5 Cellular Network Trends to Look Out for in 2024

Hana Gazoli   January 8, 2024

Another year has gone by and even though the mobile telecoms industry is over 30 years old, it continues to evolve without showing any signs of slowing down. The industry entered 2023 with expectations for 5G, openness and collaboration, IOT, private networks and virtual universes.  As we start the new year, this is a good opportunity to look ahead to some of the trends that will shape the industry in 2024. 


Power consumption: Do more with less

In 2024 operators will continue to explore ways to significantly reduce emissions, carbon footprint and energy bills, as there are clear commercial, regulatory and social responsibility reasons. The regulatory pressures are mounting, as target dates to meet reduction goals approach. As extreme weather events, evidence of climate change, become more catastrophic, energy-consuming, emission-heavy corporations (like mobile network operators) who aren’t making serious efforts to become greener run the risk of a major public relations crisis. Meanwhile, the benefits that a ‘green campaign’ can have on an operator’s position in the market are increasing in value, as ESG-minded shareholders and stockholders become sensitive about where their money lies. 

The cost factor, however, is by far the most compelling reason for MNOs to run more efficiently. Even if energy prices weren’t rising as dramatically as they are, simply modernizing the existing network to support 5G will result in a radical spike in power consumption. To avoid a painful blow to their bottom line, operators will have to seek improvements across the board. What will they focus on? Energy-efficient equipment, renewable energy sources, optimized performance and an energy conscious architecture. How will that impact the way they do business? Procurement will have to factor energy efficiency rating into their matrix. Network architects will have to optimize and centralize the computing resources rather than spreading them out and duplicating them. Operations managers will prioritize control plane solutions that embed energy efficiency in their decision making. And CTOs will need to look closely at innovative solutions that make micro-improvements in transmission, uptime, spectrum usage and anything else. The freedom to innovate by mix-and-matching solutions will be more important than ever. 

Dramatically improving energy efficiency is not just a feature, it must become an operational philosophy. Energy costs are going up and they won’t come down anytime soon. MNOs are expected to investigate every opportunity to become leaner and greener. 


Smart networks are becoming more intelligent 

It’s hard to make any technological, commercial or even cultural prediction for 2024 without considering the impact of AI. In the mobile telecom industry, there is plenty of room to optimize with the help of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. In the near future, there are a few areas where we expect to see a lot of activity:

  • Network Automation- Automation guided by AI can help operators optimize performance in a variety of ways that will improve their KPIs and reduce TCO, such as Zero-Touch Provisioning. Powered by the RIC, which will be able to collect and make available huge amounts of data, operators can reduce OPEX as well as downtime by detecting network issues immediately and automating the responses to them in real time, thereby decreasing manual intervention. This will be very important as operators start to promote the high-bandwidth, low-latency capabilities of 5G, which in turn will lead to the launch of services and applications, such as augmented and virtual reality experiences, that are hyper sensitive to even the slightest of “hiccups”. 
  • User Experience- Machine learning will be used to track usage patterns across vast amounts of input, allowing it to generate insights about network quality and the user experience by leveraging, among other things, the concept of crowdsourcing. Powered by these insights, the networks can anticipate and even predict when and where the experience may be degraded, and preemptively direct efforts to resolve the issues. Customer Service teams will also benefit from these insights, as they will be able to identify how specific users can get the most out of the available services based on their individual usage patterns.
  • Efficiency- The introduction of 5G brings with it abilities such as Network Slicing, Traffic Steering and support for Massive MIMO, all of which rely on AI/ML to optimize the high-volume of decisions that need to be made in real-time. Improvements in energy efficiency are achieved by selectively powering down and powering up components based on patterns and AI predictions. The data collected and made available by the RIC, or any other edge entity (e.g. O-RU, O-DU), is fed into AI/ML models to help identify patterns and apply policies that will make the micro-improvements that can have a major impact. 

That being said, for AI to deliver the desired benefits, open networks and APIs will need to be embraced (more on that below). The data which will feed the models has to be easily reconciled between cellular network entities, databases and applications of different vendors. At the rate that AI innovation is taking place, it will only be a couple of years until adding proprietary components to the network, i.e. equipment that is not readily interoperable with other components, will cancel the efficacy of new AI capabilities. We identify openness as an enabler that will feed valuable innovation through enriched data generated by multiple data sources.


More open on more levels

In 2024 the mobile telecom industry, as a whole, will fully recognize the advantages of openness. Driven by the perfect storm of a desperate need to reduce costs, a practical need for flexibility and a competitive need for the freedom to innovate, operators will slowly but surely demand that the vendors they select will support open standards and interfaces. There is simply too much financial and operational benefit from the interoperability between, for example, best in class radio units and advanced DUs. Open architecture and open interfaces such as Open RAN allow operators to efficiently incorporate off-the-shelf components into their network under their overall management and orchestration systems.

The deployment of 5G requires more equipment in order to gain the additional capacity and bandwidth that are needed. This means an increase in the number of  locations and installations, creating logistical and operational complexities. Under these circumstances, and with the growing application of AI (see above), operators are prioritizing automation. Adopting an open infrastructure, with open interfaces between different vendors and components, is the best way for operators to enable it. In fact, ensuring interoperability through standardized interfaces is the one move MNOs can make that will pave the way for the other innovative trends in this list such as the use of AI, energy efficiency and various forms of sharing.

