Total Telecom caught up with Telefonica’s chief technology and information officer, Enrique Blanco, following his win in the CTO of the Year category at this year’s World Communication Awards

5G Challenges 
First of all, it’s very important for us to explain what we mean when we say 5G. At Telefonica we have launched 5G across the UK and the rest of our European markets will follow soon, but initially we are launching it on a non-standalone basis. That means that we are deploying the 5G New Radio capabilities and we are evolving the core in order to provide the same kind of current services but enhanced with more capabilities. We have been doing a lot of work to improve our transport and backhaul network and currently all the designs are ready for the arrival of 5G and to manage the incremental capacities it will bring.
5G for us is about far more than the current non-standalone iteration. We are defining how the packet core itself will be configured. How the core will need to be done. We are working on building a standalone 5G core – which is the key component of 5G – with a multi-vendor, multi-domain and multi-service approach. This means that the IoT layer needs to be fully configurable, it needs to be fully splittable – this is applicable to the data plane and the control plane. We are doing more than just defining the core itself. With this, and with the evolution of the 5G New Radio technology, we are pushing the concept of the evolution of 5G. Our first standalone core will be tested in our European operations from 2020. 
We believe that 5G massive deployments must be carried out with this technology because this standalone core will be the spearhead of the new services. This is the reason why this is our main focus. 
A fresh approach using OpenRAN
With 5G we are taking a different approach [from other operators], we are pushing very hard with Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN). This will increase the number of vendors that can provide different components. We are considering not only the traditional approaches from the incumbent radio vendors – we have excellent relationships with our vendors, and we work closely with the main vendors in the industry – but we are pushing the new concept of the pure cloudification of the network. Next year we will begin the initial trials of the Open RAN and we will work to make the architecture fully compatible with the core in a standalone approach.
We are building the individual pieces and working towards a fully service orientated 5G deployment, including all the edge computing capabilities, all the different network slices, and a fully cloudified approach. 
When will you be launching standalone 5G? 
We will be testing our standalone core from 2020. Obviously, we are doing a lot of work on the multi-vendor front. We are hoping that standalone 5G could be deployed in 2021/2022. 
So, we will see testing in 2020 in some European countries. In 2021 we will see initial standalone 5G deployment in some of our markets and from 2021–2025 we will see massive deployment. 
What role will Industry 4.0 initiatives play in helping telcos earn a quick return on their gargantuan 5G investments?
They are absolutely critical. Let me give you some examples. Telefonica works with the main industrial sectors of all the markets that we operate in. We have been doing a very deep analysis of a lot of factories with several industrial players. We have been analysing what will be their necessary requirements regarding 5G latency, narrowband IoT and LTE-M and the throughput that they need. All of the requirements they have today can be fully satisfied with 4.9G capabilities that we have in our network. This means that all the LTE-M and all the IoT requirements we currently have can be delivered using 4.9G. That’s in terms of our customers’ needs today. But, if you analyse what is going to happen over the next two or three years, in terms of delivering Industry 4.0 initiatives, those needs are going to evolve. We need to be ready. 
My personal opinion is that with the arrival of the standalone 5G core, around 2022, all commercial applications for [Industry 4.0] initiatives will require 5G, and multiaccess edge computing will also play a relevant role in that scenario.
Reward and recognition at the World Communication Awards 2019
We were really proud to receive this award. When I’m working with young people fresh out of university, I always explain to them that they are coming to work for a big team – and this award is really an award for the whole Telefonica team, rather than an individual award for me. We are honoured because when we are talking with vendors and telling people our ideas, we are hugely pleased about what we have achieved. The whole technical team at Telefonica can be very proud of this award. 
One single person is nothing but there are so many people working behind the scenes in our technical teams to make us successful. This award is for all of them.  
The World Communication Awards CTO of the Year category is sponsored by Tata Communications Transformation Services. For more information on the WCA visit 
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