IIoT, roaming, sports showcases, and eSIM: 5G predictions for 2020

Guest post from By Frédércic Mathieu, Managing Director & VP of Sales, Americas at BICS.

Back in July, Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of chipset giant Qualcomm, sent a warning to the communications industry: “if you don’t have a good 5G deployment strategy, you’re going to be left behind.” During the same month we saw the launch of the world’s first international 5G roaming service, and in the period since we’ve seen 5G launches across North America by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and a recent New York switch-on from Verizon. We’ve also seen Qualcomm heeding Mollenkopf’s advice, assuming a stand-out position in the 5G ecosystem.

Clearly, a lot can happen in the space of a few months! As such, between this year’s MWC19 LA, and February’s MWC20 Barcelona, we expect the landscape to shift and develop further. As such, we’ve outlined three key 5G trends we expect to influence and drive innovation in the telecoms market throughout 2020.

The digitalization of industry will drive 5G

Much of the noise from the press this year has focussed on how, where and when consumers can access new 5G services and new 5G-enabled smartphones. But until 5G connectivity is widespread, until 5G handsets are more affordable, and until the use case delivers ROI for operators, we’re unlikely to see consumer 5G as a driver for development.

Instead, it’s the digitalization of heavy industry (what Germany’s government has termed ‘Industrie 4.0’) that’ll provide a lucrative opportunity for operators, as well as delivering huge benefits in sectors like agriculture, mining, processing, manufacturing, and energy. The market is already maturing fast in Germany, thanks to the aforementioned government strategy, and I expect businesses in the US to follow this example in 2020. If they do, they can expect big returns: according to Ericsson, operators will unlock $700 billion of new revenue from industrial 5G services.

5G international roaming service will link North America and (TBC!)

5G roaming is already available across a number of European cities – in large part because of the EU’s Roam Like at Home initiative which secured tariff-free roaming for subscribers. In 2019, we also saw the launch of a major international 5G roaming service, allowing subscribers in Switzerland to access the super-fast service when in South Korea, and vice versa.

In 2020, we’ll see more 5G roaming trials, driven in part by both consumer and business use cases. Subscribers are traveling more for business and leisure, while sectors like the connected automotive industry will become increasingly reliant on cross-border, ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity.

In North America, the 5G focus has mainly been domestic but we expect this to change in 2020. Operators like Sprint and Verizon have already taken a leading position in 5G, and it’s likely we’ll see the trials of the first 5G international roaming service between North America and – Europe? Asia? Watch this space!

Sports events will boost 5G visibility

Major international sports events present the perfect opportunity for the host nation to display its achievements, talent and global standing. Nowadays, this also includes using events as a means of showcasing developments in technology.

The 2020 Games in Japan will do just this. Preparations for a 5G launch in 2020 got underway earlier this year, when Japan allocated spectrum to operators DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank and Rakuten. More recently, DoCoMo tested 5G services at another major sporting event: the Rugby World Cup. At next summer’s Olympics meanwhile, fans (of both sports and communications technology!) can look forward to 5G powering ‘gigabit connectivity, new mobility solutions, more immersive viewership experiences, cutting-edge smart city applications and advanced broadcasting services.’

Back in the US, operators are also hoping to capitalize on 5G, with Verizon promising 5G in 13 stadiums for 2019/2020 NFL season, including for Super Bowl 54 2020. Smaller-scale deployments such as these will play an important part in the US’ 5G roadmap – and allow plenty of time for operators and service providers to ready their networks for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

Global eSIM will unlock roaming revenue

Attendees at these sports events, and smart devices and assets which form part of a connected IIoT business proposition – like those mentioned above – will require always-on, affordable, connectivity. This means that in 2020, we’ll see an increased interest in the eSIM – and benefits felt by both consumers and operators.

Consumers will enjoy increased flexibility and seamless device roaming, while operators will be able to better monetize subscriber billing by adding multiple devices to a single contract, on a global scale, creating valuable new revenue streams. IIoT companies also stand to benefit, as connected devices with embedded eSIMs can be produced in one region, and then easily shipped and tracked across the world, giving them access to wider global markets.

The 5G future is an exciting one, but the journey to next-generation, global connectivity should be seen as a gradual evolution, rather than a sudden, major step-change. It’ll require outlay from operators and buy-in from businesses and consumers, but it’ll also deliver returns on these investments – if not in 2020, then in the years ahead.

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