the UK’s mobile network experience published by the network rating firm OpenSignal pitted the country’s four nationwide operators against each other on five measurements: 4G Availability, Video Experience, Download Speed, Upload Speed, and Latency. EE has won every category.

Although EE has been in a leading position in delivering mobile experience, the competition was closer in previous OpenSignal assessments. A year ago EE and Vodafone tied in two out of four categories. Half a year ago, Vodafone was still on par with EE on delivering the lowest latency. But the BT-owned operator has opened up a gap over its competitors in most measurements lately.

The one area that EE was not a comfortable winner was video experience. As we reported earlier, higher download speed does not necessarily deliver the best video experience, according to OpenSignal’s analysis. Other technologies including traffic management and latency minimisation also feature in the evaluation. Therefore although EE’s download speed is more than 40% faster than its closest competition (Vodafone) and it also has registered the lowest latency, EE only marginally beat Vodafone in video experience. It actually came the last if video experience had been judged on 3G only (3 came on top). But thanks to the superior 4G availability EE customers would not need to fall back on 3G much when streaming video.

The report also provides regional comparison, with the country broken down to twelve regions: Eastern, East Midlands, London, North East, Northern Ireland, North West, Scotland, South East, South West, Wales, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber. The report dismissed the so-called “North/South divide” as a myth, with some of the “top scores appearing in the North East, North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber regions”. In an earlier report measuring 4G speed, the firm also noted that London was only mid-table, with the highest 4G download speeds registered in places like Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham.

Here are the countrywide results:

OpenSignal_chart 4G Availability April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Video Experience April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Download Speed April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Upload Speed April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Latency April 2019

FWA can be the fuel for fibre ambitions – Huawei CTO

Fixed wireless access (FWA) should not be considered an alternative for fibre connectivity in the home, but that does not mean it should be ignored as a usecase to justify expenditure.

“5G is not about speed but about making money,” said Paul Scanlan, CTO for the Huawei Carrier Business Group.

Those who are basing business models around the idea that 5G will deliver faster connectivity are heading down a perilous road. There will be an opportunity to make money from faster connections, but a 5G-orientated telco thinks about the economics of connectivity differently, according to Scanlan. One example is the FWA buzz.

In some circles, FWA is being touted as an alternative to fibre broadband. For Scanlan, this is short-sighted, but it can create a more attractive position to ease the transition from legacy networks through to the future proof infrastructure.

Two concepts of fibre connectivity are completely unavoidable; firstly, its expensive to deploy a fibre network, and secondly, its very time-consuming. The materials are in high-demand pushing up the price, digs are laborious and planning permission laws can create a complicated red-tape maze. These are some of the reasons mobile connectivity vastly outstrips fibre deployments, which generally only grow 5% a year.

In certain geographies, the FWA usecase is an incredibly valuable one. Not only is it quicker to deploy, offering fibre-like speeds sooner rather than later, it is cheaper. Telcos can start delivering fibre-like broadband services immediately, increasing customer satisfaction, while these revenues can offset the heavy financial demands of deploying fibre. It’s a slightly different mindset, but FWA could aid the inevitable.

This is where the ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ mentality of the telcos could create a risk. It is simply not sustainable. Connectivity is becoming increasingly expensive, and consumers are paying less. This is not an attractive equation, but new services can eliminate the chasm.

Latency and transmission are two areas which are not attracting as much attention but could be the difference between the digital service provider of tomorrow and a utilitised telco for connectivity. With 5G, Huawei is promising latency can be reduced by 30-50X, while throughput can be increased by 16X; these numbers can create a more attractive business model.

On the latency front, there are some telcos across Asia who are attempting to monetize latency, creating added value services for gamers. For $1 a month, gamers can turn-on ‘low latency mode’ which can be the difference between winning and losing for certain titles. At $1 a month, it isn’t going to turn the tides, but enough of these value-adds fights back against the pressure of utilitisation trends.

Another interesting usecase is in the smart factory, using latency to remove intelligence off the robots. Scanlan highlighted very few people would buy a $1 million robot, but demand would be much higher for the same device priced at $1,000. The difference between the two could be removing the intelligent component from the robot and hosting them in the cloud. But for this to be a reality, latency would have to be significantly reduced. This is another monetization opportunity for the telcos.

Looking at transmission, Scanlan points to consumer traffic growth. If growth continues its current trajectory, at least 25% year-on-year, 4G will hit a glass ceiling within three years. 4G would have to increase network densification by 160% to meet the demands, though 5G could be the answer. Yes, there will need to be more small cell sites to address the coverage requirements, but each of these sites will have dramatically increased capabilities to deal with the traffic consumption.

