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What technology has had the biggest impact on the connectivity industry?

This post was written by: John Clifton

On the first episode of our newly rebranded The Connectivity Matters Podcast, we were joined by Chris Lennartz, the Vice President of Product Management for mobile services iBASIS. He’s had an incredibly successful career within the telecommunications industry, spanning over the last 20 years with a focus on strategic planning, business development and product management. Chris has also recently been voted number 18 in the top 100 most influential figures in the telco industry. We asked him for his insights on technology in the industry. 

What technologies do you think have had the biggest impact on the industry?

That’s a very simple one, it’s IP, because when I started, nothing was IP. Everything was TDM, everything was circuit switched. When IP came it completely revolutionised not only the cost of the network but the nature of the network and the way that the telecoms network interacted with a lot of different players, because suddenly the internet and telecommunications became one and a lot of new players came in. All the cloud stuff that we’re discussing right now started back in the 90s when the internet was opened up, and that completely revolutionised the telecoms industry. I know it’s been a long time since then, but if you ask me, that has been the biggest disruption and the biggest impact to the industry.

What impact do you think 5G has had and where do you see that progressing?

That’s a comparably disruptive impact. 5G is not only taking IP to a whole new level, it’s an evolution and revolution at the same time. If you look at evolution it’s more bandwidth. 4G already has more bandwidth than 3G, and 5G has more bandwidth than 4G, and that keeps going on and on. The most important thing about 5G in particular is that it revolutionises the way we look at networks. 4G was still a point network, then the whole virtualization thing came around. Now with 5G, you can make virtual networks from end to end spanning multiple networks. Network slicing will become very interesting if you look at specific IoT service providers or enterprises that need specific end-to-end connectivity with the specific quality of service or other parameters that you would normally do with a dedicated network. Now we can do it over the 5G network and just reserve a specific price for that, which makes it very interesting to have really one network that does it all. That will change the way we use the telecoms networks. 

The fourth industrial wave is really building on what 5G can give us. With the advent of private 5G networks, if you look at the predictions for them, it could be hundreds and even thousands of private networks that are being built. For example, it’s logical for airports to have their own network, given the fact that you have so many tourists or travellers in general to transport, all their suitcases to transport, on top of all the logistics and fleet management stuff that you need to do. How great would it be to have a network for yourself to do that? This proliferation of private 5G networks could really give a new boost to the way we automate the industry. 

Is there any tech on the horizons of either 5G or moving even further into the next generations that you’re most excited about in particular?

From a roaming perspective, it’s very exciting. It’s also challenging because on one hand, there will be even more bandwidth, but on the other hand there’s yet another new technology which is coming in. What we did right when LTE came along was go from SS7 signalling to diameter signalling. It was really good for us because at that time, we didn’t have market share, and disruption is always good for the challenger and not good for the leader. At that time, we were challenging the way things were so we took the opportunity to disrupt IP committee signalling, and we made a name for ourselves, and we built a solution earlier than anybody else. That’s why we became number three. 

Now, with 5G, this has happened again. This time we are leaders, which means that it can be a threat and opportunity at the same time. We’re going from diameter signalling to something that is called HTTP to signal, so yet another disruption. There will be a lot of companies that will think ‘hey, wait a minute, what I basically did 10 years ago, we can do now. So let’s do to them what they did to others.’ That’s challenging, but we need to challenge ourselves, it’s also an opportunity for ourselves, right? Because we are still number one, we can still get a lot of market share by doing this game right again, but there’s a lot more disruption this time to 5G than just the signalling changing its name. 

There’s also a lot more interesting use cases in roaming that will make you rethink the way we think about roaming. Today roaming basically means the traffic goes home from the visitor network, and is being handled there by the home operator. That takes 100 milliseconds in some cases, if you have to go from Singapore to Amsterdam, for example. However, if you have a self-driving car, that is simply not acceptable – the traffic can’t go halfway around the globe and then come back because that 100 millisecond is far too long. The latency of 5G for some specific use cases that all have to do with machine to machine or IoT should go down to less than 10 milliseconds. That means that traffic will need to stay in that specific region or in some cases, very close to the base station. That means that you have to start working with MEC on local breakout and applications being run, and very close to the base station. That means a reevaluation of the way we think about roaming. It’s going to be very interesting to see how all of these varieties of uses will need a variety of solutions. The way roaming works will be very different than 10 years ago when there were no devices, but just people going in on a day and using their phone.

To hear more about Chris Lennox’s insights into developments in the connectivity industry, listen to the full Connectivity Matters Podcast episode here. 

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

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