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How Globe Telecom is adapting its customers and core to 5G

For mobile operators, 2020 was the year of 5G rollout and expansion. But network and service upgrades across the world also had to compete with a global pandemic threatening to derail or at least slow down progress, while providers were also contending with addressing customers’ urgent need for reliable connectivity.

“Manila had one of the strictest and the earliest lockdowns implemented around the world,” said Ashish Pilani, Senior Technical Advisor at Globe Telecom – the largest mobile network operator in the Philippines – speaking in an interview with Shaun Collins, executive chairman, CCS Insight, at Mobile World Congress Shanghai in late February.

“As an operator in an emerging market, Globe Telecom serves customers for whom the ‘key thing is affordability’. At the start of the lockdown, Globe came in and offered a lot of freebies and free data allowances on their mobile packages, which is predominantly being used as the main source of connectivity for people,” he said. “We also added a lot more data allowance to the broadband bundles for people to be able to work from home and manage online learning.”

In addition to keeping customers connected, as the company sought to roll out its 5G network during the pandemic to upgrade its customers. Globe Telecom partnered with Huawei to develop a solution that would allow the mobile operator to take advantage of its existing and extensive 4G network in metropolitan Manila and throughout the country.

“We worked closely with Huawei to come up with a customized solution for our 4G network to be expanded towards 5G with a software upgrade and some hardware upgrades,” said Pilani.

The company then began to roll out 5G handsets in the mid-tier pricing range, with consumers adopting 5G for its superior speeds.

“The Philippines in the 5G space has been providing good speeds,” he said. “We’re clocking north of 150 Mbit/s, which is quite a good experience for Filipino customers. It actually allows the users to do a lot more things in a very short span of time.”

While consumers who upgraded to 5G handsets are currently benefiting from faster speeds, the true promise of this next-generation mobile technology is still a few years off. Preparing to deliver on that, Globe Telecom is rebuilding its network core architecture in a lab setting in order to determine how converged core (or one single core for all technologies) will work versus its existing, overlay core. Pilani says the company is developing 5G converged core as a pilot before it begins connecting enterprise customers. “The beauty of this is that you can actually start in a small space and then start connecting some of your enterprise customers who are really in need of the 5G stand alone services,” he said.

“In most cases it’ll be a software upgrade from an existing core network to a converged core network,” he said, adding that in initial lab assessments thus far, converged core is proving to have technical advantages that make the move from 4G to 5G more successful. “It also has commercial advantages, with overlay core ultimately adding to OPEX in the long run,” added Pilani.

In terms of emerging use cases for 5G services, Pilani identified retail and VR classrooms as spaces to watch out for on the consumer side. “VR can bring a new added dimension to learning. And it can completely add on to existing online learning.”

Globe Telecom is also looking at cloud PCs. “What a cloud PC with low-latency can bring to end users is a service which they can work on their mobile phones or where they can actually connect to high-spec computing power coming from a cloud,” he said.

While 5G holds exciting possibilities for consumers, industry experts agree that its real power and usefulness will emerge in the enterprise space. Indeed, Pilani said Globe Telecom is currently working on a 5G pilot program for an enterprise customer working in a hazardous environment where it’s difficult for human beings to operate certain machinery. “As such, they’re looking at an automated or mechanized way of running these machines,” he said.

Lastly, and pertinently as the world begins to emerge from a pandemic and adapts its healthcare structures to better suit evolving human needs and circumstances, Pilani said that medical IoT is another area where promising enterprise use cases for 5G will start to emerge.

“The Philippines being an archipelago, it has a lot of challenges in terms of connecting people to medical services in those small islands,” said Pilani.

“If we can bring the medicine to those people on their mobile phones using 5G, and get the doctors to kind of consult with them, a lot of benefits and improvements to the community can be achieved as a result of 5G.”