Other open interface initiatives target the levels of the services and the user experience. Support of common northbound service APIs, part of the GSMA Open Gateway framework, will allow service providers to launch more quickly by being able to deploy across different networks using the same point of access. Simultaneously, the goals of the ODA (Open Digital Architecture) are to enable more efficient collaboration between different stakeholders in the digital services ecosystem, including service providers, network operators, and content providers. This framework will improve the user experience and ease the rollout of services through features such as zero-touch partnering and zero-touch interoperability.

The pendulum of technology trends in the telecommunications industry has sufficiently moved from “proprietary, vertically integrated” towards “open, broad interoperability” so that even large vendors have been forced to at least make symbolic concessions and publicly “play nice” with the industry. The pressures across the industry to practice more openness will increase in 2024.


An evolving approach to clouds

The role of the cloud in technology and information systems has grown consistently over the last decade, expecting this trend to continue in 2024 may not seem that noteworthy. In the telecoms industry, however, there has been a dramatic shift in the role of the cloud and major changes are in the works. 

Clearly, network operators are no strangers to the cloud, having hosted public cloud infrastructure for years while facilitating private clouds for enterprises. Yet for organizations that had spent decades building and nurturing physical infrastructure and equipment, there was a reluctance to rely on anything virtual.

Recently, however, operators have started to rely more on cloud architectures for the operation of the networks themselves. As has often been the case, step one was virtualization, relocating functions that were previously on-site to the cloud. And yet, cloud native technologies and practices were yet to be fully embraced. As 5G networks take root, the industry is gearing up to adopt it all: cloud computing, microservices architecture, edge computing and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD). MNOs looking to fully leverage the advantages of 5G, will simultaneously absorb components and functions into the cloud to save CAPEX and OPEX and, in parallel, push the cloud closer to the edge. This will be required to deliver on the promises of low-latency performance (URLLC) while serving massive numbers of devices (mMTC). 

The holy grail will be an optimized, unified cloud-edge architecture, enabling the deployment of microservices and containers at the network’s edge as necessary. In network management, this is manifested, for example, by centralizing the Non-RT RIC and rApps in the cloud, while pushing the Near-RT RIC with its xApps to the edge. A similar separation will occur regarding services. Existing applications such as video streaming and online gaming will become more demanding as AR devices (by Apple and Amazon) hit the market. New opportunities like industrial automation and autonomous vehicles will require unprecedented capabilities. In both cases, edge computing will be needed in order to adequately support their performance. On the other hand, running the AI and ML models that will help determine the policies of network components under different load and traffic conditions, will be a role for cloud computing. The telecom industry was a relatively late arrival to the cloud party, but they are finally here, so you can expect them to work hard to catch up.


Network sharing that benefits everyone

The motivation for sharing is clear; the mobile communications market has largely reached saturation in many countries, for voice as well as for data communication. Growth opportunities are dwindling while the need for additional investment has continued unabated. For most operators, capitalizing on new revenue opportunities and utilizing innovative cost-saving measures requires rolling out the latest network technology.  For operators in regions with underserved populations, the potential for growth is often with low-ARPU customers in sparsely populated areas, so capturing the revenue potential still requires investment to expand coverage. In a nutshell: Generating new revenue will be expensive.

In 2023 network sharing deals were announced all over the globe; in Asia, Australia, Europe (Denmark,  France, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Sweden, UK) and S. America. These deals demonstrate that MNOs are realizing that a pragmatic approach to network ownership is crucial to be able to sustain profitability while remaining a competitive player. The nature of sharing varies from one deal to the other; what is being shared (equipment, network infrastructure or spectrum), on which technology (2G, 3G, 4G or 5G), and in which areas (rural, urban or both). 

Some of the reasons that 2024 will see a marked increase in sharing are rooted in advancements in technology. Upgrading to 5G is inevitable but 5G rollouts are expensive and while the technology will be impactful for innovations in areas such as manufacturing, agriculture and transportation, the incremental improvements it will deliver to consumers are barely marketable. At the same time, the progress achieved in the field of interoperable solutions with open interfaces (see above) has made it possible to shake loose of proprietary solutions that don’t work well with others, potentially making it easier to share. Then again, the biggest reason sharing will gain momentum might be that it works. Studies have confirmed the key benefits of sharing: the operators who entered into a network sharing agreement actually did save on CAPEX and showed improved profit margins; network sharing managed to increase coverage for both 3G and 4G technologies; and network sharing helped operators to offer better network quality and increased data traffic per user, compared to what they could have achieved on their own. 

Regulators can also be expected to show more support for sharing since their initial concerns were dispelled and the benefits are clear. The agreements prevented costly, bothersome infrastructure duplication without reducing the intensity of competition between operators. More importantly, cooperation between  operators did not lead to complacency and their improved financials allowed them to continue to invest and improve their networks, for the benefit of all. The fact that sharing has proven to be a win-win-win is a strong sign that this trend will grow stronger.


Even for an industry as massive, diverse and complex as the mobile communications industry, the sheer velocity of these technological advances is certain to make the incoming year an exciting one. Inevitably, skeptics may point out (quite rightly) that adoption will take plenty of time and that we are still dealing with the ripple effects of previous year’s trends. It should be noted, however, that some of the above innovations are speeding up the actual rate of innovation, creating a whirlwind of opportunity (and threats) that we should all definitely keep a sharp eye on. Have a great new year!

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