The annual Big 5G Event was held again this week in my hometown of Austin, Texas. This year’s theme centered on the evolution of the telecommunications cloud and networking; a look forward to 6G and multiple discussions on Open RAN and network disaggregation also played key roles. Let’s dive into the details and my takeaways.
Looking ahead to 6G
The event opened by focusing on the future of 6G and featuring a discussion involving the Next G Alliance (NGA). If you’re unfamiliar, the initiative aims to advance North American wireless technology leadership over the next decade. NGA focuses on two popular domains—sustainability and artificial intelligence (AI). To this end, it has published reports that can be found on its website. While the reports are interesting reads, the reality is that it is simply too soon to dedicate serious efforts to 6G. Most mobile network operators have yet to deploy 5G Standalone, which will unlock the true promise of 5G by marrying core and radio access elements. I find the 6G discussion to be a slight distraction, one that is best left to academia and research institutions until 5G deployments are fully implemented.
The Open RAN discussion continues
Unsurprisingly, Open RAN was also a hot topic at the event. The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and Rakuten took to the main stage to discuss key Open RAN updates. From my perspective, TIP has been instrumental in harmonizing consortia efforts involving the ORAN Alliance, Open RAN Policy Coalition and others, aiding in Open RAN’s global expansion.
Eugina Jordan serves as the chief marketing officer for TIP, and I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time at ConnectX in New Orleans earlier this month. As evidenced in our conversation, she brings a wealth of energy and experience in telecommunications to her new role with TIP, having served in a marketing leadership position at Parallel Wireless for nearly a decade prior. Jordan is already making an early impact with TIP, as seen in a recent announcement tied to TIP’s OpenWiFi deployment in Kenya. She is also a new author; her first book, Unlimited, focuses on leadership development and debuts in June.
Rakuten might be best described as the poster child for Open RAN, so it was no surprise that the company provided an update at the Big 5G Event. Rakuten lays claim to the largest Open RAN deployment in the world, and it has aggregated its learnings with its Symphony Symworld 4G and 5G Open RAN offerings.
I was initially skeptical about Symworld, given the competitive nature of operators, and I wondered whether others would adopt Rakuten’s solution. However, that quickly changed for me a year ago. Symworld was launched at Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona in 2022, and I was impressed by the collaboration out of the gate between Rakuten and AT&T. Not only does AT&T plan to leverage Rakuten’s intellectual property for its own Open RAN deployments, but it will also collaborate to enhance Symworld over time. Support from Nokia and Cisco also points to the value Rakuten provides for others in the Open RAN space, where it hopes to capitalize on its deployment agility and savings in capital and operational expenses.
The Big 5G Event felt a tad smaller this year, likely due to the competing CTIA 5G Summit held at the same time in Washington, D.C. However, it delivered a great mix of current and forward-looking telecommunications thought leadership and best practices. There’s still a lot of growth ahead for 5G. I believe some of the most compelling enterprise and consumer use cases and applications will come in the latter part of this year and early 2024 as operators deploy 5G Standalone. I liken where we are with 5G to a baseball game: we’re in the middle innings of a game that will likely go into extra innings. Let’s play some 5G ball!