May 1, 2024

Central Agency in Telecommunications

Mobile network operators (MNO) have long been the engine at the heart of the modern communications industry. With operating licenses and obligations set by government, MNOs’ reach stretched from the shaping of technology standards in 3GPP to deciding what communications services consumers would get.

From the 2000s, however, internet era dynamics lessened the revenues dominance of voice communication; messaging, data, and media services filled the gap, beginning with the hype around 3G. That is when the MNO cog started to lose some of its motive force as the communications industry began to resemble an increasingly intricate machine.

From Linear to Interconnected Operating Environment 

Over the past few years, advances in 5G and aspirations for 6G communications are amplifying the role of other interconnected cogs in the industry system. Now, many observers question which entity, or entities might supplant MNOs as central agents in the communications industry.

The industry picture is more complicated, thanks to the entry of cloud-providers and information services providers. More organizations are looking for industry influence via industry or open-source alliances (special interest standardization) and through open and formal standardization bodies. For example, industrial equipment suppliers participate in 3GPP so that the insights they have about their customers’ use cases are addressed at source. Governments are also active through policy objectives on topics ranging from secure and resilient supply chains to digital rights.

While innovative technologies might be at the root of some industry changes, others stem from business drivers and new sources of demand. As economies succeed, rises in the “money value of time” stoke investments in remote connectivity and IoT solutions. These enhance productivity and make supply chains more predictable. 

Separately, enterprise needs are taking precedence over consumer broadband offerings. In ‘telco’ speak, private networks and massive, machine-type connectivity (mMTC) are rivaling enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) propositions. As a result, the MNOs’ market landscape is segmenting. There are competing (or complementary) network propositions such as low-power and satellite connectivity for IoT and private network models for enterprise hub locations such as airports, factories, hospitals.

Another change agent is the rise of software capabilities, which can take advantage of flexible capacity enabled by cloud and elastic-computing infrastructure. This encourages MNOs to collaborate with hyperscaler, cloud providers, notwithstanding that some of these relationships are rivalrous. 

Against a changing industry backdrop, issues of control and ‘down-scaling’ economics will determine how dominance shifts among the intertwining cogs. 


Standardization and regulation are two means of industry control. While the ITU and 3GPP have been dominant institutions for communications technologies, the picture is changing. Now, industry alliances seek to influence standardization governance models and technical roadmaps. In parallel, the role of government is growing to encompass policy choices about competition, digital rights, and digital equity. Converting these choices into actionable policies passes through national research and standardization bodies, as in the case of US National Science Foundation initiatives on 5G/6G and, injection of AI risk management practices via the USA’s National Institute of Science and Technology. 

Examples of private sector, or ‘special interest’ standardization fall into two groups. One involves offering open source and freemium tools to spur adoption thereby establishing a de facto standard through a critical mass of users. This is the modern-day equivalent to the “easy on-ramp to the internet” of the late 1990s. However, easy adoption comes with latent risks. A recent example is the realization of organizations storing data in cloud provider infrastructures. Many were not aware of the extent to which they were locked-in to provider platforms. That changed when Google Cloud removed restrictions on users moving their data to other cloud providers; its move was aimed at disrupting larger cloud providers. 

Another approach to exert industry control is to advance a technical standard through an industry alliance approach. Open RAN is one example. Another, in the home automation sector, is the collaboration of home appliance vendors and information service providers under the Connectivity Standards Alliance to advance the Matter connectivity protocol. 

In the open standardization realm, device vendors and industrial firms are feeding in their technical requirements based on better insights about end-user application needs (beyond connectivity). As illustrated above, new competitors and new channels of influence are circumventing the network operator role. This is not offset by network operator involvement in non-cellular connectivity, information service, or data management industry bodies. 

‘Down-scaling’ Economics 

Two factors - business criticality and new, value propositions - are changing the complexion of communications technologies in industrial use cases. This gives scope for premium pricing and innovation for niche application scenarios. Alternative providers have been quick to respond. 

Speakers at the recent 6GWorld Spring symposium noted that under addressed demand and external developments are affecting the network operator role and fostering the rise of more agile and focused solution providers. For example, one industry expert commented that “90% of 5G capabilities are not being deployed by MNOs because they have one use case in mind”. 

