The 2023-2025 strategic plan presented by Cristel Heydemann, general director for ten months of the Orange telecommunications group, does not spend many words preaching a world full of services and applications that amaze consumers (among other reasons, because it does not seem that were willing to pay more money for those scoops). One of Orange's priorities is the optimization of its network infrastructures, advancing as quickly as possible towards a new architecture more conducive to the automation of functions. A mission that falls on Laurent Leboucher in his capacity as director of technology (CTO) of Orange, an operator present in six European markets, including Spain, where he is on the eve of merging with MasMóvil.
This year's Mobile World Congress, with its emphasis on infrastructure, has provided an opportunity to sit down with Leboucher and learn about his vision of the future of 5G networks. Right now they are at a key moment thanks to the implementation –in Europe, because in Asia it has been taking time– of the 5G SA (stand alone) standard, whose relevance lies in the fact that they do not need to rely on the underlying 4G protocols, such as It now happens with 5G NSA (non stand alone). What is considered real 5G has finally come and will last at least until 2032, when 6G is expected to be commercialized.
Says Leboucher: when the development of the fifth generation of mobile communications began, “we all agreed that it would go through a first phase that is now ending. With 5G SA we are presented with another opportunity to monetize networks and target certain vertical markets, potentially more profitable than consumer markets”.
The deployment of this variant in Orange's European networks will begin "very soon"; the interviewee trusts that it will conclude towards the end of next year. Initially, it will be aimed at corporate clients, but at the same time "it will allow us to prepare for the arrival of future applications for consumers, which will require very low latency (response time in milliseconds) and will be conducive to the introduction of immersive worlds" . There are other possibilities, but Orange opts for prudence: "It would not be wise to hurry: we have to learn the lessons of each deployment before undertaking the next one."
The disaggregation of networks, their virtualization and cloudification, are related to the updated standard. They have already facilitated the emergence of a plethora of new suppliers (now limited in Europe to Nokia and Ericsson in Europe, due to Huawei bans). "We are testing equipment from different manufacturers and specifically we have reached an agreement with Samsung to start on a small scale in Romania and then make more ambitious deployments with their equipment."
Orange Spain has announced that its upcoming deployments of 5G SA will give the possibility of segmenting the capacities of a network (slicing, in the jargon of the sector) enabling different offers for different verticals and/or different clients.
Another critical point in Orange's strategy is sustainability. Leboucher explains why two non-exclusive lines of action coexist: adopting measures to reduce electricity consumption and indirect CO₂ emissions, and extending the useful life of installed equipment. In his words: “Efficiency is crucial, of course, but understand that when we change a piece of equipment we are causing an environmental impact that we could postpone (…) and when we decide to change it, we make sure to buy another one that guarantees the best energy efficiency”.