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Mobile industry makes ‘rapid’ progress towards 5G despite Covid-19

BPI Network Survey suggests operators are rethinking security in the light of 5G network traffic, and shows “dramatic” increase in connected devices and new mission-critical use cases

Mobile service providers (MSPs) say they are making substantial progress toward ushering in a new generation of 5G networks that will enable ultra-high-speed mobile connectivity and a wide variety of new applications and smart infrastructure use cases, according to a new global study report from the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network.

Created in partnership with A10 Networks, the Toward a more secure 5G world report says progress includes steady work toward virtualising core network functions and a re-examination of the security investments MSPs will need to protect their networks and customers. The study also suggests the Covid-19 outbreak is not expected to delay 5G deployments significantly.

Revealing the extent of the growth, the study said the percentage of MSPs that say their companies are “moving rapidly towards commercial deployment” has increased significantly in the past year, climbing from 26% in a survey in early 2019 to 45% in the new survey. Yet in order to build out, the study found that the industry’s top 5G challenges were the heavy cost of build-outs (59%), security of networks (57%), the need for new technical skills (55%), and lack of 5G-enabled devices (42%).

Among other key findings, 81% of respondents said industry progress towards 5G was moving rapidly, mostly in major markets, or was at least in line with expectations. Nearly three-quarters (71%) expected to begin 5G network build-outs within 18 months, including one-third who have already begun, or will do so, in 2020.

As regards security, virtually all respondents said improving it was a critical network requirement and the top concern in the 5G era. In fact, 99% rated security as important to their 5G planning, higher than even network reach and coverage or network capacity and throughput. Also 97% said increased traffic, connected devices and mission-critical use cases significantly increased security and reliability concerns for 5G.

Such needs were having real business consequences, with 93% saying their security investments were either already being affected (52%) or were under review (41%) because of 5G requirements.

Even though early 5G networks have been designed in accordance with the already-approved non-standalone 5G standard, nearly one-third of respondents said they are already proactively planning to add standalone 5G, and 9% said their companies would move directly to a standalone network.

BPI said standalone 5G will require a whole new network core, using a cloud-native, virtualised, service-based architecture. It found many respondents said they were making significant progress towards network virtualisation. Indeed, 95% said virtualising network functions was important to their 5G plans, and three-quarters believed their companies were either well on their way or making good progress towards virtualisation.

Virtually all companies (99%) viewed deployment of mobile edge clouds as an important aspect of 5G networks, with 65% saying they expected edge clouds on their 5G networks within 18 months.

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Assessing what type of use cases would drive 5G adoption within the next two years, 81% of firms indicated it would drive ultra-high-speed connectivity, 62% said industrial automation and smart manufacturing, and 54% said smart cities. In a five to six-year span, 62% indicated smart cities, 59% ultra-high-speed connectivity, 57% connected vehicles, and 42% industrial automation and smart manufacturing.

Assessing what actions firms needed to take in the light of the study, Gunter Reiss, worldwide vice-president of A10 Networks, said mobile operators globally need to proactively prepare for the demands of a new virtualised and secure 5G world.

“That means boosting security at key protection points like the mobile edge, deploying a cloud-native infrastructure, consolidating network functions, leveraging new CI/CD integrations and DevOps automation tools, and moving to an agile and hyperscale service-based architecture as much as possible,” he said.

“All of these improvements will pay dividends immediately with existing networks and move carriers closer to their ultimate goals for broader 5G adoption and the roll-out of new and innovative ultra-reliable, low-latency use cases.”

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