In the most recent update of a regular survey of about 90 national MNOs round the world, respondents were asked to name all their likely 5G use cases for the first decade of commercial deployment, including those which would be first deployed on 4G and then enhanced via 5G. Of the seven which were most commonly cited, they were asked to select the three most important to their business case.
Those seven most-cited use cases (which have multiple sub-categories) were:
- enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB);
- connected vehicles (including monitoring/safety, Connected In-Vehicle Infotainment or IVI and autonomous cars);
- smart cities (integrated services such as smart parking, smart lighting, citizen services);
- industrial IoT (for factories, warehouses, predictive maintenance etc);
- virtual reality/augmented reality applications for consumers (e.g. gaming) and businesses (e.g. retail);
- fixed wireless access (FWA);
- connected healthcare (e.g. personal and fitness monitoring, social healthcare, remote diagnostics, remote surgery).
There were notable differences between the priorities of the European Union’s large MNOs, and those of other regions where early 5G deployments are expected, such as south east Asia and north America.
In the European Union, MNOs placed a higher priority than the global average on enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) as the anchor case, and also on fixed wireless, connected vehicles and healthcare. As the figure indicates, 66% of EU operators placed eMBB in their top three priorities, while 50% did the same for connected vehicles and 42% for healthcare.
With regards to eMBB, the global rate was 55% of operators, just ahead of 54% in Asia-Pacific, where Japan, South Korea, Greater China and Singapore will lead early deployments.
Priorities attached to the seven leading 5G use cases – global, EU and Asia-Pacific. Percentage of MNOs placing each use case in their top three for likely commercial impact (sums to 300).
Figure 1: Priorities attached to the seven leading 5G use cases – global, EU and Asia-Pacific
Source: Real Wireless/Rethink survey
European operators were less interested than the global average in smart cities, Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality/augmented reality. This does not signify a lack of interest across the wider business landscape. In the UK, a major VR/AR ecosystem has been building up, which is likely to drive 5G-enabled developments in the coming years. And in Germany, manufacturers and the Industry 4.0 movement are focusing on how 5G could enhance their efforts.
But as yet, the near term benefits of incorporating 5G into these efforts are not fully clear to many operators. That means these use cases are likely to supported in a second wave, possibly when technical and spectrum advances (such as 5G in shared spectrum, due in Release 16) make the economics better.
There are also variations between operators’ priorities in different EU countries, even though many are conducting 5G tests and trials on a multinational basis. The same survey found that the top four near to medium term 5G use cases, for UK operators, are eMBB, connected vehicles, smart cities and healthcare (in that order). The main difference from the European norm is the higher priority attached to 5G-enabled smart city applications, and the UK does boast significant city initiatives, such as that in Bristol, which have close ties to 5G R&D by industry and universities.
In Denmark, smart cities are even more important, taking second place after eMBB, followed by VR/AR and healthcare. By complete contrast, Finnish operators prioritized Industrial IoT first after eMBB, followed by fixed wireless access. These MNOs also placed smart agriculture, which was not generally in the top seven, high on their list of attractive 5G cases.
All this highlights the importance of work to make the 5G platform as flexible as possible, to support any use cases which are important to MNOs and other service providers and industry. Projects like the UK 5G Innovation Centre’s Flat Distributed Cloud (FDC), and the European Union-backed Project Norma, are significant efforts to develop a fully programmable, sliceable platform which can be tailored dynamically to support a wide range of applications, some of them as yet unforeseen.