Why 5G Is Already Relevant To You
The First Business Driven Network Generation
5G is not just the continuation of the “more speed, more bandwidth” story. Rather it will become the first industry-grade network supporting a variety of business use cases.
In the past mobile network evolution has been driven by consumer needs in terms of improving broadband access from supporting voice (2G) to data (3G) to video (4G). In contrast, 5G is not just the continuation of the “more speed, more bandwidth” story. Rather it will become the first industry-grade network supporting a variety of business use cases.
In essence, 5G will truly deliver the next evolution of communication. Not only will its technical capabilities be significantly enhanced – of benefit both to businesses and consumers – but it will also deliver new capabilities designed to fulfill the requirements of businesses in a customized manner. 5G will be the backbone of connectivity and communication and will enable businesses to improve efficiencies and allow to develop new offerings and business models.
The push of performance – 1.000x capacity, 100x connection density, 10x speed, 10x latency and 3x mobility – will deliver the capabilities to enhance a variety of use cases and even lay the ground for use cases not foreseen today. In technical terms, use cases can be grouped by their key requirement – high throughput, connection respectively device density or reliability and latency. This categorization is certainly a simplification as for example throughput driven use cases may also require low latency. A common example is motion sickness when using Virtual Reality applications with insufficient latency.
Whereas throughput is primarily relevant to Consumer use cases connection density, reliability and latency in addition to tailoring are essential capabilities for Business use cases.
Enabiling the next level of operational efficiency
Given Germany’s industrial landscape the push for Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) and Industry 4.0 is more than understandable. The first wave of use cases will focus on improving operational efficiency in the areas of manufacturing Operations, production Asset Management and Maintenance and Field Service. In Operations for example, optimizing in-factory processes involves real-time closed loop communication between machines requiring according latency and reliability. Asset Tracking as a means of optimizing logistics, inventory levels and theft detection demands high connection densities to cater for the density of connected goods. Using Augmented and Virtual Reality in Field Service is likely to become common with latency and throughput as key network requirements.
As important as improving efficiency is the introduction of new offerings building on for example pay-per-use models, software-based services and data monetization. The details of the underlying business models are still to be understood to a large extent but the foundation is data and information exchange by means of networks.
Going beyond connectivity
Drones, correctly termed Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), become more and more widespread. Already used in areas such as inspection, surveillance and deliveries autonomous drones will open-up further areas. In terms of connectivity high reliability and availability for safe and controlled operation are needed. Use cases such as surveillance may also demand high bandwidth. And last but not least the airspace drones operate at, typically below 200m altitude, needs to be covered by radio. Use case specific demands include transmission of commands with minimum delay (latency), real-time data transmission, processing, and sharing (Edge Computing), communication to objects in vicinity such as other drones and positioning beyond GPS precision. As recent incidents gaining public attention have shown safe operation of drones is crucial. Besides regulatory frameworks e2e control requires to link air control systems and sophisticated Identity Management and end-to-end safety mechanisms.
A less mentioned new capability of 5G is its ability to provide high precision positioning. Many applications such as car navigation sufficiently work with the GPS provided accuracy of 5 to 15 meters under good radio conditions. But agriculture, drones, tracking of connected goods, to name a few, require sub-meter or even cm accuracy as available with 5G.
As the previous examples demonstrate 5G has been clearly designed with business use cases in mind. It therefore will combine connectivity – speed, latency, mobility, reliability, Quality of Service – with capabilities such as Security, Identity Management and distributed computing allowing for real-time processing. In other words, 5G will combine connectivity, compute and business enablers and will allow for customization.
Network Slicing – delivering an “as-needed” mobile network
Although requirements across different use cases may be similar in type their concrete characteristics are often different. All former network generations have followed the “one size fits all” principle making it for businesses in many cases difficult to impossible to use mobile networks for connectivity and communication means. 5G addresses this by introducing the technical concept of Network Slicing. Put simple, Network Slicing delivers “What-you-need-is-what-you-get”.
The picture below shows the layered architecture 5G will use to separate network infrastructure, enablement functions and business applications, and to match “XaaS” architectures
5G network slices will be implemented on the same infrastructure. At the lowest layer, the physical converged network infrastructure is virtualized by means of Network Function Virtualization and provided as “Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)”. The Business Enablement Layer uses and combines these virtualized network functions in addition with capabilities such as Security, Identity Management and distributed compute and exposes them to the business applications. Offered as “Platform as a Service (PaaS)” the Business Enablement Layer is a library of modular network functions and value enabling capabilities. These are exposed to the Business Application Layer via Application Programmable Interfaces (API) – the “network” gets accessible by IT means.
The key benefit of virtualized network functions from a business point of view is the ability to configure them according to specific business needs – the network is virtually sliced. Each network slice addresses use case family specific requirements. Potential 5G network slices could be, amongst others, autonomous vehicles and industrial IoT. Though, the number of network slices may have practical limits due to the extremely high level of automation required. Going significantly beyond 10 slices may not be manageable.
The way towards 5G
So why should you bother about a not yet standardized technology probably available no earlier than 2020? In short, because societies become more and more mobile, connected and digitized and businesses need to constantly increase efficiency. A number of different trends foster these developments. To name a few – the number of connected devices and sensors is continuously increasing as their cost and size is shrinking (Consumer and Industrial IoT), digitization permeates more and more industries, for example healthcare (ageing society) and agriculture (increase harvest), societies need new mobility concepts (autonomous vehicles). Whatever the use case and industry – all require controlled and secure connectivity and communication along with network integrated distributed computing power.
Whereas the previous argument is more reactive in the sense of transformation, businesses also need to think about top-line growth – new and additional business. Two key trends are already visible – the shift from products to services and the shift from push (forecast – produce – sell) to pull (on-demand) economy. Again, 5G network capabilities will play a vital role.
In the past networks have been often considered as “bit pipes”. But 5G is a game changer as it is designed as a network for businesses. Its capabilities clearly focus on providing business value-add. The importance of 5G as a key Digitization enabler is underpinned by the growing number of industry and operator partnerships and alliances.