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Over the next five years, Bain & Company expects 5G to enter the mainstream, gaining popularity through accelerated deployment by telcos, affordable handsets and other major uses for the technology. According to the firm's analysis, the adoption of 5G is expected to be faster in its first seven years—2018 to 2025—than the adoption of 4G in the seven years following its market debut in 2009.
Bain & Company's research shows that the number of 5G connections worldwide will triple from less than 700 million today to more than 2.1 billion by 2025. This strong momentum reflects heavy operator investment in 5G infrastructure, a gradual expansion of 5G use cases and a global hunger for data connectivity—which has increasingly surged during the pandemic. Yet, despite this insurgence, many telcos still struggle to reap the full rewards that 5G has to offer. In Bain's new report, AI = ROI: How Artificial Intelligence Is (Already) Solving the 5G Equation, the firm explores how operators are using artificial intelligence to accrue a better return on investment (ROI) from 5G deployment.
"Artificial intelligence is already being used by leading telcos to gain a strategic advantage in 5G," said Herbert Blum, head of Bain & Company's Global Communications, Media & Entertainment practice, "But being AI-native requires more than an optimization of existing business processes or workflow overlays. It demands that the role of employees across all functions evolves in partnership with the technology as well."
Bain's new research shows how a telco that uses AI tools in its 5G rollout could develop a differentiated capability for putting the right infrastructure in the right place, with surgical precision and at dizzying scale. For instance, one major ROI challenge with 5G stems from the spectrum bands that the technology uses. 5G's higher-frequency signals do not travel as far, or penetrate buildings as well as the lower-frequency signals used by 4G—requiring operators to deploy as many as 100 times the number of cells used by 4G for their 5G services. AI can help solve this engineering conundrum, and one of the sector's toughest challenges, by accelerating decisions from months and weeks to days and minutes, with a precision and scale that exceeds what is humanly possible.
"Even digitally native telcos are not immune to the complexities brought by 5G adoption, particularly if they still rely on a labor-intensive workflow," said Darryn Lowe, a leader in Bain & Company's Communications, Media and Entertainment practice. "In the coming years, winning telcos will be operators that use 5G, and other high-stakes business areas, as a proving ground for the deeper AI capabilities they'll need to gain to remain competitive."