5G without borders: defining a European one stop shop for 5G infrastructure services

One of the promises of 5G is that it will bring about a transformation not just in network technology but in operator business models. Indeed the two are symbiotic: arguably 5G cannot happen without this transformation, and this transformation can only happen with 5G.

One of the principal drivers of that transformation will be the ability to provide new service capabilities to enterprise “verticals”. And one of the principal drivers of those new service capabilities will be a network that can deliver “slices” to different services, and be managed in a more dynamic manner than is currently possible.

Up until now, delivering on this capability has been a largely technical discussion about the enabling technologies: automation, SDN, a separated and unified control plane, NFV Orchestration and so on. The aim is flexible, open networks that might enable enterprise users and vertical industries to define, deploy and control service architectures on-demand.

5GEx aims to give companies the ability to define services across network and geographic borders

So far so good. How much thought, however, has been given to the actual marketing of this capability?

Well one new EU-funded project is thinking just those thoughts – the newly established  5G Exchange (5GEx) project, which is a Phase 1 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G PPP).

5GEx aims to give companies the ability to define services across network and geographic borders – opening up the services not just of one operator in one country, but of the same operator across different countries, or of different operators in other countries.

5GEx’s website says:

“Market fragmentation has resulted in a multitude of network operators each focused on different countries and regions. This makes it difficult to create infrastructure services spanning multiple countries, such as virtual connectivity or compute resources, as no single operator has a footprint everywhere.

5GEx aims to enable collaboration between operators, regarding 5G infrastructure services, with the view to introducing unification via NFV/SDN compatible multi-domain orchestration”

The project describes this as a “Unified infrastructure service market” – and the word doing a lot of the work here seems to be “market” – the idea of a space where businesses can define (and buy) their own service infrastructure.

The project’s own deliverables talk of defining “an open platform enabling cross-domain orchestration of services over multiple domains, with a set of open source software tools and extensions that can be utilised outside the scope of 5GEx”.

This would give operators and content providers automated service provisioning with reduced time to market. A press release from project leader Ericsson put it thus: “Services can be deployed programmatically through a one shop-stop approach.” 

That’s also an interesting choice of words. It views service provisioning as a shop, and marketplace. As this is a European funded project,  the project focusses on a Europe-wide market – a “European unified 5G infrastructure service that integrates multiple operators and technologies.”

Delivering this unified service market will take more than just technical know-how, it will take commercial and political will from the operators themselves: and not surprisingly, it is the large European group operators that are visible on the 5GEx partner list – TIM, DT and Telefonica.

The programme will run until March 2018.

The 5GEx program partners are Ericsson, Atos, Athens University of Economics and Business, Berlin Institute for Software Defined Networks, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Carlos III University of Madrid, Deutsche Telekom, European Center for Information and Communication Technologies, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Huawei, Orange, RedZinc, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Telecom Italia, Telefónica I+D, Telenor and University College London.