Three Most Promising Use Cases to Monetize 5G Standalone

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Virtual coal mining, online streaming of the coronation of Charles III via a dedicated network slice, and real-time monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions of ships in seaports: 5G standalone (SA) finally delivers on promises and proves real-world value. Nexign experts have analyzed the international experience, statistics, and growth dynamics of the 5G SA projects in 2021–2023 that already generate revenues for communications service providers (CSPs) in different countries. We have picked the most promising use cases for 5G SA monetization. We believe that our list may be of particular interest to mobile operators who are on track to build 5G roadmaps and explore 5G monetization strategies in their regions.

5G SA is Overtaking 5G NSA 

Despite the buzz about 5G and CSPs’ expectations to profit from next-generation services and revenue diversification, the shift to 5G Core has been slow, with most operators deploying 5G non-standalone (NSA) and taking a wait-and-see approach, rather than ramping up their investments in a full-scale infrastructure upgrade. Meanwhile, early adopters prove that the true power of 5G and first significant benefits come with the launch of software-based and cloud-native 5G standalone networks, unleashing opportunities of virtualization, network slicing, granular quota control, and ultra-low latency.

According to Analysys Mason, 5G SA revenue is predicted to surpass 5G NSA revenue for the first time in 2024 and will account for more than 90% of global wireless revenue by 2028. 

Revenue by 5G network type and 5G’s share of RAN revenue, worldwide, 2022–2026. Source: Analysys Mason, March 2023

As reported by GSA, 116 operators in 53 countries have been increasingly investing in public 5G SA networks in the form of pilots and planned or actual deployments since 2020. The number of 5G SA projects represents 22% of all 5G initiatives worldwide. 15 5G SA networks are expected to go live by the end of 2023, with a total of 1.5 billion 5G subscribers. 

There is already a growing number of commercially available 5G SA devices that cater for different users, including routers and gateways for enterprise and industrial customers and smartphones for the B2C segment. All major telecom vendors have already introduced dedicated 5G SA solutions, both for RAN and 5G Core. Nexign became one of the first IT companies in Eastern Europe and Asia to present a product suite designed to monetize and efficiently manage 5G SA networks through network functions for converged charging, policy management, and signaling. 

Due to unique economic and geographical aspects as well as different levels of population density and demand for connectivity, the 5G rollout journey differs by country and region. Irrespective of the local particularities, we already see use cases with the highest revenue potential that are likely to contribute to the explosive growth of 5G. Three categories of use cases have been selected based on the analysis of launches in different corners of the world, both pilots and profitable live projects. Specifically, the article focuses on fixed wireless access (FWA) technology, 5G SA mobile private networks (MPN), and 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTN).

#1: FWA as a 5G Monetization Starting Point 

The international project experience and statistics 2022–2023 demonstrate that FWA is emerging as the most actively growing B2C service based on 5G. According to Deloitte Global, 90% of CSPs that launched 5G have already offered FWA to their customers. The analysts reveal an 88% 2020–2026 CAGR in 5G FWA connections. The main business drivers behind the strong growth include the demand for internet connectivity in sparsely populated or remote areas, and the clear commercial benefits of FWA for operators over costly broadband investments in such locations. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to lead in the FWA subscriber growth, while Europe and the US will continue to lead in revenue.

In 2022, Telia, a Finland-based CSP, launched the world's first commercial 5G SA network with network slicing for FWA services. In the same year, a similar service was piloted by Safaricom, a leading operator in East Africa: the company plans to offer the FWA service to enterprises, including small and medium businesses (SMEs). The use of dedicated FWA network slices in these projects will allow operators to deliver on SLAs. The NSSP, PCF, and CCS network functions (NFs) facilitate policy and charging rules management within a slice of the 5G Core. Leveraging the in-built flexibility of the 5G architecture, CSPs use a best-of-breed approach when selecting vendor products for these NFs. For example, Nexign offers 3GPP-compliant Nexign 5G Policy Control Function (PCF) and Nexign 5G Charging System (CCS) to cover this functionality. To manage distributed networks with deployment of several PCF and CCS instances responsible for different slices or traffic types, CSPs can use Nexign Service Communication Proxy (SCP) and Nexign Network Repository Function (NRF), which streamline network signaling and provide load balancing in complex 5G networks.  

