Telecom infrastructure: a unique utility

An article written by Antoine Bonnabel, Technology & Market Analyst, RF Devices and Technology and Cédric Malaquin, Technology & Market Analyst, RF Devices & Technology, both at Yole Développement (Yole), for Microwave Journal

Access to the internet and voice calls can be considered a utility, like water, power, gas or railways. In this context, telecom infrastructure is quite similar to other general utility infrastructure, as it consists of a large set of facilities and systems required to support a basic consumer need. Yet telecom infrastructure has two intrinsic differences with the infrastructure of other utilities. On the one hand, telecom infrastructure requires significant and frequent upgrades; on the other hand, telecommunications is the only utility where the subscription price has continuously declined over the last decade. Data services become less profitable for operators while, for example, the worldwide cost of energy or water keeps increasing.

These two points are of interest to understand the telecom infrastructure market’s dynamics and trends. First, the continuous need for network upgrades stimulates the creation of new technological approaches, such as active antenna systems (AASs). Second, reduced profitability has motivated telecom operators to look for additional sources of growth and the development of new protocols to address new markets, such as enterprise and industrial. These two trends are directly linked to 5G and how it has been defined.


As a general observation, 5G is not what is motivating the opening of new markets, allowing new applications and offering new technological approaches. 5G is the tool that the telecom industry developed to reach these goals. The economic development expected from this new generation was conceived and defined before the first 5G base station was even installed.

Over past decades, multiple concepts have emerged regarding the connection between people, machines and vehicles. The concept of a wireless sensor network has been around since the early 2000s, with multiple developments such as ultra-low power electronics that did not reach large scale market acceptance. The idea of networks of sensors easing industrial automation and increasing plant performance has been actively looked at, yet one of the main hindrances has remained, the access to efficient protocols and infrastructure. Similarly, communication among automobiles has received intense attention from regulators, leading to the allocation of the 5.9 GHz frequency band for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Again, the concept had limited potential, as it could not communicate with the general network.

In this context, operators and system makers understood the opportunity for a communication protocol that could unite all these new markets, offering tremendous growth as well as a solution for the world’s communication needs. This was the core focus of 5G during its definition a decade ago.