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Accelerating Digital Transformation Efforts with Private 5G
Every “G” we’ve experienced so far has been the one that’s going to revolutionize everything, right? Well, it turns out that 5G really is a meaningful step, especially for the Internet of Things. And private 5G networks even more so. Industrial environments definitely stand to benefit from its combination of high speed and low latency.
Richard Webb, Director of Network Infrastructure at CCS Insight, a mobile and wireless research firm, talks about the role of 5G in the digital transformation of organizations, the relationship between 5G and Wi-Fi, and the powerful 5G partners available to this ecosystem.
What’s driving the recent trend toward private 5G networks?
5G is a real game changer because it brings in new capabilities; it’s not just about faster broadband. I think speed is very much how it might be presented to the consumer market, but it means different things to other markets, particularly enterprise and industrial vertical sectors.
Some of the capabilities that 5G has are indeed around better capacity, but also lower latency. And these capabilities are emerging at the same time as the evolution of other digital technologies—such as multi-access edge computing, big data analytics, AI, and machine learning. 5G is a real foundational infrastructure and service environment for those other technologies, but it’s really the combination of 5G with those other digital technologies that makes it more powerful. And that’s something you’re going to see industry really take advantage of.
You’re looking at an industrial environment that’s already going through its own changes—putting more and more of its processes into the cloud, and doing a lot more that’s data-driven and IT-centric and computing-centric within those processes. 5G comes along at a very opportune time because it can really play a role in supporting and accelerating this digital transformation. There are all sorts of new use cases that are emerging for enterprise and industrial verticals built around that 5G connectivity—particularly edge computing.
You’ve got different data streams that could be sending only small pieces of data, but scaled up over tens or hundreds of thousands of data points or connectivity points within an organization. These could be sensors that are just relaying one single piece of information, but relaying it on a very regular basis as a small part of a very complicated manufacturing line, for example. Or a very complicated set of different processes around lots of different types of machinery within a smart healthcare facility, for another example. Different devices and the different data streams they’re capturing offer a number of very, very interesting but very sophisticated and often complex use cases.
So there are a great many possibilities, but there are a great many requirements as well, and this is where 5G really plays its ace. Because it’s got capabilities that are indeed around capacity and latency. But it’s also the mobility of bringing that into an industrial environment where previously those machines were tethered to wired networks, for example. It’s the flexibility that 5G offers in terms of moving machinery around within a location. It’s the interrelation between other network technologies, like Wi-Fi. It’s the nationwide infrastructure—that mobile network that goes beyond a single enterprise’s premises.
What are the differences between 5G and Wi-Fi?
I don’t see it as being a zero-sum game, or a one-or-the-other standoff between Wi-Fi and 5G. Wi-Fi is incredibly broadly deployed within enterprises; I don’t think it’s going to go away, and I see no reason why it should go away just because 5G becomes an option. There’s been a very progressive and coordinated conversation between Wi-Fi development camps and mobile development, so Wi-Fi and 4G, 5G are not strangers to each other. These are technologies that can now talk to each other; they can be integrated within a network, or they can operate as two separate simultaneous networks. And this is how I think we’re going to see both of them coexist within an enterprise location.
“It’s not necessarily that #5G is better than Wi-Fi, it’s just that 5G can be better at certain things or in certain scenarios.” —Richard Webb, Director of Network Infrastructure at @CCSInsight via @insightdottech
Wi-Fi is very well deployed and scales very well indeed. But it may not be suited to mission-critical connectivity. 5G is much better suited to mission-critical capability because when you connect a device, you can typically work within performance parameters to a much greater and more consistent extent. It’s not necessarily that 5G is better than Wi-Fi, it’s just that 5G can be better at certain things or in certain scenarios. Think of them as complementary; when you’ve got both of them working simultaneously, they’ll help each other’s performance.
How can organization go about implementing a private 5G network?
5G is almost an opportunity for telecoms to reset their game for enterprise and industrial verticals—to think differently about how they position not just their services but how they position 5G as a kind of technology platform within enterprise for those digital technologies like edge computing and AI analytics.
Telecoms really need to be open about what their capabilities are, and be honest about the fact that they can’t do everything for everyone—particularly within an enterprise environment. So they’ve got to put in place an ecosystem of solutions that involves network hardware and software; cloud service capabilities; maybe systems integrators, or players with deep, vertically specific knowledge of some of those markets that telecoms want to address.
It’s really something that has to be done on a customer-by-customer basis, or certainly on a vertical-by-vertical basis. In one vertical—let’s say healthcare—there might be a good customer base. The telecom may know a lot about the technology needs of the healthcare industry, and so it feels it could be the direct-touch lead for a particular healthcare transformation environment.