Another spoke about a satellite service provider targeting an under-served opportunity. The observation in this case was that “satellite does not compete with telco voice and broadband offerings, so it became easier for the MNO to re-sell or integrate (satellite) into its portfolio.” Both observations are symptomatic of connectivity- and subscription business rules and salesforce incentives that constrain MNO strategies. 

Rationales for Change 

As the economy transitions to make greater use of 5G networks and 6G systems, one key challenge for mobile network operators is the rise of enterprise and public utility customers. Those that have embarked on private network strategies will expand the supplier base and economics for smaller enterprises. This requires MNOs to pivot to alternative business, pricing, and delivery models. 

A second challenge is to project industry scale; can the mobile communications industry compete with the cloud industry or, are MNOs preoccupied about competing with other MNOs? Consider this challenge in the context of the recent initiative on network-service APIs for enterprise and developer communities. The industry scaling challenge needs to look beyond adopters targeting limited and localized use cases because they are unwilling to sign contracts (for uniform APIs) with multiple MNOs. What will it take for the communications industry to offer coherent and extensible network-API offering on a global scale?


  1. 2 May 2024 update

    Elon Musk fires Tesla’s entire supercharger team

    Electric-car maker’s public policy unit also being disbanded as chief announces in memo hundreds more jobs to be cut

  2. 4 May update

    AT&T hopes Turbo can boost its service revenue

    US telco AT&T has launched a speed-boosting value-added service in an effort to squeeze more revenue out of connectivity.

    It's called Turbo, and for $7 per line, per month, customers can use it to make their mobile connection quicker and more responsive.

    Pitched at avid gamers and video callers, customers can sign up to Turbo via their myATT app or through the website. If they change their mind or decide they have no need for Turbo in the month that follows, they can simply switch it back off again.

    According to The Mobile Report, the service is underpinned by quality of service (QoS) class identifiers (QCI), which help the network determine which users have priority access. When a customer signs up to AT&T Turbo, the solution tweaks their QCI so that the network deems them more important, resulting in a faster, more stable connection.

    It's worth pointing out that AT&T said Turbo is not available across its entire network. Presumably it can only offer it in areas where it has sufficient capacity, otherwise it'll have to deal with disgruntled customers who experience no difference between Turbo 5G and the regular kind.

    AT&T was also at pains to point out that Turbo has no bearing on its compliance with the recently reinstated net neutrality rules, which specifically forbid operators from discriminating against – or prioritising – traffic originating from different online services.

  3. 6 May 2024 update

    Cummins, Verizon Business ink groundbreaking deal for combo Neutral Host + Private 5G network

    What you need to know:

    Cummins is the first announced customer for Verizon Business’ all-new Neutral Host Network product. Verizon Business will provide Cummins with both a private 5G network and a neutral host network, providing cellular coverage for distinct private and public use cases at Cummins’ Jamestown Engine Plant.

    A neutral host network can allow employees and the general public, no matter their mobile provider, to achieve a strengthened mobile signal via dedicated network infrastructure on a specific premises or campus. Combined with a private network, enterprises can manage both business-critical connected operations (via the private 5G network) and conventional but strengthened public-network connectivity to phones and tablets (via neutral host network), where signals might otherwise be weak.

    As “anchor tenant” for the carrier-agnostic neutral host network, Verizon is technical lead for network implementation, responsible for engineering, equipment and installation.

    Ericsson is the sole platform provider to Verizon for the network buildout.

  4. 6 May 2024 update

    Essential Patents and IoT: a coming new wave of patent litigation?

    During the last decades the biggest patent battles involving the smartphone industry concerned licensing disputes on essential patents for technical standards (SEPs), in particular, connectivity standards (e.g. 3G/4G/5G, Wi-Fi). Said disputes were afterwards extended to the automotive sector as manufacturers and component suppliers implemented technical standards for connectivity applications. Now, with these economic sectors controlled under their corresponding licensing programs, SEP licensors are setting their sights on the Internet of Things (IoT). The increasing prevalence and rising ubiquity of IoT-connected devices in our daily lives heralds an impending wave of patent licensing and, undoubtedly, patent litigation.

    However, while SEPs licensing in the smartphone sector is already well understood and widely accepted after active campaigns and intense judicial enforcement, SEPs licensing in the IoT sector may still be perceived as being in its early stages of development and understanding.