While the key idea behind FWA to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communities, the technology is also promoted as a backup line to a broadband service for remote workers, with a data rate of up to 5 Gbps. Besides that, 5G FWA can be used to increase the capacity of existing fixed and mobile networks in dense city areas to offer pop-up wide area networks for SMEs, live events, or construction sites. In such cases, the 5G FWA connection improves surge capacity and redundancy.

Source: GSA, May 2023

As we can see, CSPs have an opportunity to use FWA as a source of incremental revenue. Especially it is true for the developing countries with low degree of urbanization—for example, in Africa and the Middle East. In most cases, mobile operators can leverage the underutilized RAN capacity and use spectrum to introduce an FWA service in their region and thus ensure a good starting point for 5G SA monetization.  

#2: Mobile Private Network to Drive Revenue Growth in B2B  

The deployment of 5G MPNs by enterprises is becoming part of digital transformation on the way to a digital economy. Nokia estimates that over 70% of machines in the industrial fields in Eurasia are not connected to internet, which significantly reduces the ability to make production smart and autonomous. At the same time, the industry in Eurasia can make a profit of 4 trillion USD from the use of 5G. 

According to GSA, as of February 2023, there were 1,077 MPNs based on LTE and 5G that were deployed in 74 countries. 5G networks account for 56% of all 321 MPNs launched in 2022. The largest sectors for customer references are mining, education, and manufacturing, although this does not represent the actual scale and size of deployments, which vary by user type.
 

Base: 1,077 organizations deploying private wireless networks with revenue greater than 100,000 EUR. Source: GSA, February 2023

Deployment of private networks—even on LTE infrastructure—significantly improves production automation and enables telemetry, real-time video broadcasting, and remote control of equipment. 5G technology brings additional benefits to MPNs, such as significantly more bandwidth, mobility, and lower latency, and allows for a much higher density of connected devices. These technological advantages fuel new business scenarios, such as:

  • Use of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) and AR/VR/MR;
  • Use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for real-time monitoring and repairing;
  • Use of network slicing in field-specific cases in industries like oil and gas. According to GMDResearch, the growing oil and gas industry, as well as the rising demand for ultra-high speed and low latency communication between production sites and vessels, are expected to drive the global 5G market in the oil and gas sector to over 41 million USD by 2032. 

Here are examples of projects on 5G SA MPN deployment in different sectors:

  • Airports. More than 20 airports around the world have already deployed 5G MPNs to enable video surveillance, smart transportation, and traffic monitoring at airports. In March 2023, Frankfurt Airport announced the start of building one of the largest private 5G networks in Europe. The project focuses on automation, autonomous driving, localization of devices, and processing data in real time. With the help of 5G, the airport management plans to unload and partially replace staff involved in aircraft maintenance and runway control. Later, the airport is going to offer its own slicing services to B2B partners, such as airlines and logistics companies. 
  • Seaports. Today, mobile operators are piloting 5G SA networks together with seaport authorities to assess the potential of enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and network slicing to digitize and automate maintenance of the port infrastructure. For example, in spring 2023, Saudi Port Authority and stc Group launched the Smart Port initiative, aimed at automating operations in Saudi ports and supporting the Kingdom's vision of becoming a global logistics hub. The project covered a range of enticing use cases: 
  1. Cranes automation and remote operation via video surveillance from the central control room;
  2. Tracking condition of cranes and the number of containers transported through the 3D visualization technology;
  3. Accurate and fast management of containers through smart cameras and artificial intelligence to link the containers, which were lifted from the ship, to the trucks and identify the truck card numbers;
  4. Safety and security at the ports through facial recognition, license plate recognition, fraud detection, and real-time alerts on vehicles exceeding speed limits.

