A fixed broadband connection is considered an essential utility for many households, like water or electricity, would be. During COVID-19 related lockdowns, with the majority of people being told to stay home and work from home, fixed networks have been a lifeline and borne a significant amount of network traffic, creating new peaks throughout the day. Vodafone noticed that fixed-broadband usages had seen an increase of 50%. This was the case in Italy and Spain, which were two of the first European countries to introduce containment policies. Remaining connected has enabled businesses to keep moving, families to stay in touch and kept us entertained with streaming and video services.
Operators who are able to offer converged bundles of fixed and mobile services and an all-inclusive package will be able to strengthen their service offering and benefit from increased revenue streams and enhanced customer loyalty. Mobile Network Operators, who don’t already have fixed offerings, will have noticed this absolute reliance on both fixed and mobile networks during the COVID-19 related lockdowns, so they might look into branching out.
In this blog, we will take a look at the current landscape and how that will likely change as 5G deployments progress.
The current landscape
In the current landscape, more and more operators are converging their fixed and mobile networks which, if utilized, will enable them to deliver a superior service. Realizing the benefits that fixed broadband will deliver to their customers and combining this with their 5G offering will further enhance the service provided. We have seen this in the recent example of the merger between Telefonica UK and Liberty Global. The deal brings together Telefonica’s mobile business with Liberty Global’s fixed and TV operation, Virgin Media delivering this combined approach.
By combining fixed and mobile services, operators are able to scale more effectively and deliver more choice to the customer. Telefonica, Chief Executive Officer, Jose Maria Alvarez-Palette said, “Combining O2’s number one mobile business with Virgin Media’s superfast broadband network and entertainment services will be a game-changer in the U.K., at a time when demand for connectivity has never been greater or more critical. We are creating a strong competitor with significant scale and financial strength to invest in UK digital infrastructure and give millions of consumer, business, and public sector customers more choice and value.”
Going forward, operators can look to converge whole infrastructures and not just platforms. By using the same infrastructure for both fixed and 5G will help save costs and deliver a better experience to the end-user. A converged infrastructure where fixed and mobile are working on a single platform will deliver operational flexibility, a more straightforward network design, and open new markets and revenue streams to the operator, which will be essential as they progress towards 5G.
The changing landscape
A converged approach will be important for operators as they transition to 5G. One of the main reasons for this is that 5G presents us with many new complexed uses cases, such as Ultra High Definition video, Gaming, and super-fast download times. Operators will look to offload much of this data from the mobile network and tap into the benefits of fixed-line broadband to deliver these use cases. The fixed-line offers a more reliable service at a much lower latency, and in most cases is faster than mobile. This is particularly the case in urban areas where there are higher concentrations of usage, but where fiber-optic is available, solving the issue of slow speeds and data caps. Here again, convergence between fixed and mobile will be essential in providing a combined package that will significantly enhance the offering the operator is able to offer while also helping to keep their costs lower and therefore increasing the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).
We can, therefore, see that operators are making the transition to be a Digital Service Provider (DSP) and not just a Communication Service Provider (CSP). Additional services could range from hosting their own streaming platforms to assuring specific bandwidth capacity for avid gamers looking for ultra-low reliable latency. It is these use cases, which rely on a combined fixed and mobile approach that is making operators sit up and realize the necessity of a converged infrastructure.
The future landscape
Fast fixed and reliable broadband access is also vital for economic growth. In the past, some rural or underprivileged areas may have suffered from poor connectivity. We saw this again during the COVID-19 pandemic, where children in more impoverished areas may have struggled to keep up to date with schoolwork as there is no reliable internet access or a lack of devices at home, making remote learning difficult. Deploying the infrastructure to upgrade to an entirely fiber-optic infrastructure would require high costs and years of strategic planning at multiple levels of government and industry.
Deploying nationwide fiber optic is prohibitively expensive, especially for the last mile, and so 5G offers a much simpler and cheaper solution for connecting customers in remote locations. The solution takes the form of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which has emerged as one of the early use cases for 5G, So far, 73 operators have announced 5G FWA launches worldwide, and it is anticipated many more will follow. FWA utilizes standardized 3GPP mobile networks to deliver ultra-high-speed broadband to residential and enterprise subscribers alike. FWA enables the easy and rapid deployment of broadband services, making it a much more cost-effective way to reach those who were previously under-served.
While FWA has been available using LTE for some time, the introduction of 5G and high-frequency millimeter waves will mean it will be able to deliver speed and reliability similar to that of fiber-optic. This transition will change the wireless access landscape entirely, enabling connectivity in some of the most remote areas of the world, and at a fraction of the cost.
FWA is being utilized by both fixed operators to speed up fixed broadband rollouts and mobile operators looking to tap into the multi-play sector, including a new route into the home via the home broadband and video market.
The need for assurance
Where does service assurance fit into this landscape? Operators are forever trying to achieve end-to-end network visibility and monitoring both fixed-line and mobile services is no different. Service assurance enables the operator to understand the network usage trends, identifying areas of the network which require optimization. A containerized solution, which is able to take data from multiple sources, such as fixed and mobile networks, will be able to understand the overall network performance and deliver end-to-end visibility on the customer experience. A fully virtualized service assurance solution with on-demand capabilities gives a complete picture of a user’s Quality of Experience from both mobile and fixed services. It will be able to troubleshoot when service degradations occur automatically.
For FWA, service assurance is particularly important. As mentioned previously, FWA will connect some of the most remote parts of the world, which would otherwise be completely isolated. If the service levels drop for these customers, that could leave them unable to connect and communicate.
For operators looking to monetize the opportunities of both a converged fixed and mobile platform as well as FWA should deploy a service assurance solution from the beginning of the rollout to ensure a smooth transition of services. Service assurance will also help to maintain service quality levels and provide a high level of customer satisfaction going forward.
5G promises to deliver on specific standards as well as speed when it comes to connectivity and the need for ultra-low reliable latency. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of connectivity and our reliance on fixed-broadband connections, which are here to stay as we move forward to the age of 5G. With the introduction of services such as FWA, broadband will be able to connect people who would otherwise be too difficult to reach. FWA will extend the ability for more people to ensure high-speed broadband and connectivity, even in remote locations.
As a result, operators need to ensure they are meeting these promises and assuring that they are delivering smooth connectivity. To ensure this is the case, many operators will look to automate operations, and as such, having a cloud-native, containerized solution will help operators meet these needs.
This blog post may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. To read more about forward-looking statements please click here.