Huawei claims CAPEX expenditure would have to increase by 5X for 4G to meet the demands if traffic increased by 50%, though it would only be 1.8X for 5G infrastructure. This creates a much more palatable equation for a scenario which is inevitable.

“What is the real reason for big 5G, it is significantly more efficient,” said Scanlan.

5G is faster, there is no avoiding this fact, but building a business around such a narrow focus is incredibly dangerous. The days of the ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ mentality is quickly dying in the telco world.

5G – more than just a RAN on steroids

The metamorphosis currently underway in the communications networking industry is unprecedented, and while for some the evolution to a 5G world is akin to a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, others are worried it will turn a functioning (but flawed) industry into something more frightening.

Of course, we don’t know how 5G is going to turn out. What we do know, though, is that it’s about much more than some souped-up new devices and a radio access network (RAN) on steroids. And while we are witnessing an increasing number of claims about 5G service ‘firsts’ in the industry, these initial launches are only scratching the surface of what is possible and, importantly, are basing their claims on the deployment of a limited number of next generation networking elements.

And that’s fine for 2018 and 2019 – it’s understandable that for some competitive and marketing reasons, being first with a 5G offer can be important. But what about in 10 years’ time? What technology and operational process advances will be needed to fulfil the full potential of 5G?

In our view, a successful 5G strategy will require network operators to address, in some way, a very broad range of technologies and processes, all of which will play a critical role in enabling them to capitalize on the full potential that a 5G deployment will offer.

All of these are pieces in the Big 5G Picture jigsaw puzzle: Miss, or dismiss, any of the 20 elements, many of which are interdependent, and the picture will be incomplete and opportunities lost. Deploy them together and there just might be something for 5G business case doubters to chew on.

What are these 20 elements? (And yes, that’s a suspiciously round number…)

We’re talking about the likes of SDN and NFV, “anyhaul” transport, edge computing, AI/analytics, IoT and C-V2X platforms and more, as well as the 5G radio access network (RAN), 5G core and devices. Here’s what our 5G Big Picture looks like:

5G puzzle image 1

And with each of these elements ultimately playing a critical role in full 5G deployments, that, in turn, is creating new opportunities for (and threats to) the thousands of companies that are aiming to become the technology and professional services partners for the world’s communications network operators.

Many vendors have already shifted to a 5G-oriented strategy, one that positions them to fulfill the needs of operators in relation to one or more of the puzzle pieces: Explaining to the market, staff, partners and investors their role in 5G, and why that’s important, is not so easy when there is often such a myopic view about what 5G is and what it ultimately entails.

So what are we trying to achieve with this presentation of the 5G Big Picture? It’s not an attempt to explain everything about the underlying technologies or dig deep into standards developments or software code — instead we’re trying to provide a relatively simple view of how important 5G is to so many industry developments.

And to be clear — this is just about the underlying technology elements and supporting processes that will make 5G services and applications possible: It’s not an attempt to identify the resulting services themselves. That’s why there’s no reference to gigabit broadband, interactive gaming, automated industrial robotics or remote surgery — this is all about the underlying and supporting tech.

It’s also very broad-brush — that’s why there’s no reference to specific virtual networking functions or to network slicing: these are capabilities enabled by the underlying technologies and supporting processes.

Before we get to the list of elements and provide a brief word about each of them, it’s worth taking a quick look at the underlying reasons why each of these elements is an important part of the 5G Big Picture.

To enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and beyond!

The 5G noise has been building to an almost deafening crescendo for several years and we’re about to hit the first phase of significant service launches in major markets.

The first year (or even first few years) will be a public relations battle, but the early action will largely revolve around the delivery of enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), which in itself will be a step forward and, in fixed wireless scenarios, likely to shake up the broadband services market in general. In time it will also enable emerging services such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and 8K video to mobile devices — and that will be a significant challenge in itself.

Such services require, at the very minimum, network upgrades in the radio access network (RAN) and supporting “anyhaul” (fronthaul and backhaul) packet and optical transport networks that carry video and data traffic to and from end-user devices. These launches do not require a full 5G Big Picture deployment.

But enhanced Mobile Broadband is just one of the now familiar three points of the 5G services triangle, a version of which you can see below.

5G puzzle image 2

Moving anticlockwise from eMBB we have the massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) that will be enabled by an extensive Internet of Things (IoT). All those billions of devices — 20 billion by 2023, according to a forecast from Ericsson — will need to be managed and while some of them will require very little in the way of data traffic flows, either to or from, some will put strain on networks, especially once high-resolution streaming video surveillance cameras become the norm in smart cities. These mMTC applications will require a significant number, but not the full suite, of elements.