Similar projects are being piloted in other regions as well. Other 5G SA-driven use cases in the ports include: 

  1. Traffic light control from the single control center via an isolated network slice; 
  2. AR HoloLens in maintenance, repair, and construction tasks for “digital twins” of the main port assets—tunnels, buildings, and water gates;
  3. Remote control of environmental sensors that measure levels of carbon dioxide and other gases to gain insights about the emissions of ships;
  4. Permanent monitoring of fixed and movable asset status and healthiness through the use of a multitude of IoT sensors on bridges, traffic lights, railway switches, locks, and water gates, as well as beacons and fairway buoys or light houses. 
  • Mining. 5G projects significantly improve the safety and efficiency of the mining industry. One year after the launch of the 5G MPN at the Hongliulin mine in China, the number of underground workers decreased by 18%. The staff were replaced with machines operated from comfortable "virtual mines" on the surface.

Apparently, businesses show greater willingness than ever before in deploying MPNs as they realize the technology opens opportunities to cut operational expenses and increase efficiency. Deploying networks, however, comes at a huge expenditure. Therefore, CSPs need to adopt new perspectives on bundling their services—including equipment, network deployment, spectrum, and data centers—and offering as-a-service pricing models. To help CSPs minimize costs and deliver consistent results in such projects, Nexign Revenue Management harmonizes all revenue streams from different types of services—including partner services required for the MPN deployment—on a single platform. In addition, the Nexign 5G SA product suite enables network monetization.

#3 Satellite-to-Device Connectivity Based on 5G 

Satellites are likely to play an important role in the future of 5G, as they can provide expanded, cost-effective, and reliable connectivity—regardless of the user’s location and the terrestrial infrastructure availability. Although high-profile commercial launches of projects based on 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) and satellite connectivity are still to come, market players expect that NTN will gain momentum in the nearest future.

Analysys Mason predicts the second surge in development of the direct satellite-to-device connectivity technology in 2023, with the number of subscribers reaching 25 million. Key smartphone manufacturers, such as Apple, Samsung, and Huawei, have already presented new models with support for the satellite connectivity. 

NTN involves the use of satellites and other non-terrestrial devices to provide connectivity beyond the reach of fixed terrestrial networks in mountains or on maritime vessels as well as ensure communications during emergencies and natural disasters. Although the satellite connectivity technology is not breakthrough, recent discussions about direct satellite-to-device connectivity gained traction: the service connects a low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellation to an unmodified mobile phone by using existing terrestrial spectrum and equipment. 

Satellite network integration with 5G will significantly increase the speed and quality of satellite communications that used to allow only short, low-bandwidth emergency text messages. Now, with the help of LEO satellite constellations, operators will be able to use this channel to provide broadband access as well.

Select use cases for satellite connectivity integration with 5G. Source: GS Coalition

Potential use cases for satellite-based non-terrestrial networks in a 5G ecosystem cover demands for service continuity, ubiquity, and scalability:

  • Voice and data services in remote areas: mountains, deserts, seas, and rural locations where terrestrial networks may be limited or unavailable.
  • Communications on the move: high-speed backhaul connectivity to individual in-motion terminals on planes, vehicles, trains, and vessels.
  • Public safety: guaranteed communication during emergencies when traditional terrestrial infrastructure is destroyed.
  • IoT and M2M: internet connection of machines and IoT devices for real-time tracking of assets and systems in remote locations, such as agricultural areas, scientific stations, or industrial sites.
  • Trunking and head-end feed: transmitting signals from mobile cell towers to one or more orbiting satellites, which relay the signals back to Earth. In order to connect the mobile network to the core network, the signals are then sent through the service provider’s network. In the event of a network outage or equipment malfunction, this can also be used as a backup for traditional terrestrial backhaul infrastructure. 
  • Backhauling and tower feed: high-speed backhaul connectivity to individual cells, with the ability to multicast the same content (e.g., video, HD/UHD TV, as well as other non-video data) across a large coverage area (e.g., for local storage and consumption), as well as backhauling of aggregated IoT traffic from multiple sites.
  • Hybrid multiplay: high-speed connectivity, including backhaul to individual homes and offices, with the ability to multicast the same content (video, HD/UHD TV, as well as other non-video data) across a large coverage area.

