Industries should start investing in 5G, says Ookla Sylwia Kechiche

Europe leads the way in industrial transformation but lags in 5G adoption

Network intelligence leader Ookla came back to the Mobile World Congress to showcase its measuring tools and analytics. Millions of people use its popular Speedtest and Downdetector tools to measure their connection speeds and look for security threats.

Using crowdsourcing data and collaboration with the stakeholders, Ookla analyzes the different networks’ performance, use, and availability of various forms of connectivity.

At their MWC pavilion, Ookla showed their loaded latency measuring tool, which provides intelligence for organizations deploying critical services.

As 5G networks are now present in many markets, the presence of its new features and the adoption of the new radio varies in different regions and countries. To learn more about how 5G impacts enterprises, especially for IoT, we talked to Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Industry Analyst, Enterprise at Ookla. We previously had the opportunity to speak with Sylwia when she was the top IoT analyst at GSMA Intelligence.

Kechiche expressed some concern about the current situation of 5G deployment in Europe. The fragmented nature of the cellular market in the European market creates many challenges for operators, as regulators are releasing the necessary wireless spectrum in different bands. That makes it challenging to provide the same performance across different countries and territories.

Furthermore, most 5G networks are still operating in non-standalone mode. They cannot provide the advanced features necessary for critical IoT applications that require low latency and network slicing.

Europe, however, is rapidly moving towards industry 4.0, and there is considerable interest in the industry to enable the advantages of the new radio for advanced robotics and automation.

You can watch our interview with Sylwia Kechiche below. A full transcript, edited for clarity, follows after the video.

IoT Times:  Hi Sylwia, it is good to see you again in Barcelona, and congratulations on your new job.

Based on your research at Ookla, what can you tell us about the current situation of 5G, and IoT using 5G in Europe?

Sylwia Kechiche:   Sure. We have recently published an article looking at 5G in Europe, trying to measure the progress in what’s going on.

There are a couple of things: The European Commission of Auditors has released a report warning that Europe is falling behind other regions such as the US and South Korea, both in terms of actual accessibility and availability. Only three percent of subscriptions across Europe were 5G, versus over ten percent in the US.

This is one point, falling behind. Also, in terms of spectrum, and spectrum options, of the 30 countries that we have analyzed, four have not allocated any of the spectrum, neither the low, mid-band, nor high-band. This is important because when you don’t have a dedicated 5G spectrum, you cannot deploy the 5G network as you need—obviously looking at the penetration adoption and the spectrum not being there.

But we also have seen an issue across Europe regarding 2G and 3G networks being switched off: there’s no consistency. It depends on the country. It depends on the different mobile operator groups. 3G will possibly be switched off before 2G because we have M2M devices still running on 2G. And we have ECall, an emergency call system that’s using 2G for connectivity.

You mentioned IoT, and you mentioned 5G. That’s something really interesting, and the development in Europe is actually spearheading the rest because there’s a strong movement towards 5G for verticals. Germany was the first country in Europe that made use of that. We have the likes of Bosch and Siemens trying to use the 5G network for their campus networks, looking at how they can promote the dedicated connectivity within the plant.

But really, what we need will happen with 5G Standalone. At the moment, most networks out there are 5G non-standalone; you don’t get all the benefits that 5G can bring.

When you think about 3GPP Rel. 15, and so on, you’re still thinking about high speed. That’s what we measure at Ookla, how fast the networks are, average median download speed and upload speed, etc. But what’s critical when it comes to 5G standalone, latency will be extremely important.

We will release the loaded latency metrics in the second half of the year. You can see the demo back there in our booth, trying to measure the journey for the signal. And that’s going to be cool, super key in enabling some of the use cases related to AR, VR, and robots; because latency, when it’s low, means you can enable innovative use cases.

When it comes to Europe and 5G, the private networks are significant. Also, we see the move to more virtual networks. Furthermore, several different groups signed a memorandum of understanding last year to drive Open RAN. And this is key. During this morning’s keynote, we’ve heard that we’ll talk about how vital virtualized networks are to enable digital. And that was the whole message throughout the keynote. We need to build digital trust, and we need to enable digital transformation. And 5G is one of the critical enablers and accelerators of that.

IoT Times:  When we are looking at IoT, there are certain use cases where 5G is needed, especially for critical applications that require the speed, latency, and reliability of the network. But many use cases only require limited connectivity and low-power consumption. For those, 4G, especially NB-IoT and LTE-M, are enough. So, what is the case for moving to 5G now?

Sylwia Kechiche:   It’s a very interesting question. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question. What came first? What’s first?

You need to be able to deploy to drive use cases. But without use cases, you cannot deploy. So it’s, again, when you think about Bitcoin when it just started, people were not thinking it was going to become such a massive movement. But now, it’s a bit too late to invest in Bitcoin.

So, when you think about it, you need to invest at the beginning to be up to speed. And the majority of the LTE networks currently being deployed are 5G ready.

So once the industrial equipment is ready, we’ll move to 5G, if needed. And LTE Advanced comes with impressive speeds, but you also need downline spectrum sharing. It would help if you had a lot more spectrum. So, at some point, you will have to make sure that the networks are migrated to the new core to enable actual economies of scale and so on.

Wait and see is not necessarily a good approach because if you don’t deploy early enough, you’re not going to be able to leverage the new technology’s benefits when it fully scales.

IoT Times:  You briefly mentioned private networks. What is your take on the market as some organizations are looking for private solutions and not relying on the public cellular networks operators provide?

Sylwia Kechiche:   Public networks, generally, it’s a fascinating topic because 5G brings another level to that. You can deploy 5G in a lot of different ways. So you can still use public networks. You can have a dedicated Edge gateway, giving you more control over it. It’s still a public network.

But you can also deploy a private network using your own enterprise spectrum if you can get it from the regulator. Or you can lease it from the operator. So there are multiple different ways for an enterprise, depending on what sort of level of control they want, whether they want these virtual private networks.

This morning, we heard that Nokia is working jointly with Telia on network slicing and virtual private networks, an exciting new solution. But we also hear about a lot of partnerships. In the US, we have CBRS and many cases. CBRS has helped a lot during the pandemic to provide dedicated coverage to schools.

And that’s super key, and that’s how we think it’s a fantastic way to do that, like dedicated networks for retail and education, and so on. But within Europe, going back to Europe, there’s a mix and match approach. Most cellular operator groups have a dedicated program to enable industry 4.0 applications.

So we have here the likes of KPN, Vodafone, and Orange, partnering with the industrial players to showcase what can be achieved. We hear about industrial robots in the enterprise setting. But we also hear about ports being connected, because that’s very important, and warehousing, retail.

So what we’ve seen is that the supply chain, and what COVID has brought to the supply chain and disruptions, what you need to do, you need to be able to contain some of the issues. So if you want to secure private networks, 5G is one way to do it. A lot of networks are still on 4G. That’s for sure. But again, becoming 5G ready.

That’s what we hear from some of the industrial vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson, that the majority of deployments at the moment are 4.9G. So they’re still 4G but getting to be 5G ready as soon as their industrial devices are ready.

IoT Times: Thank you so much, Sylwia, for your time. It is great to see you again, and we wish you a successful show.

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