Where are business and mission-critical voice services headed in the 5G era?

B2B voice services have, for some time, been, converging around collaboration-based applications with a growing emphasis on customer experience evolution. At the same time, capabilities that are common to classical applications can also be repurposed for innovative new services that will be necessary to support 5G-enabled mission critical services. Where is this likely to go in the next couple of years? Divergence - and a new generation of dedicated 5G voice services.

Classical voice will slowly diverge from new, 5G-enabled mission critical business services

Of course, this is a huge topic. It’s also something of a moving target because the truth is that we can’t say for certain yet. With full 5G SA some way off, it’s just too early to tell. What we can do, though, is share some insights from our discussions with R&D partners, tell you a little about our own research activities, and propose some trends to watch. We’ll update you in a few months, and check where things are.

The bottom line, as far we can tell, is that the future for B2B voice in the full 5G era is differentiation. What do we mean? Well, classical voice services, such as UC, mobile PBX, voice VPN, and so on, will continue to thrive and develop. But these work perfectly well over 5G and there’s no specific reason to think that, for the average business user they should change.

Yes, there is much innovation to be found in this domain – greater integration with Teams and other enterprise applications; enhanced user experience across every device; new forms of collaboration; and much more – we’ll keep you updated with progress here, too.

But none of this calls explicitly for any of the new things that full 5G offers. Enhanced Mobile Broadband – which we can get with non-standalone networks – is probably going to be sufficient for most business communications, for now at least.

5G standalone brings new differentiation possibilities

However, full 5G – standalone – brings new dimensions to support other classes of differentiated services. The question is, how could this impact business communications? What we need to think about here is differentiation. The ability to request a specific class of service for a given session isn’t entirely new – sure, few have wanted to take this step but, in principle, it could be achieved.

But this kind of differentiated service is likely to be common currency with full 5G. This will be required to support new kinds of services across the industrial landscape and for specialised agencies, such as healthcare providers, or first-responder services. Some of these services will be delivered within dedicated networks – private networks, which can be deployed alongside macro networks, or which may be positioned in isolated locations, such as offshore.

Bringing classical capabilities to the 5G SA domain

So, for some time, we’ve been wondering about two things. First, why would classical business and voice services not also be delivered in private networks, as well as in macro cellular deployments. Second, what about users that move from one such network to another, and from a 5G connection to one over 4G?

Well, when we consider this kind of mobility together with the new differentiated services that full 5G can bring, all sorts of possibilities can start to emerge. For example, one area under investigation is for the provision of new service capabilities for emergency service applications and first responders. These typically involve devices that require intensive data processing.

Alongside these, we have to consider the needs of the responders – how they communicate, how they interact with teams in the field, in hospitals, and in other locations. They may also be mobile – moving from one network to another as they move around en route to a location of interest, or as they return to base.

Not just voice and multi-media, but optimised service profiles

As such, they also need to be able to capitalise on voice (and multi-media) communications, but they must do so with a quality of service that matches the requirements of the service they seek to deliver – for example, a critical discussion regarding an emergency case, that might require the exchange of media information, reference to monitoring applications, or include team members with different priorities from others in the group.

There are many such use cases, each of which might require:

  • Mobility and nomadicity
  • Service continuity between domains
  • Service quality differentiation
  • Service access rights and profile matching

In other words, who can use the service, what sort of service should they get, and where should they be able to access it? To this, we can add things like service triggering, from alarms and events in the IoT, but the principles can easily be extrapolated to multiple use cases. These kinds of services will diverge from those that have their origins in classical business communications.

Building on classical capabilities

Now, these service requirements build on existing capabilities that are common to today’s business voice solutions and networks, such as:

  • Skills-based routing
  • ACD functions
  • API-based triggering to initiate sessions
  • Service continuity
  • Mobile VPNs
  • Policy control and user profiles

The difference is that they are called upon and invoked in different ways, and with additional levels of control (for example, assigning a given performance level to a given user, based on their role in the team). Other such use cases can also be met by blending these capabilities and ensuring that the new service parameters are enforced.

PoCs today – production in two years?

To date, none of this has moved into a production environment. Everything is subject to trials and PoCs. However, one thing is clear: a set of new use cases is taking shape which will require the evolution of B2B voice services to meet new demands in the 5G era. These demands will be aligned with new service offers enabled by 5G – the focus has largely been on data-driven services, but we anticipate that traditional services will move into this domain in the next 18 months or so.

So, even as we continue to see evolution of classical services, we’re also moving steadily in a direction that takes classical capabilities and then repurposes them for a new generation of mission critical, differentiated and highly optimised services that interact with new 5G applications for defined user groups and use cases. It’s exciting and strongly suggests that an interesting future lies ahead!

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