There’s a lot of buzz and excitement these days around 5G wireless networks. Over the next several years, the availability of more bandwidth will drive adoption of a variety of emerging use cases. These use cases will involve everything from edge computing to augmented and virtual reality applications. Given the expense of building these 5G networks, most of the development effort will be led by telecommunications carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon.

Managed service providers (MSPs) should also be paying attention to an emerging class of alternative providers of 5G services. This class will eventually span providers of satellite networking services, such as Dish Networks, and cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google, to large enterprise IT organizations, such as Siemens. Many of those large enterprise IT organizations are already starting to conclude that in some environments it will be less expensive for them to build their own 5G networks rather than rely on a carrier. That option will become even more economically viable as the cost of 5G networking gear starts to drop over time.

MSPs can help roll out 5G services

The opportunity for MSPs right now, is to help these companies roll out those 5G services. Any organization building a 5G network will need help planning and optimizing both the radio access network and the microwave and backhaul networks, and then testing and troubleshooting 5G networks once they are rolled out. Verizon and AT&T have their own cadre of engineers to take on those tasks, but every Tier 2 and 3 carrier along with emerging alternative service providers is going to need help. A survey of 145 attendees of the Mobile World Congress 2019 conference published by InfoVista, a provider of tools for analyzing network traffic, finds that only a quarter of the respondents say they are ready to deploy 5G services.

Much of the challenge associated with 5G stems from the density of networking environment that needs to be deployed. A 5G network makes use of millimeter wave wireless spectrum to deliver data with less than a millisecond of delay. That compares to about 70 milliseconds on an existing 4G network. Peak download speeds are expected to be in the range of 20 gigabits per second compared to 1 Gb per second on 4G.

The issue is that achieving that goal not only requires what amounts to a miniature data center being installed in every base station, there also needs to be a lot more “small cells” to process wireless signals with the confines of a much smaller geographic area. Due to that, the wireless networking tower everyone sees in their local community will one day be replace by small cell towers embedded in, for example, a light post at the end of their street.

It’s unclear precisely who will benefit most from this transition. Incumbent carriers clearly have an edge. However, 5G networks will rely a lot more on open source software and commodity servers than 4G networks. That shift is what creates an opportunity for so many potential 5G alternatives, says Adrian Jakobsson, vice president of product management at Infovista.

“There will be evolution and revolution,” says Jakobsson.

Naturally, it may be a while before 5G networks become pervasively deployed. It’s already apparent the opportunity for MSPs to play a significant role in developing, testing, and deploying 5G services in the years ahead is going to significant. There’s already talk about what will be required to deliver 6G services. Whatever happens, the one thing that is certain is any MSP that starts to develop 5G wireless networking expertise today is sure to find demand for their services for many years to come.

Photo:  ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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