This week, Orange announced that the group’s first commercial 5G launch would be in Romania. Initial deployment will take place in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Iasi, with further cities to follow in 2020.
The 5G network will offer customers internet download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps and average download speeds of 600Mbps, as well as a complete package of premium services and devices designed to enhance the 5G experience for customers.
At the launch event, Developing Telecoms editor James Barton sat down with several executives from Orange and its Romanian unit to discuss why the market was the ideal place to begin its 5G journey. The discussion featured Ramon Fernandez (Delegate Chief Executive Officer, Finance, Performance and Europe), Marie-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière (Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Group, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer), Luidmilla Climoc (CEO of Orange Romania), Yves Martin (CMO, Orange Romania) and Emmanuel Chautard (CTO, Orange Romania).
What is it about Romania that makes it so well suited to being the first commercial 5G launch?
RF: Spectrum availability is a critical asset for 5G. We have a very strong position on the critical band of 3.4-3.6GHz – we have 115MHz, which is more than double what our competitors have in this country. You cannot offer 5G if you don’t have this strength.
Romania has always been advanced on innovation so the environment here was positive for launching 5G. For instance, the Google Rich Communications Suite was launched here first; at group level, the embedded SIM launched here first. The ICT sector in Romania is bigger than other European countries – it accounts for over 6% of GDP. All of this creates a good environment which was the trigger for the launch decision.
How are you approaching innovation with partners in terms of 5G ecosystem?
LC: We are taking an approach of open ecosystem; we invite industrial partners, vendors and start-ups to test and co-develop future mobility and connectivity services with us. We’ve co-developed several commercial services with start-ups that we are now offering to municipalities and public authorities.
The Romanian team is very active; on 5G, we are participating in consultancy for projects on security and network slicing. We have co-developed and implemented a number of new services – the Romanian market will not allow for overpricing, so we are obliged to innovate and create solutions and services that are feasible in terms of the country’s salaries and economics.
Will you be deploying your 5G core next year?
MNJL: We’re starting the RFP for the core next year; the core itself is likely to become active in 2021. We need to start now because all the different services that we will offer are mostly dedicated to B2B; 5G will represent a significant change in the operation of B2B and the way offers are designed. It’s not only technological capability; it’s more transformation within different companies. We are starting now with the big verticals – B2B, IoT – in order to make sure that we can co-develop and define the different services within the next 18 months or so. It’s more than just changing technology in the company; it’s changing their processes and logistics.
What do you consider the vertical that will drive this investment?
MNJL: There are a couple that we can work with. With 4G the big platforms were more about the B2C business; when it comes to 5G, the revolution will be on the B2B side and there will be platforms to support this. There will be changes in smart cities – or smart territories – as well as automotive and manufacturing, operations and maintenance.
What will be the selling point of reduced latency?
MNJL: In the next two or three years, when we have the full 5G setup with the virtualised core network and edge computing capabilities, part of the software and computing core will be at the edge of the network, and then the global latency will be even shorter. The idea is to see if we can have a more distributed setup with part of the software being closer to the customers, with another part in a much more centralised cloud. This new distribution is a different way of architecting the software. We’ve not yet defined the business model of this but if we offer edge computing capability it will likely be monetised by offering it on the B2B side.
Is there demand for private networks from manufacturers?
MNJL: Yes – this can start with 4G/LTE, but we’ve experimented with models for building a brand new factory as well as reshaping an old one to see how manufacturers can change their processes using 5G connectivity.
Which market do you envisage launching 5G in next?
MNJL: We are working on all of our markets but 2020 will see the next 5G launches; at the start of the year we will focus on Europe. African countries will come after. We’re not planning any Middle East launches for 2020.
YM: Europe is very dependent on the spectrum auction process; if we don’t have spectrum we can’t launch.
Why was Romania’s 4G network so good that it could be easily upgraded to 5G?
LC: We are using massive MIMO for both 4G and 5G, which is how we achieve such high speeds. In Romania we also have 5G+, which delivers theoretical maximum speeds of 500Mbps.
EC: We put massive MIMO in place in order to enact the 5G launch. We are using 64T/64R and also 32T/32R with a multi-vendor RAN.
How costly is massive MIMO in terms of energy consumption?
MNJL: The 5G network will be nearly empty at the beginning; the amount of 5G traffic going end-to-end through your global setup will be low, so there is some fixed energy consumption and there’s a small increase in this at the start. Our objective is to keep energy consumption flat despite the increase in data, and we need to keep working on this. As the percentage of 5G traffic increases compared to 4G, then more modernisation will be required to decrease energy consumption.
Ultimately, vendors aren’t paying for energy consumption so it’s not an issue for them. However, it’s an economic issue for us, but this is consistent with social responsibility – we need to deliver something sustainable. Depending on the country, energy consumption can be from 6-7% up to 15-18% of opex.
As the 5G ecosystem begins to develop, new use cases will emerge and the associated financials will become ever more feasible as adoption increases. The modernisation required will also play a part in extending the scope of 5G as companies turn to the technology in order to remain relevant. We are still in 5G’s infancy – but growth is on the horizon.