Rural carriers can make investments today to set the stage for 5G

ORLANDO–5G is the predominant discussion topic within the telecom industry, but that’s a long ramp and, particularly for rural carriers, there are many other priorities that need to be addressed to ensure long-term competitiveness. “The ability to compete and hold their own against the Tier 1 operators within their specific geography, I think, is overarching what’s important,” Amy McCune, Ericsson’s vice president and general manager, told RCR Wireless News during the Competitive Carrier Association’s Annual Convention.

McCune oversees Tier 2 and Tier 3 Ericsson customers. While 5G is very much on the roadmap for rural carriers, McCune said customers are also examining the costs and benefits of upgrading to an IMS core and offering new services like voice-over-LTE. “We see a handful of our customers that have been on board and have made the leap to a voice-over-LTE solution. The rest of them are recognizing that they absolutely need to get there and plotting the course to do it in an economically reasonable timeframe.”

A major driver here is the eventual sunsetting of Tier 1 3G networks, which has a direct impact on the roaming agreements that allow smaller carriers to offer services outside of their geographic coverage area. In terms of the benefits realized from an investment in IMS and VoLTE, McCune said chief among them is “the ability to re-farm that spectrum to use for additional capacity within their network. That’s the very first benefit they are able to plan for and execute on.”

McCune noted that, while the VoLTE/IMS discussion is distinct from the 5G conversation, there are investments that can be made in the former that can lay a foundation for the latter. “We absolutely have conversations with our customers about the roadmap and the evolution of their existing network. A couple of key factors are how is the investment you’re making today going to help you expand the capacity and coverage of your network today, but also be future proof. What you’re buying from us today is 5G-ready.”

In terms of 5G expanding from metropolitan areas and into rural America, McCune said she thinks deployment will initially be in service of a specific use case, manufacturing automation or precision agriculture, for instance.

“They’re evaluating which use cases make sense for them,” she said. How can they leverage 5G to drive incremental revenue for the customers they serve in their marketplace. I think that they’re working on what the actual business case looks like. As we look at the opportunity and, ultimately the operators will have to decide, the incremental revenue opportunity is going to sit outside of your traditional customer base.”

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