The 5G juggernaut has begun. The number of 5G subscriptions is growing by 1 million per day, while the number of providers offering 5G service deployments surpasses 130,000 worldwide. Industrial and commercial customers have also launched trials and early commercial deployments with private 5G networks.
But what happens next? Will service providers stay focused on traditional wireless services or expand to deliver private networks for industrial IoT? How much infrastructure will go to the cloud? When will Open RAN take off and what could stand in its way?
We surveyed more than 300 individuals from the Arm ecosystem focused on 5G technology and services to better understand the industry's trends and challenges. Some of the highlights:
Demand for 5G is strong. Half the respondents predicted 5G products and services would constitute 51% to 75% of their telecommunications sales by 2027.
Energy consumption was the most concerning individual factor with 43% selecting it as their greatest concern within 5G networks and communications industry.
Cost is a big concern. More than 40% said high upfront costs were the concern raised most by customers.
Open RAN is expected to gain traction quickly. Just over 40% of respondents believe Open RAN will constitute half of all of equipment shipments by 2025.
So is cloud-based infrastructure. 53% predicted clouds would host 51%-75% of 5G infrastructure by 2027. Nonetheless, 44% said quality-of-service remains the largest potential stumbling block for cloudified 5G.
Who Responded. Three-quarters of respondents who identified their job were software developers with the rest coming from other parts of the ecosystem. In terms of geography, 196 came from the U.S. while 28 and 6, respectively, work in China and Germany. All respondents produce Arm-compatible products or services.
What 5G features stand out? All of them
When asked to evaluate the importance of different 5G features and technologies driving adoption over the next five years, respondents didn't single out any one technology; they rated them all as very important.
Respondents felt that more powerful, multicore processors for RUs, DUs and CUs would be the most important feature (43%). That was followed closely by integrated servers (42%) and Open RAN (39%). Small cell technology trailed with 35% of respondents putting it in the most important category.
What could slow 5G? Energy and cost
The graph shows the results of a ranked-choice poll where respondents ranked (on a 1 to 5 scale – most impact to least impact) factors that could be the most influential in slowing 5G adoption. Energy consumption was both the most concerning individual factor with 43% selecting it as their greatest concern and the rank-choice selection with a cumulative score of nearly 4.0. High capital costs (3.30) and deployment challenges (2.92) followed.
Interestingly, standards and a lack of containers and tools were less concerning to respondents by a marked margin, reflecting the ongoing growth of the 5G ecosystem.
A wide variety of solutions for acceleration
When asked on a weighted three-point scale the importance of acceleration techniques for distributed units (DUs) or centralized units (CUs), inline acceleration was the winner. In fact, nearly 40% selected it as the most-important solution, followed by full software acceleration (32%) and look-aside acceleration (28%).
A wide variety of solutions for acceleration (continued)
When it came to solutions, FPGAs were the top choice in a five-point weighted average, most important to lease important. That technology was followed by closely by GPUs and software-only acceleration. ASICs trailed, with only 9 percent of respondents choosing it as their most-important choice.
Broad appeal for Open RAN…
The oft-cited benefits of Open RAN – lower cost, greater selection, faster innovation – ranked similar in importance to respondents.
Broad appeal for Open RAN (continued)…
Differences occurred over which factors could slow adoption. More than one in three predicted integration challenges could have the widest impact with a lack of cost savings coming in at second with 27% of respondents.
Most expect rapid Open RAN adoption, with 45% predicting Open RAN will constitute 50% of shipments by 2030. The more bullish (41%) see it hitting that mark sooner.
What's the Spectrum of Choice?
Mid-band for fixed wireless access…
…for smart city applications…
…and for critical services
Surprising optimism for CBRS
Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), the 3.5GHz to 3.7GHz portion of the spectrum that can be used in an unlicensed manner in the U.S. drew a surprising amount of support. Roughly 84% of respondents were very interested and predicted it would both grow fast in the U.S. and move to other markets. Interestingly, the figures were similar with the limited number of responses from China and Germany.
Cloud infrastructure is set to grow
Respondents are optimistic about the cloud. More than half believe that 51-75% of cloud infrastructure will be hosted in the cloud by 2027 while more than one in four believes the cloud will host 26-50% by then (left chart). Meanwhile, 43% believe cloud providers will be the prevalent service vehicle for private networks, followed by owner-operators and then technology providers (right chart).
Scalability the benefit; quality of service the concern
Why the cloud? Cost was the most-selected primary benefit in a five-point weighted average, with one in three respondents making it their primary concern. Faster time-to-market and an extensive ecosystem of partners were also important.
What are the cloud downsides? Forty-four percent cited quality-of-service and reliability as their biggest concern, followed by cost (24%) and spotty coverage (23%).
The upshots: while cloud deployment certainly has its advantages, cloud providers still need to show they can perform as well as traditional carriers.
What functions will migrate to the cloud? Nearly 42% said that billing was the most likely function they would send to cloudified 5G infrastructure, followed by RU/DU/CU functions with 34.4% and core network functions at 23.7%.
When it comes to software, more than half the respondents have outlined a container strategy and are building on it. More than a third are concentrated on traditional architectures because of current customer demand. Only 11% have switched to cloud-native.
In the "as-expected" category, exactly half said that their main security concern revolved around new IoT and IIoT devices being connected to their networks. Thirty-seven percent said that private networks, especially when managed by owner/operators, marked the biggest problem.