But the major challenges come down the line when autonomous vehicles are let loose on the roads, and when the range of services dubbed Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) — aka “Critical Communications” — including industrial robot automation and remote surgery are launched: That’s when all the puzzle pieces need to be in place.

So let’s take a look at the 5G Big Picture piece by piece…

  • 5G Radio Access Network: There isn’t going to be much happening in the 5G world without next-generation radio access network deployments and the early 3GPP specs are out… this is the element that defines most references to 5G and will continue to do so.
  • 5G core: The intelligent heart of the 5G network that will allow capabilities such as network slicing.
  • 5G devices: Coming soon! And more than just smartphones of course — end-user devices could be just about anything you can fit a 5G chip into.
  • AI/next-gen analytics: Vast volumes of data will need to be sorted and analyzed, at the edge of the network as well as in central repositories, for advanced business and consumer services, particularly the Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) services, to be delivered. Machine-learning tools will underpin automated network management and operational processes: Manual processes will not be able to keep pace with requirements.
  • NFV: To enable to rapid implementation/instantiation of services, 5G networks will be cloud-native NFV infrastructure (NFVi) architectures hosting virtual network functions (VNFs).
  • SDN: Software-defined networking will be required to efficiently and effectively control the network and service delivery platform resources used to deliver services over the telco cloud and provide customers with control of the services they use.
  • Next-gen network security: Manual network security processes will be pointless in a full 5G deployment — machine learning-enabled security systems will pre-empt and mitigate all manner of security threats across the distributed 5G network landscape.
  • Identity management/authentication: A scalable approach to identity management and authentication, including the ability to support information exchange between distributed databases, will be needed to support services across billions of devices and multiple network slices without overloading the signaling infrastructure.
  • ‘Anyhaul’ transport: The data traffic volumes and disaggregated nature of 5G radio access networks will require high-capacity, low-latency fronthaul (links from remote radios to baseband processing pools) and backhaul connectivity (links from access aggregation points to the metro network). Collectively, fronthaul and backhaul is referred to as “anyhaul.”
  • Edge computing: The latency requirements of many services running over 5G can only be met by the deployment of a distributed cloud architecture, including the deployment of compute and storage resources at the network edge — at cell tower and basestation sites, in revamped central offices, and even in time at the “street furniture” level. What a great term that is — street furniture…
  • 4K/8K video delivery platform: High-definition video will need to be delivered and managed as part of 5G service offerings, so the appropriate video infrastructure will be required.
  • 5G test and measurement tools: Neither the vendors nor operators will get too far without being able to test and verify their new 5G systems and services, making these tools essential.
  • IoT platform: Dedicated IoT platforms will be needed to manage and monitor the billions of devices that will be connected in a 5G world.
  • C-V2X system: Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) is a dedicated cellular specification designed to connect vehicles to each other and anything else that’s relevant, so it looks to be an essential component of advanced 5G service deployments.
  • Distributed ledger technology/blockchain: Blockchain technology is looking increasingly likely to play a role, alongside and supporting traditional databases, in helping to manage and secure transactions and identities once 5G is fully deployed.
  • Next-gen BSS: Cloud-native business support systems with APIs to network and service controllers will be required to “monetize” and provide customer experience management for the broad array of cloud-based 5G services.
  • Next-gen OSS: Silos of legacy operations support systems (OSS) are not going to cut it in a 5G world — like the BSS systems, cloud-based management tools will be required.
  • Cloud-native development: There is a growing realization among network operators that DevOps processes, including Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD), will need to be adopted to ensure service support and delivery once the 5G telco cloud is deployed, so the massive cultural shift required is already underway at many operators.
  • Process automation: Without automated processes, whether in the back office or at the front line, service providers will lack the speed and efficiency needed to survive in a 5G world. The shift towards automation will be slow but continuous as operators find the processes they can identify and break down into piece parts that can be replicated in code — and operators are already finding that placing their trust in machines rather than humans can deliver improved results.
  • Great coffee: Yeah, we went there. The evolution to a fully functioning 5G network with all its bells and whistles is going to be a gargantuan task, one that cannot be undertaken without a ready supply of top-class roasted Arabica and Robusta and that, of course, requires the use of some dedicated hardware that absolutely cannot be hosted in the cloud…

5G puzzle image 3

So, that’s a brief run-down of the 5G Big Picture elements. Telecoms.com will be reporting on the development and deployment of all these, and no doubt more, in the months and years to come.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading, for Telecoms.com