While 5G is transitioning from concept to reality, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome. The main problem that we have today with 5G is that it is very difficult to visualize where the killer applications are coming from, said Telefonica CTIO Enrique Blanco, who shared with us his insights on implementing 5G. Telefonica, a Spanish multinational telecommunications company, is one of the largest telephone operators and mobile network providers in the world.
5G is an entirely new network architecture. What do you think are the major challenges facing 5G deployments?
You need to take at least two different points of view. The first one is a technological approach. I think the first major challenge is how we read the final architecture in the evolution of the 5G core and how you can get that evolution of the evolved packet core (EPC) so that 5G core will be done and will be built. Telefonica is considering this trend to guarantee that all the different businesses of the core will be built with a specific architecture following the critical infrastructure. This means howwe can guarantee that the end-to-end approach is safe and we can guarantee that the failure in the core would be stopped in the society, which is the main difference in 5G against 4G. This is from the point of view of the 5G deployment architecture that we need to build in the core.
From the point of view of the massive 5G deployments, the main challenge that all the operators would face is developing the use cases. What would be the main engine that would be pushing the massive 5G deployments? There needs to be use cases that would be helping us try to monetize the spectrum, the equipment, and network development and evolution. These are the two main challenges to be solved.
Telefonica has been carrying out 5G trials. Can you tell us what have you learned from 5G trials?
We've learned a lot. We've learned how different the 5G evolution is going to be in relation with 4G, how different the planning is going to be, how different the deployment is going to be, and how different are all the tools you need to get because it is necessary to amass the AI tools, trying to guarantee that we are doing the right planning and deployment of 5G. We've been learning to go back to the previous, that the core is the key trend to guarantee the successful massive deployments. 5G is going to be the main engine in the evolution of the society. The possibilities of 5G are amazing. It's a new different paradigm. You cannot plan, deploy and think 5G as we were doing before in 4G.
How have these trials helped shape your 5G strategy for the future?
They have been oriented. We are building the trials and have been learning how these would be finally serving the massive deployment of IoT, how we need to build, how we need to maintain these kinds of services, how we can link 5G with use cases, how we can combine 5G with our platforms, so how we can combine with the automation of the industry 4.0, and how we can apply this to B2X. We are a very strong provider of IoT. We are trying to see how the 5G evolution will be helping us offer better services to customers.
These are our trials—more oriented than demonstrations. We can offer our customers strong capabilities using the Massive MIMO and carrier aggregation. This is absolutely relevant. But this is not the key of 5G deployment. So when we are thinking 5G is higher velocity and better latency, maybe we are making a big mistake.
How do you characterize your 5G strategy?
Realistic. We are not thinking 5G as an iconic technology as many people are thinking. We are thinking how 5G can help Telefonica compete in all the countries we are operating, how 5G can help us try to be competitive and offer better services to our customers. This is not conservative nor ambitious. It is absolutely realistic. This is what we are thinking from the start. This means that we are building all the capacities we need and trying to do it fast.
The main problem that we have today with 5G is that it is very difficult to visualize where the killer applications are coming from, where the services and use cases are coming from that would be helping us try to grow the revenues. This is the key topic we are trying to cover country by country. But the fact is that if the commercial team in one country is asking us to deploy 5G, we can deploy it immediately. In fact, we will.
What is your comment on ZTE's innovation capability in the 5G field?
ZTE is one of our main partners helping us trying to define the final architecture and trying to build a critical infrastructure linked to the 5G deployment. This is happening because ZTE was helping us years ago trying to virtualize the main platform and trying to build VoLTE. Because of this, ZTE and Telefonica are working very closely, trying to guarantee that the final core architecture evolution will be done as Telefonica will need to do, protecting the security and guaranteeing all the integrity of the customer's information and all the control of all the core that is serving to the societies. It will not be managed by a single partner. We need to build one core with pieces that avoid that any one is controlling all the added value chain for the 5G services. I am fully convinced that finally it would be one of the key technology providers in the core and later on if we are doing the right things in the radio specific country by country.
The global telecom industry is changing faster than ever. How do you foresee the global telecom market over the next few years?
This is an extraordinary question. We are in a change of cycle because at this moment the FTTH is going to be 3G PON to 10G PON. Telefonica is leading FTTH in Europe and Latin America. The evolution to 10G PON offering our customers 9-10 Gbps symmetric is going to be a radical evolution of customer behavior. We can offer our customers different experiences in video, offering them capabilities in terms of AR/VR. This is happening now. In all the technological capabilities of Telefonica, it is absolutely an extraordinary position because all we need to do in the external plan, in the fiber, in the migration from copper to fiber had been done. Our position is very strong. By the end of this, we are finishing the 4G deployment in all our countries. We are working with 5G. This means that we are offering our customers velocities up to 1 Gbps, up to 5 Gbps, up to 9 Gbps, one by one. All the possibilities that we are offering to our customers in the access, and all the necessities that we are covering in the backhauling capabilities, in the core capabilities,
and in all the service layers that we are offering are amazing.
But if you put these together with the experience of Telefonica in the four platforms—offering our customers the possibilities in the cognitive AI and giving them the possibility to speak with the network. It is the network that needs to be learned. It is not the people who need to be learned. It is the network that is learning how you can interact. By the hand of this capability, we can build real end-to-end digitization because the customers have all the assets to try to do it.
So in the next 5-10 years, the customers one by one in the societies will be managing the technology in a very simple way that today is just impossible to imagine. This is going to be amazing. This is happening. We are building all the different pieces we need in the full stack, in the 5G, in the 10G PON, and in the robotization, automization, and BSS evolution. We are building different pieces with the final puzzle.