Large scale trials versus pilots – What is the difference?

The notion of trial as is commonly used to describe activities in the ICT discipline seems not to differ sufficiently from experimentation as this is used in various documents related to research and innovation. In the same context also testing is being frequently used. However testing is much better defined through ETSI and refers to (i) conformance testing or (ii) interoperability with quite accurate definitions.

It is suggested to use the terms more consciously and with a precise definition in mind. For this purpose the term trial should be used when conducting activities that aim to verify the functionality of a system or parts of it. So it should refer to cases where the correct functionality is the primary interest.

However towards market deployment the stakeholders are much more interested in the interaction with the intended customer of a service or device (a product) and in particular whether and under which conditions the customer is prepared to engage in a business relationship for using the product. In other words if we add the business dimension in the trial activities then we have a pilot that could be defined as follows:

  • A pilot is the execution of a trial including business relationship assumptions, exemplifying a contemplated added value for the end-user of a product

Furthermore, often the attribute of scale (e.g. large-scale trial, large-scale experiment) is used without further precision. Nevertheless scale can refer to the scope or extend of a trial and large can imply heterogeneity based on the assumption that large-scale exceeds the borders of a single laboratory environment. However it is more useful to use the cost factor as a measure, whereas cost is a function of complexity, dimension and environmental conditions. One possibility is to postulate that large-scale denotes an environment that exceeds the cost of a laboratory environment at any given point in time by one or more levels of magnitude.

For the sake of completeness the sequence of maturity of research and innovation artefacts is: proof of concept –> prototype –> demonstration –> trial –> pilot –> commercial product.

In the scope of the 5G-PPP programme and having the previous definitions in mind it appears appropriate that phase I is scoped among others by “proof of concept”, and that phase II is scoped by “Prototypes, technology demos”. “Large-scale demonstration and trials” are appropriate for phase III. Most importantly the right scope for “pilots” is phase III.

In order to introduce the right level of interaction with the customer the necessary “prototype” business relationships have to be “piloted”. As a consequence I see Large-Scale Pilots (LSPs) and especially pilots as the elements of a viable and prosperous 5G-PPP-enabled innovation ecosystem and a stepping-stone to operational 5G ecosystem innovation.

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