As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, there is a rise in the need for ubiquitous connectivity, or the state of creation, sharing, and processing of data with uninterrupted connectivity between any devices in any environment.
Analysys Mason observed that the number of projects using 5G rose by 32.5% from 2022 to 2023 and that 5G deployments made up more than half of all LTR/5G deployments. IDC says the private cellular networks market continues to show promise, as both LTE and 5G are being rolled out to address enterprise and industrial challenges.
“5G is starting to see more traction within the manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics verticals, where we expect the bulk of growth to occur over the forecast period," said Patrick Filkins, research manager of IoT and Telecom Network Infrastructure at IDC.
FutureIoT held a recent discussion with executives from Belgium-based BICS, the global connectivity provider for telecommunication operators and provider of global connectivity solutions to enterprise customers.
BICS executives Malcolm Chan, senior VP, BICS Asia, Enterprise; Gabriel Salvate, enterprise solutions manager; and Luc Vidal-Madjar, head of IoT Solutions, discuss ubiquitous connectivity and transitioning to 5G, the investments it requires, and how it can change the way the world connects.
Spending the last two decades building BICS’ global network, offering the widest connectivity coverage, and relating with “literally every operator in the world, both fixed and mobile”, Chan says that connectivity has changed and improved over the past years.
“You cannot travel anywhere in the world without your phone and roaming. The cost of roaming is going down. It is a lot more affordable today. The quality is much better.”
On the enterprise side, Chan adds that connectivity has become completely seamless. “It is so critical, but it is so seamless, and it is taken for granted. People tend to forget all the heavy lifting that is required to do it.”
Seamless connectivity across devices, networks, companies, and countries has its share of challenges. For Chan, the biggest challenge for operators and enterprises is navigating different hardware and software that can work across different countries.
“The challenge lies in ensuring that every device that works in your country is in your home network and works just as well when you leave. Operators and enterprises need to make things happen and they need to protect their customers’ experience.”
Chan says that the key is to ensure that devices work and provide services to test devices before deployment in the market. He says that the enterprise space has a similar challenge.
“Enterprises need to make sure that devices and software work before they roll it out to the market. If they do not, it is extremely costly – and not only financially. If they damage the customer goodwill that they may have built-in one country, they will also damage their reputation in other countries. That is an expensive lesson.”Malcolm Chan
5G, or the fifth-generation mobile network is the new global standard for wireless connectivity after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. Qualcomm allows connection with machines, objects, and devices while delivering high multi-Gbps data speeds, low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience.
Chan posits investing in 5G technology helps operators optimise their costs. “It helps them use the spectrum better. You can serve more customers and provide more data in a particular way. It is more around optimisation. We have seen this already happen across Asia.”
Salvate differentiates between standalone 5G and non-standalone 5G, which operators have been recently using. “At the end of the day, it is the improvement of the standard network,” he says.
“In parallel, we see a lot of operators investing and testing the new 5G standalone that uses a dedicated core that can unlock capabilities like faster upload speeds, ultra-low latency, ultra-high reliability, and edge functions.”
Salvate says that operators need “some levels of investments” to replace the standard network with the new one.
Salvate recognises the role of operators in facilitating the integration of different devices and systems for seamless connectivity. He says operators are in charge of offering a good ecosystem for it to happen and that includes infrastructure, capacity, and partnerships.
He adds that there are several ways to manage the network infrastructure and the device itself. “We have the Connectivity Management Platform we offer to enterprises to check scenarios. Our enterprise customers can see by themselves if the network is available, if it faces any type of issues if the device is connected, and if the device is sending and receiving data.”
As BICS’ Enterprise Solutions Manager, Salvate says it allows operators to give to enterprise full control of the device and it can also be available for the enterprise back-end systems, such as CRM, ERP or business analytics systems through integrations via APIs.
Operators also face operational issues they need to handle as they transition to 5G connectivity, one of which is managing the operational costs.
“When you decide to shut down the network, devices must be upgraded to a new version. You have operational costs to be managed by customers. You need to manage what is happening in the market. You need to remove the device and issue a new one, and it is more about cost.”Gabriel Salvate
Aside from that, Salvate shares that from an MNO perspective, it is more cost-effective to operate an LTE or 5G network than a 2G or 3G network, as more devices can share the available spectrum. In addition, the 5G network is more secure, robust, and easy to maintain.
Ubiquitous connectivity for 2024
Vidal-Madjar, head of IoT Solutions at BICS, believes there is a new eSIM standard coming into the market that will make it easier for enterprises to simplify how they embed connectivity into the products they sell in multiple geographies.
“I can foresee that enterprises will be requesting more flexibility to change the mobile carrier on the SIM card, which is bringing a lot of value for global deployment.”Luc Vidal-Madjar
"I also see security as an important aspect. The more you deploy a device, the more you open the risk for the enterprise infrastructure. They will have to mandate some key characters to have solutions to protect the infrastructure,” Vidal-Madjar adds.
On the telco side, Salvate says that standalone is the new trend with telecommunication companies and must offer this new technology as quickly as possible because it will improve the network coverage.
“We will see a huge number of new devices entering the network and the latest version of network technology. 5G is the future; it is the trend,” Salvate shares.
Chan adds they are looking at specific segments within the enterprise. “You already heard the many things that we do. You already heard the value that we bring to the enterprise space, in particular, the global philanthropy part, and making it easier to be connected. We are optimistic about 2024 because we have seen the momentum build over the last two years.”