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Operator 5G engagements increase by more than 50% in 2021

Research from mobile test and assurance services provider shows that standalone core, network cloudification and operational agility drive accelerating 5G roll-outs, with service assurance rapidly gathering pace

The third annual 5G outlook report from mobile test and assurance services provider Spirent Communications has shown that operators are racing to make 5G a reality, with users benefitting from increased competition as the impact of the pandemic-accelerated business automation plans.

The 5G 2022: Market drivers, insights and considerations report was based on analysis and takeaways from more than 800 new global 5G engagements in 2021, providing insights from across the 5G ecosystem on the current status of 5G, revealing geographic trends, technology advancements and revenue-generating use cases.

The report drew on Spirent’s work with service providers, network equipment manufacturers, governments, device makers and cloud players worldwide, and is designed to offer an update on the developments along the journey to global 5G.

Spirent noted that it has embarked on 1,800 5G engagements to date, and in 2021 it saw service provider engagements increase by more than 50% year-on-year as enterprises and consumers flocked to services, making 5G a reality. In addition, market competition intensified and the impact of the pandemic accelerated business automation plans.

As a result, said the survey, service providers established early partnerships with public cloud providers, and almost half of service provider activity focused on service assurance and service experience, including competitive benchmarking. “By moving test labs and testing activity into the cloud, operators are able to accelerate their software and innovation lifecycles from months, or even years, to just a matter of weeks,” said Spirent’s head of market strategy, Steve Douglas.

Looking at geographic trends, Spirent observed that 5G business in the Americas grew by more than 40% in 2021, with a focus on service assurance, standalone (SA) core, cloud testing and service experience. The EMEA market saw more than 60% growth in engagements, after pandemic-induced delays in 2020. Attention centred on the 5G core and automation. With China taking the lead in the APAC region, the report revealed network coverage, densification and subscriber growth continued to drive demand for multi-speed transport network and device testing.

Revenue-generating use cases were found to be increasing. Operators are evaluating key areas where they can mine meaningful revenues, including fixed wireless access (FWA), mobile multi-player gaming, augmented and virtual reality, security surveillance, content delivery networks, 5G speed boosters and 5G multi-view experiences.

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Spirent is engaged with more than 40 unique operators worldwide, including multi-country providers, and business in 5G core and cloud was increasing.

The study noted that there have been at least 19 small commercial SA launches to date, with more than 90 trials and supplier selection processes underway, and, said Spirent, “where there’s core, there’s cloud”. Core and cloud combined now represents more than a third of Spirent’s 5G work.

Spirent estimates that the number of private LTE or 5G networks will explode from around 3,000 today to more than 14,000 in just a few years. It expects this growth will be driven by trends including enterprise digitisation strategies advanced by 5G and Wi-Fi 6 convergence, capitalising on breakthrough technologies across the internet of things, big data analytics and intelligent automation.

Looking forward, Spirent acknowledge a nascent vision of 6G. It said the industry was beginning to coalesce around key ambitions. Cited as chief among them was the combination of physical, digital and biological worlds into metaverse-like realms where holographic, tactile feedback and physiological sensations can be transmitted.

Spirent noted that remote operation of industrial machinery and virtual teleportation represent the earliest conceptions of possibilities.

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