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Navigating the Opportunities of Communications Infrastructure in the 5G Era

5G is well on its way to becoming a global mainstay with 5 billion 5G connections expected by 2030, according to GSMA Intelligence. These connections, which cover a wide range of use cases from retail and enterprise to IoT, perpetuate an increased demand for seamless 5G wireless coverage and for the communications infrastructure ecosystem to adapt and change.

Recognizing the critical role the communications infrastructure has in the 5G era, the Network Media Group hosted an executive panel discussion entitled: “Navigating the Opportunities of Communications Infrastructure in the 5G Era.” Moderated by the Network Media Group’s Abe Nejad, the panel of experts featured Patrice McAree, Vice President of Innovation for American Tower; Utpal Mangla, General Manager of Edge - Cloud for IBM; Jon Herttua, Director of Development for iconectiv; and Fernando Perez, Vice President of Business Development for JMA Wireless.

Their main focus? Why the evolution of towers, neutral host networks, data centers and other infrastructure elements is critical for this new 5G era.

The conversation kicked off with a high-level discussion about the roll-out of 5G and the experts’ views on traditional infrastructure networks versus neutral hosts, which are companies that invest in communications infrastructure such as cell towers, real estate and fiber-optic networks, and lease this infrastructure to multiple communications service providers (CSPs) on a shared-tenant basis. 

With a wide range of uses and with 5G already deployed at the macro level, the panelists agreed that a hybrid of traditional and neutral hosted networks is needed. JMA’s Perez explained that because the CSPs are done deploying 5G on the macro network, they are now “trying to emulate the service that they’ve been deploying nationwide.” This is especially important in markets that are home to large sporting arenas, hotels and entertainment venues, where there is high demand from consumers to be able to live stream or send videos, which requires significant network capacity. The only way to support that is through a combination of cellular networks and edge computing.

Perez’s thoughts were further echoed by IBM’s Mangla who said, “For all of the providers and application development teams to work well, they need to make sure that it's a neutral open architecture on which they can build upon.”

The conversation then dovetailed into whether the telecom ecosystem will start to see changes among the tower sector as it relates to communications infrastructure. iconectiv’s Herttua explained that the consolidation in the tower market is one way for CSPs to achieve economies of scale while taking advantage of services that can aid in their 5G deployments. 

Herttua further explained that by looking at the infrastructure and mapping out what is at each individual tower, including which capabilities are there as well as the types of resources such as backhaul or hosting capabilities, tower companies will be able to show CSPs in a single snapshot what is available to them. 

The panelists also noted that there may come a point when infrastructure companies will also have to look for ways to leverage their infrastructure, including towers, and monetize them for additional use cases, such as Access Edge Data Centers, which are located on the premise of existing cell towers.  

The experts wrapped up the session discussing where enterprises fit into the 5G equation, with the belief that they will eventually play a more active role by working closer with the neutral host providers. Because of their indoor 5G coverage needs, private networks that provide a secure platform to enable communication at a carrier-grade level are becoming more important. Given the private nature of these networks, enterprises will need to manage and, in many cases, fund them, in addition to working hand-in-hand with neutral host providers to make this a reality.

According to Mangla, “The power of 5G with the neutral host is immense. I think if they do not jump on this bandwagon right now, the ones who do not do it will be left behind. And so that's a bit of a risk for a company if they're waiting for this thing to just see how this plays out. Because you've got to be into this right now.”

You can watch the full session here