    It seems clear in this sense that implementing a one-size-fits-all SEPs licensing model in the IoT sector may prove impractical given the diverse applications of connectivity technology across different IoT industries. Also, the lack of knowledge and experience among IoT enterprises regarding SEPs licensing could represent difficulties and could also affect the overall efficiency of the licensing process, yielding lengthy negotiations or even patent litigation.

    Therefore, in this context, IoT enterprises will need to acquire more expertise in technical standards, SEPs licensing and the legal requirements and constraints associated with enforcing SEPs in judicial proceedings.

  5. 8 May 2024 update

    Mavenir and Amazon Web Services join forces

    Open RAN and core platform vendor Mavenir has struck a five-year Strategic Collaboration Agreement (SCA) with cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) which, the companies claim, will “revolutionise the deployment of telecom workloads running on AWS.” The partners will “jointly architect Mavenir’s technology to streamline the development, testing, integration, and application of cloud-native solutions – harnessing the high availability, scalability and security capabilities of AWS services to create a new telco-grade deployment model that is set to transform how operators launch 5G, IMS (IP multimedia subsystem), radio access network (RAN) and future network technologies.” They will “co-invest in developing functionalities, such as enhanced dynamic autoscaling, automation, and reliability enhancements, for communication service providers (CSPs) to enable migration to AWS.” Bejoy Pankajakshan, Mavenir’s chief technology and strategy officer, stated: “Building on our long-term partnership and individual leadership in cloud technology, Mavenir and AWS are now working together to leverage the key attributes of the public cloud to enable unprecedented adaptability of telco workloads. As part of this collaboration, we are combining our strengths to support the ambition of operators to migrate into the public cloud, delivering uniquely optimised solutions that ensure fast and efficient deployment – and a dramatic reduction in total cost of ownership [TCO],” he added. That’s a key claim, as public cloud supporters have long said network operators can save a lot of money by shifting as many workloads as possible onto hyperscaler platforms, while many operators have struggled to identify those savings. Mavenir and AWS are at least pitching this proposition from a position of experience, as they have both been heavily involved in the rollout of the greenfield 5G network built out in recent years by Dish Network in the US.

  6. 9 May 2024 update

    SMO Deployment Challenges in an Open RAN Environment
    Joint whitepaper by Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO

    The industry needs to accelerate the standardisation of the interfaces between SMO and NFs, with leadership and vendor facilitation by operators. The discussion of decoupled SMO architecture functions should also be accelerated with increased operator involvement and facilitation. Vendors whose products have already been in service will have to address the O1 and Open Fronthaul M-plane interfaces between the NF and SMO without going through their own EMS, which may require additional work. Operators therefore need to express their strong willingness to use SMO that can manage NFs from multiple vendors and encourage vendors to support it. A continued effort in system integration between as many differing vendors as possible, including the alignment of interface optionality and data models, will become important to achieving a plug and play Open RAN, akin to personal computers in the 1990s – this needs to be led by operators. Interoperability of SMO and many vendors’ NFs must be proactively validated in community labs such as OREX Shared Labs provided by NTT DOCOMO. In order to achieve the aforementioned benefits, operators should put pressure on the industry to evolve toward mature Open RAN as described above.

  7. 22 May 2024 update

    BT tech guru shows no appetite for 6G race

    LIVE FROM 6G GLOBAL SUMMIT, LONDON: BT Group director of network strategy and spectrum Mark Henry (pictured, left) lamented the race to launch 5G and questioned the investment case for 6G during a session where the Republic of Ireland’s regulator accused vendors of overpromising on new tech.

    In a panel session, Henry branded non-standalone 5G a “mistake” which had effectively made the arrival of full, standalone variant “five years late”.

    “That’s a bad bargain and we should not do that again”.

    He did, though, add non-standalone 5G had been a success nonetheless.

    “The business case for 5G is it’s the most efficient way to deliver data capacity,” he said. “It has delivered on that promise”. Though the expert noted the investment case for 6G was “much more of a challenge than previous generations”.

    Citing an expectation of slowing data growth rates even with new applications, Henry stated there was “no desire” for the cost of installing new physical infrastructure and a potential issue with adoption of another new technology.

    “What will hurt the business case is getting millions of users into the new system. That used to happen relatively quickly, but now devices are held on to people by four years and that will be longer over time”.

    On a more positive note, Henry pointed to a potential argument for 6G if it were able to improve spectral efficiency along with potential sustainability benefits.