The NTN market players are testing and piloting new concepts and models, as well as trying to streamline 5G NTN initiatives. The 3GPP Releases—from Release 15 to Release 18—already include specifications for integrating satellites into the 5G architecture in order to ensure the uninterrupted operation of terrestrial communication systems with NTN. 

According to GSA, as of May 2023, there were 10 countries either planning or trialing satellite-to-cell phone partnerships. Currently, no partnership on commercial service launches has been announced, as the LEO constellations are to be completed first. 

The number of partnerships between CSPs and satellite providers is expected to grow over the coming months and years. We keep our fingers on the pulse of the satellite and mobile markets and wait for plenty of projects to go to a pilot phase.

Nexign Product Suite for Monetization and Efficiency of 5G SA Networks

5G standalone deployment unlocks new opportunities for generating revenue both in B2C and B2B. This article highlights three broad areas—FWA, MPN, and NTN—where CSPs can become pioneers by launching their unique services based on the technical advantages of the 5G Core: flexibility, scalability, and QoS granular control. In 5G SA, any technical parameter related to a session, network, or customer context can be monetized. At the same time, 5G SA provides a more efficient use of infrastructure, since almost any network aspect can be virtualized, componentized, and made available through standard APIs in real time. 

For CSPs on their journey to 5G SA, Nexign is offering a state-of-the-art 5G SA product suite for converged changing, policy management, and signaling. The suite includes Nexign 5G Charging System (CCS), Nexign 5G Policy Control Function (PCF), Nexign Service Communication Proxy (SCP), and Nexign Network Repository Function (NRF). All products are developed in alignment with global standards, including the 3GPP and ETSI specifications and TM Forum recommendations.

  • Nexign CCS and Nexign PCF help CSPs quickly implement complex business scenarios and innovative services based on 5G advantages, such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). They contribute to the monetization of B2B services, including the launch of MPN, FWA, and industrial internet of things (IIoT). The products also support the monetization of B2C services, such as VoNR, cloud gaming, and Ultra HD mobile streaming. Nexign CCS and Nexign PCF give CSPs complete and flexible control over QoS parameters for customers and partners, including QoS management based on network slicing and SLAs. With these Nexign products, CSPs can use dynamic 5G SA network parameters to create differentiated services for customers with particular connectivity requirements.
  • Nexign SCP and Nexign NRF help simplify the topology and increase the transparency of large distributed 5G networks. They also allow CSPs to reduce the cost of maintaining and developing network infrastructure. Nexign SCP serves as a single point of control over message routing and load balancing across 5G Core functions. The product optimizes the cost of signaling network configuration and development thanks to the centralized configuration of nodes and consistent interaction of network components in a multivendor environment. At the same time, Nexign NRF acts as a 5G network function repository and provides centralized registration and discovery of different network function instances.

5G Future Within Existing LTE Network

CSPs operating large distributed LTE networks and those waiting for 5G spectrum licensing already have opportunities to monetize some innovative 5G cases in their existing 4G infrastructure. For example, by using the Nexign network monetization product line for 4G and 5G NSA, mobile operators can enable traffic prioritization by application, device type, or location; analyze network congestion; and control QoS for partner traffic.

The Nexign products have a proven track record of providing the performance, scalability, and reliability needed to support businesses of Tier 1 CSPs.

What’s Next? 

Nexign continues to invest in product development to support 5G networks. We watch the market closely and are committed to helping our clients with the development of 5G roadmaps. If you are launching a 5G project, do not hesitate to engage Nexign experts