Pick a different vertical and that telecom may not be as strong. So it might take a different approach and be more of a wholesale provider, where the direct interface with the customer in that particular environment could be a cloud partner. So there’s a technology component to it, but there’s very much a commercial component to it as well.
What’s the role of cloud providers such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in private 5G?
I think these providers like Amazon Wavelength, like Microsoft Azure, like Google Cloud, and so on, have incredibly important roles to play, and a great opportunity within the private 5G network environment. Many of them have preexisting relationships with enterprises—partly because those enterprises are already undergoing their own digital transformations, and a lot of that is revolving around the cloudification of their processes.
I also think there’s a scale and a reach to those cloud providers that can often outperform what a telecom’s operator can potentially offer. Don’t forget that these are global organizations in many cases, and while an operator may have 5G infrastructure, the cloud providers have a great deal of investment in infrastructure of their own servers and data centers, as well as a powerful range of skill sets.
It’s not really a case of the cloud providers usurping the operators—or at least I don’t believe so. But I do hear from some operators that there is a little bit of tension around exactly what the role of the cloud providers is, given their scale and reach. And so there’s still quite a bit to be figured out with regard to how telecoms will interact with those cloud providers. But I do think there is a growing market—a growing pie, if you like—and that there’s room for everyone to coexist and get a piece of that pie.
How about enterprise solution providers like IBM, Dell, and HP?
I think they’re incredibly important. Many of these organizations will have very longstanding relationships and reputation within the enterprise space. A lot of them, particularly HP, are very active in 5G-core environments leveraging their software capabilities. They’ve already been moving in this direction—private 5G networks are really just an extension of that strategy to be part of telecommunications in a networking sense, and not just in a devices sense.
It’s still about access to computing and processing capabilities, but much more in tune with the virtualization of networking. I see these companies having a role that is valuable to the market alongside 5G network operators, and alongside cloud providers. Those IT providers have got heritage with mobile, and what that means is often they have deep knowledge of how those different vertical sectors are evolving, which is a really important piece in putting solutions together.
Where do enterprise network technology providers, like Cisco, fit in?
To Cisco this is meat and drink in some ways. It’s just about figuring out what its strategy is and where it fits. I think that’s what a lot of the different players are still figuring out. It’s not so much: “Have we got the right technology?” But: “Where do we fit best to offer the most value in that value chain? Where can we build business for ourselves?” There are a number of different ways they can position within this market.
But really, I don’t think it’s necessarily even right to think of private 5G as a single market. I think it is going to be a very diverse market, perhaps according to industry sector. But you can be one thing to one market and you can be a different thing to another market. It’s about looking at your channels, your opportunities, your customer base, your partnerships, and figuring out on a case-by-case basis: “What is our best opportunity? Who can we work with? How are we going to put solutions together and run them on a project-by-project basis?”
Can you tell us more about how technology manufacturer EXOR International deployed 5G?
Within its smart manufacturing facility in Verona, Italy, EXOR has implemented 5G as part of a private mobile network environment in partnership with Italian mobile operator TIM, as well as JMA Wireless and Intel®. And it doesn’t just operate a private 5G network for its own processing capabilities; it’s built a 5G smart lab environment. In this lab it tests new use cases for deployment within its own network, but it can also present them as part of its solution suite to customers. And it’s opened its lab to other companies to explore how they, too, can interact with industry 4.0 wireless applications based on 5G.
EXOR isn’t just an example of how to deploy 5G, it’s really a sharing partner for those learnings as well. It’s an incredibly powerful environment to get a sense of not only how use cases are deployed within a smart manufacturing environment but to experiment with what more could be done—particularly when you are looking at the interface between industrial PCs and human machines, and so on. There’s a lot of rich potential coming out of there, and I’m really interested to see how that story evolves over time.
What else about private 5G is important to note?
Private 5G doesn’t exist as an island. In many cases, it’s a very natural place to arrive at as part of an organization’s digital transformation process. It’s simply a better way of connecting the different parts of data functionality with processing and computing capability over a resilient and flexible network.
I’ve talked here about how 5G can be a platform for a combination of digital technologies. And that sounds great, but this is a complicated environment, and you need those technologies to be integrated. Solutions that can cut away some of the complexity are what I think is important for the acceleration of private 5G mobile networks, and I think we’re beginning to see some of those solutions addressed. It’s really about having a collaborative environment on the technology side, and a commercial framework that enables that environment.
To learn more about the future of private 5G, listen to our podcast on Private 5G Predictions with CCS Insight and read Challenges and Requirements of the Private 5G Network Market. For the latest innovations from CCS Insight, follow them on Twitter at @CCSInsight and on LinkedIn at CCS-Insight.
This article was edited by Christina Cardoza, Senior Editor for insight.tech.