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How the US’s biggest mobile providers plan to monetise 5G

At Mobile World Congress Americas 2019, 5G, IoT, AI, AR, VR and private networks were top of mind for operators and their partners. In particular, Verizon and Sprint had splashy demos and made announcements that moved their agendas forward.

Mobile World Congress Americas, held in Los Angeles, US, from 12 to 24 October hosted a wide swath of the telecommunication ecosystem. Mobile operators had a significant presence, with booths, demos, keynotes, panels, technical sessions, and analyst one-on-ones on subjects ranging from 5G rollouts and anticipated use cases, telco/enterprise partnerships, IoT networks and applications, AI and machine learning, blockchain enablement, edge computing, AR/VR, data privacy, network, data, and application security, and options for private networking. 

Verizon and Sprint

Mobile operators – especially Verizon and Sprint – were active at the show. What stood out about the two operators at MWCA is how they differ in their priorities at this time in their histories. Sprint faces a significant change to its 5G and IoT businesses, depending on what happens with its proposed merger with T-Mobile. However, its IoT capabilities are very strong, thanks in part to its senior vice-president of IoT, Ivo Rook, who has significantly energised the company’s products and plans in this space. It seems likely that no matter what happens, the Curiosity platform will continue to be an important ongoing project. 

Verizon is more concerned with vying against its traditional rival, AT&T, who is also very strong in its 5G messaging, service plans and early momentum. Verizon’s positioning at MWCA was more about its viability as a change agent for its business customers, based on its organisational transformation and its reputation for reliable networking.

Sprint 

Sprint’s involvement at MWCA included a large number of booth demos on 5G and IoT, as well as a keynote speech by its CEO of Sprint Business, who didn’t shy away from noting that the merger with T-Mobile is close but still awaits resolution, due to the objections of 15 state attorney generals. Not unexpectedly, his keynote also focused on how important 5G will be for both consumers and enterprises, with a list of all the benefits we have been hearing about for a while from most operators. Sprint does offer some differentiation however, as its 5G deployments in 9 cities are not reliant on mmWave spectrum and therefore have been able to cover 16 million people in a short period of time. In the future, it will also have access to both T-Mobile’s 600 Mhz spectrum and Sprint’s reserve of 2.5 Ghz spectrum. Sprint is also using massive MIMO which helps to provide 5G outside of dense urban areas.

Key announcements

NB-IoT Launch: Sprint just launched NB-IoT, in part because it complements its existing LTE-M LPWAN network which offers mobility and voice features while the new network is ideal for low bandwidth, stationary use cases. It is also an easy upgrade for Sprint to provide NB-IoT through its Curiosity IoT platform which is network access agnostic. Demos showcased ABB, a large global industrial manufacturer, which needed connectivity for the panels on its power trains and is a new, large reference customer which can potentially bring thousands of connections to Sprint’s NB-IoT network.

Private Core: To serve private networks, Sprint is providing an Ericsson box within which all network components are available to run a full pre-integrated Curiosity core that can run on any network. The solution enables enterprise customers to manage IoT applications that have critical requirements, such as low latency or local breakout, at the edge, i.e. without the need to traverse the macro network. Data from devices is turned into intelligence locally, creating benefits for verticals such as manufacturing, public safety and mining, where data needs to reach other on-premise devices or application services. Curiosity uses the IoT Ericsson Accelerator as a base but also has advanced features such as an OS, which can provide configuration and updates of firmware and software, as well as data management capability. Sprint can also run applications on Curiosity such as MapBox, which provides precision mapping and location services.  

Arizona State University Alliance: Sprint is working with Arizona State University to help drive economic, educational, technological and social growth for a large region of Arizona, leveraging the power of Mobile 5G and Curiosity IoT’s dedicated network and operating system. The multi-year project will enable massive 5G campus connectivity, create new IoT curriculum, and kick-start joint scientific research. Rook noted that there have been no real studies on the use of edge and IoT in academics, so their engineers developed a curriculum that can not only educate potential engineers to work for Sprint, but can provide 22 cities in the state and across the university’s larger US digital footprint, with a new training programme for advanced engineering jobs.

Verizon

Verizon also participated in keynotes and panel discussions, had a booth with a wide variety of demos, and made several key announcements during the show. The Group CEO of Verizon Business, delivered a keynote in which she spelled out why Verizon is “here to play and win” in the business segment with its “Ready Everything” perspective and catch-phrase. She began by noting Verizon’s recent re-organization into 3 very large customer-facing groups, commenting that the Verizon Business group is a $30 billion entity with over 30,000 employees and is focused on digital transformation of its customers, with 5G playing a very central role.

Key announcements

Factory Automation: Corning is using Verizon’s millimetre-wave (mmWave) 5G service at its fibre optic manufacturing facility in Hickory, NC to test factory automation and quality assurance including use of 5G-connected cameras to wirelessly track and inspect inventory, and use of autonomous-guided vehicles to move parts around the factory floor. The pair will collaborate on 5G to develop solutions to “revolutionize” the way goods and services are produced.

Edge Computing Partnership: Verizon and SAP announced a collaboration to enable applications to process data where it is generated – from an assembly line to a retail store shelf, helping businesses save time and increase productivity. They will create enterprise solutions that use Verizon’s network and platform capabilities integrated with SAP’s software and services, particularly the SAP Leonardo Internet of Things (IoT) solution, SAP Edge Services and analytics, computing and data management capabilities.

5G Rollouts: Verizon announced it has added Dallas, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska, to its list of cities with mmWave 5G coverage. It now has 15 US cities covered, with seven 5G-enabled devices. 

Sustainability: Verizon provided a sustainability goal: partnering with private firms, it will determine the emissions associated with its 5G network, and over the next six years, it will challenge employees, 5G equipment suppliers, and contractors to cut or eliminate emissions wherever possible, with the intention of reducing its 5G carbon footprint to net-zero by 2025.

Key takeaways

  • 5G clearly led the technology discussions from leading operators at MWCA, with keynotes and booth demos focused on the new network technology.
  • Operators such as Verizon and Sprint are making strategic relationships not only with infrastructure vendors but also with enterprises, public safety organisations and universities to provide better vertical solutions and develop training on new technologies.
  • Both T-Mobile and Sprint are strongly hinting at specific post-merger synergies and plans, even though the merger still has another hurdle to overcome in December.
  • While public 5G is positioned as a key change agent, 5G for private networks is viewed as an opportunity by Sprint, Verizon and most other Tier-1 mobile operators.

Related Report:

5G Commercial Use Cases Update & Telco Go-To-Market Strategies

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