Denys Rudyi -

5G to be the last 'G' for Orange as comms hits singularity

Telco believes mobile communications has hit tipping point with imminent end of traditional generational paradigm and delivery of products to be replaced by services enhanced on a continuous basis

Since the onset of the transformational 3G mobile standard in 2001, the world of communications became used to the arrival of a new generation in mobile networking every decade - yet just as 5G makes an evolutionary step in the form of 5G-Advanced, this linear progression may have reached an end as the technology makes an inexorable move beyond the generational model, according to Bruno Zerbib, executive vice-president and chief technology and information officer (CTIO) of Orange Group.

Speaking at the global telco’s annual Open Tech Day, the recently installed executive said his theory was based on the constant change in the communications sector and the fact the industry is now essentially software-defined, increasingly embracing cloud technology and the aggregation of networks. The result, said Zerbib, was that the comms industry has reached a point of singularity and that what lies ahead is going to be very different from what the industry has been through in the last 10 to 15 years. This dynamic is changing everything, he said - in particular, changing the designated lineation in mobile.

“We've been pretty much stuck in that generational paradigm where there was 2G, 3G, 4G, [then] 5G. I believe that 5G is the last 'G' and we're moving beyond Gs. We're going to have continuous innovation. What our customers are telling us is that they didn't feel much difference moving from 4G to 5G and they should. We failed in terms of communication marketing. We talked about bandwidth when really we should have talked about how efficiency is created [and] energy consumption and the way we improve the reliability of our network," said Zerbib. 

"But really, what lies ahead is a set of new use cases that we want to unlock for our customers. The fact that we have a software-defined core, the fact that [in the past] our core was not completely software-defined. We have AI everywhere. We are embracing a new era. We have learned as an industry to be different. And this is the time where we [have to] understand that to be successful in this new environment we have to be extremely agile. So, we are committed to being agile.”

The tangible part of this revolution, Zerbib believes, will be to roll out products and services on a continuous basis, with increased capabilities. Orange, he said, will not be marketing 6G when its form emerges. It will instead be a case of technological launches that show how the company is reducing CO2 emission in its work, how it is continuously improving latency and how it can introduce the capabilities that will unlock the third wave of internet of things (IoT) for business and enterprise customers. As regards industrial use cases, users will be able to control robots remotely or embrace very low-latency applications.

Zerbib also pointed to existing examples of this generational improvement. Gmail, he noted, is continuously being updated. But he admitted that traditional practices would be abandoned.

“So for sure, there will be times where we'll have to think about making new radio technology [and there] will be parts that will be a bit more discreet, and discontinuous in terms of improvement," he said.

"But most of the improvements we'll be going through will be continuous improvement. And we believe that the attitude we're taking [and] the kind of partnerships we are building right now with the strongest technology players is enabling us to change and to open up our capabilities. We're no longer just the connectivity provider but we are going to be transforming Orange as a platform company.”

At the Open Tech Day, Orange showcased a variety of partnerships and solutions that the company hopes will benefit from its own transformation. Key themes included telco as a platform, cyber security, and new connectivity paradigms in industries such as retail. In the latter it looked at how to offer consumers as well as business customers the best quality of service, drawing on network capabilities in terms of bandwidth, latency and coverage, and on the supply of services in Orange’s capacity as an operator covering voice, video, data, and so on.

Specific technology highlights included private cloud networks; private 5G networks – including a demonstration of how to transport video effectively with minimal latency; digital twins, with a team from the Orange 5G Labs in Antwerp showing work done with a pharmaceuticals manufacturer; network monetisation through APIs; showing secure and real-time sharing of 4G/5G network assets via these platforms; and an insight into how Orange will be supporting communications at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

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