5G and business voice – what’s ahead in 2021?
5G has arrived and many operators are now offering new devices and plans to consumers. Soon, dedicated business plans will also emerge. As a result, there will likely be a host of future implications for core service platforms. What are these and where are we today?
What’s the current situation for 5G and B2B voice services?
Well, the first thing to note is that several of our customers have already launched 5G services, and others are due to follow soon, depending on the outcome of spectrum auctions and licensing regimes. Currently, most services are focused on enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), although in some cases, private networks are beginning to be explored – typically, for the time being, under the control of an operator as the infrastructure and connectivity provider.
So far, 5G hasn’t had a direct impact on the way in which services are delivered. That’s mainly because live deployments depend on IMS for a number of services, so any IMS-based service can also be initiated from a 5G connection. Of course, if a service is not based on the IMS, then this may become a problem in time, but for now, the status quo can be maintained. What conclusion can we draw from this? Well, we can observe that any operator with a legacy softswitch-based service that is not compatible with IMS or VoLTE should consider any migration implications.
Why might this change?
That’s the current situation, but there’s no doubt that full 5G is coming soon too. This is going to add new services, such as URLLC and mIoT to the mix – not to mention a proliferation of non-public (that is, private) networks, as well as new Service Based Interfaces in the service-based architecture (SBA) for 5G Standalone (5G SA). For the time being, the current IMS voice architecture, backed with Voice over New Radio (5G VoNR - basically, VoLTE for 5G) is thought to be capable of meeting the challenge of voice service delivery – but will that remain the case?
However, doubts are emerging. That’s because this approach fails to account for several factors. First, most MNOs recognise that B2B revenue will be the main driver behind future 5G investments. Indeed, many have stated that B2B is the clear 5G opportunity. So, in addition to any specific connectivity solutions, what other B2B service capabilities will be needed and how can we ensure compatibility from the IMS with these new service attributes?
Second, while some MNOs think that VoNR will be sufficient for 5G, others have questioned whether it really goes far enough to cater for new needs (see above). What, they wonder, is the evolution path to go beyond what we currently have?
Third, other MNOs have also pointed out that much recent innovation has taken place outside of the operator infrastructure, with over-the-top applications providing rich consumer experiences and, increasingly, being targeted towards business users. But, with service-based interfaces - in other words, API-driven – key to interaction in the SA architecture, there’s an opportunity for operators to explore new forms of blended service and interaction.
Finally, a few have noticed that there may be issues with service persistence, as we move to an environment in which multiple networks co-exist. How will services be maintained when users and devices move between these networks? While this problem was recognised some time ago, it was assumed by many that standards would solve this issue. However, it’s becoming clear that, a) the problem is real and, b) that there is no activity in the standards organisations to address it.
2021 – time to consider the future of B2B voice in the 5G context
So, what does this mean? Well, while we can expect much “business as usual” in 2021, with ongoing delivery of classical services, many operators that have already embarked on their 5G journey will begin to confront these topics. We anticipate many fruitful discussions with our operator partners during the next 12 months because the truth is that these issues remain unsolved. As such, it’s our job to work with you to create solutions that will ensure a smooth evolution path that can also adapt to an evolving standards landscape and the demands on new innovation.
We anticipate that these issues will become more widely discussed in 2021, while solutions to the problems that will be identified will be required from 2022. So, if you are wondering what you need to do to prepare your B2B voice services for new opportunities and migration to a future architecture, while protecting your existing revenue, why not have a chat with our team, so we can explore the options together?