Christian Laque, Senior Director for Technology at A1 Belarus, shares his insights on the pandemic's impact on the telecom sector and discusses key trends in 5G. A1 Belarus is the largest private telecommunications, ICT and content services provider in Belarus. In 2020, A1 Belarus made the first VoNR call in the CIS and launched the first autonomous 5G SA network in Belarus in the test mode.
What do you think of the post-pandemic new normal in the telecom sector?
Everything is becoming online. A story that is going step by step has jumped just by the beginning of the epidemic. It is impressive how digitalization is taking over everybody. Online schooling, remote work, online studying, online conferences—these are the new normal. And it was not a process that took years for us to wait. It was more or less on the next day. How we have dealt with it as telecom operators is important because it was creating a huge amount of data and relying much more than any time before on availability and high performance.
Luckily, our networks, mobile and fixed, have been able to deal with this challenge. This is impressive—what we have been able to provide to deal with the pandemic, not only as individuals, but now as a society. We had, for instance, enabled customers to stay online and run the things they have done before in an online environment. It is important to go further because this is after the pandemic. So, the new normal is really online. The educational process which normally takes years was taken in a snapshot, which was forced by something nobody had expected, nobody could dream of or think of. It is good for us to seize this because it has really helped us to press forward, even though it was not always easy to do.
Which aspect of network infrastructures needs to be further developed?
A key point to handle all this growth is fiber—fiber to the customer, fiber to the base station, because we see exponential growth in data, but also high reliability requirement. So robust networks are needed, using all the technology capabilities we have today, which means getting rid of legacy and moving into the new world. We have really to ride this wave as telecom operators, but together with our partners to bring customers highly available, robust networks with high capacities, high bandwidth and low latency. This is the key point to attain all these online things and digitalization in the world.
In Belarus, the IT industry is very developed. 5G empowering traditional industries will be a new growth engine for telecom operators. What is your view on 5GtoB services?
What we all have done as persons is to step into the online world. Enterprises are doing this on another scale. The IT industry and telecom industry are becoming solution providers together. Partnering is now key because the innovation flow is accelerating. IoT will enable businesses to run in a completely different manner. If you look at the pandemic, instead of developing a vaccine in 10 years, it was done in 10 months. Only by digital ways can this process be supported. This is going into the other areas as well. A conference like that in Barcelona is becoming digital. A lot of us are joining things online today. And it is not an excuse. This is a new way. And only because we are bringing things together in a completely new manner. The telecom industry and IT, which were different things before, are joining forces to drive a completely new wave. I am thrilled, curious and happy to work in an industry and in a country that is really driving it forward.
In the 5G era, what will be your expectations or suggestions for the vendors of RAN, core networks, transport networks, terminals or service platforms?
Innovations in the complete networks, applications and service domains are getting faster and faster. Key points that I am really expecting to bring together as an industry is working with open standards, working with open source, and working together as partners, because only if together are we able to deal with the innovation speed.
Open source is a key point. Cloud is a key point, which is an IT thing originally. We have to implement it in all our parts. Hardware is becoming a commodity. The intelligent management of things is now the key. We have to bring the key elements for the future together—intelligence, automation, and digitalization. These are the new trends, which I am expecting to work on with partners like ZTE.
How do you see 5G SA development in the next few years?
5G is a key point in the development of the mobile network. It's a new generation of technology enabling many new features. 2G was voice, 3G enabled us to have some data, 4G was data, and 5G is bringing data to everybody, now even to every device, every sensor. The real challenge now in this digitalization as I’ve described is that we need so many sensors and terminals to connect that we need another network capability.
5G is made for mobile applications, and it has to be combined with a fixed line. For the end user, it must be seamless; for an application it must be seamless. So 5G will not be standalone. It will be combined with fixed access. This is key because so many applications will use data in mobile much more intensely. So whatever is possible in fixed, keep it in fixed and drive it further.
5G is not a new thing alone. It is all the new things in convergence to bring things forward. It is a number of devices, is how we are dealing with latency, and is the era of "click-boom". Don't wait, get it now. Although cloud is not something centralized somewhere, you are going back and bring it to the customer. So distribution going to the edge will be a key for the applications to run.
All these things that I've described are only possible with a higher level of automation. Autonomous networks will be necessary to deal with the complexity, to make an application for the end user simple in the usage. And 5G is not only for us as individuals, as it was with all the standards before, but much more now for machines that are doing things in an autonomous manner. For this, we need autonomous capability and provisioning must also be automated in all levels.
It is a great future in front of us. Let's move out of legacy, and join 5G as soon as possible but with all the consequences—re-use of the spectrum, which we've raised in comparison with older technologies, get the devices enabled for 5G, because these are the only ways to be efficient and be prepared for the demand that is dramatically growing.
It is a thrilling future. Let's join the journey.