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Innovation will be critical for service providers looking to play a key role in the 5G economy.

Virtualization and disaggregation of networks will enable service providers to achieve speed and scale while operating more efficiently as organizations. But they can't do it alone. Partnerships will be paramount in their pursuit of future success.

It is easy to see the potential benefits of disaggregating the technology stack to create a more virtualized world. Detaching hardware from software allows for best-of-breed solutions, cost savings through the standardization of hardware purchases, and customizable services tailored to specific use cases.

Significant return on investment can be realized, but only if you can effectively piece it all back together.

Learn More: Follow This Strategy to Quickly Monetize 5G Infrastructure 

An extremely fragmented 5G infrastructure ecosystem, a main underpinning of the promise of 5G, also adds complexity for service providers.

Virtualized solutions feature vendors with vastly different architectures that need to be able to seamlessly communicate with one another. Startups with their own value-added solutions need to scale. And as service providers continue to look for ways to drive costs out of the business, white box will become increasingly prevalent, thus introducing a new set of challenges associated with tying it all together.

If commercial innovation is simply the identification of new technologies and incorporating them into the business enterprise-wide, than operators need an experienced integrator to help swiftly put the puzzle pieces together.

Highly capable testing labs and broad industry relationships will prove critical in helping service providers eliminate risk by essentially doing all of the legwork needed prior to deployment or purchase.

WWT has that expertise. Service providers can utilize WWT's state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center (ATC), a unique testing and validation environment with more than 100 OEMs and thousands of ecosystem partners, to develop and deploy technology solutions.

The 5G staring contest

Network operators and developers are in a bit of a staring contest as it relates to the delivery of 5G. Application developers are waiting for the platform so they can begin developing apps around it. Most service providers, meanwhile, are waiting on specific use cases to justify initial buildouts. Both sides are waiting for advances from the other.

The first use cases to leverage 5G connectivity will do so using mobile broadband, as much of the 5G infrastructure needed to support the world-changing services — mass adoption of driverless vehicles, telemedicine, smart cities, remote industrial factory operation — has yet to be built out.

Investing in 5G capabilities today will help secure service providers' place in the 5G ecosystem of tomorrow.

There are potentially thousands of apps to be unlocked following the widespread adoption of 5G standards.

To get there, providers need to build vertical architectures for mobile edge computing, which can deliver the ultra-fast, low-latency connectivity to users for them to consume the service, such as the virtual reality experience.

Watch: Edge Computing and its Vital Role in the 5G Economy

WWT's deep technical capabilities within the ATC are enablers of innovation and agility for service providers, offering proofs of concepts, workshops, sandboxes and evaluations of solutions ranging from edge computing, Internet of Things (IoT), orchestration and automation, and network programmability and virtualization.

Mobile operators across the globe are under intense pressure to move fast while limiting costs.

The ATC is a key enabler to commercial innovation and can help operators make critical technology decisions faster than ever — from designing and conceptualizing solutions to validating startup architectures and deploying fully functional infrastructure to deliver services.

Take, for instance, WWT's work to integrate and deploy Dedrone, an advanced airspace security toolkit. Service providers can leverage the ATC to test and demonstrate Dedrone's ability to support safe long-distance drone flights. Instead of constructing antennae towers to monitor drones in-flight, WWT can help service providers utilize its existing infrastructure to deploy Dedrone to customers.

The 5G superhighway

If 5G connectivity is building a superhighway on which future services are delivered, then innovation is the vehicle in which operators will drive toward success. Service providers will need to choose the fastest, most reliable vehicle to help them along that journey.

Speed of innovation will undoubtedly separate the winners and the losers of the race to deliver.

Reconsider our definition of commercial innovation: the identification of new technologies and incorporating them into the business enterprise-wide.

To stay ahead of the curve in the 5G economy, operators will need to more quickly be able to recognize emerging technologies and then more efficiently be able to exploit them to differentiate their business.

WWT, through its ATC, can help global service providers in that quest to not only see what's on the horizon, but how to best utilize that technology to go to market faster with world-changing solutions.