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Will 5G drive us to the edge?

July 3, 2019

Amit Sachdeva   

Global Head - Business Development, Alliances and Partnership Strategy, Mobility & IoT

Tata Communications’ Amit Sachdeva describes the transformational potential of 5G.

Excitement around 5G continues unabated. Yet, amidst the excitement, it is important to be pragmatic and identify the short to medium-term use case opportunities where 5G can make a significant difference compared with existing 4G/LTE network services. This includes enabling the shift in data processing and management towards the mobile network edge, and targeting the applications that are likely to benefit the most from 5G at the beginning.

5G and the edge

“The heavy data demand in modern mobile communication networks means that a traditional architecture – which puts data processing, storage and management at the heart of the network – is increasingly inefficient.”

The result is that increasingly, service creation and delivery needs to happen at the network edge.

Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) uses a distributed, cloud-based architecture and is seen as a logical next step for mobile network architectures. MEC enables mobile network operators to address growing demand for IoT connectivity, meeting the needs for low-latency, high-availability connectivity and real-time network data. What’s more, MEC is also ideal for 5G because it complements the software-driven, fully programmatic network models planned for 5G.

Transformational potential of 5G

Industry analysts estimate that widespread adoption of 5G is just a few years away, with China, South Korea and Japan likely to be the markets leading the way.  While at Tata Communications we don’t operate our own cellular network, we’re watching closely the developments in 5G to ensure that we’re able to optimise our own services to meet our mobility and IoT customers’ evolving requirements.

There are a number of use case areas that I am excited about when I consider the potential of 5G in industrial IoT-type applications, from automotive through to mixed reality apps.

Automotive: this includes so-called V2X communications (Vehicle-to-Vehicle, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure etc.), including things like automated toll road operations, hazard warning, collision avoidance or congestion avoidance systems. Cellular V2X is gaining traction both within the automotive industry and the broader smart infrastructure ecosystem, because of the efficiency and safety improvements it could bring about. Some other use cases with potential include in-vehicle infotainment and driver behaviour monitoring. Much of this can be and is already being delivered using 4G. My own car already warns me about driving conditions and to my shame, it sometimes nags me about my own driving behaviour. The low latency connection delivered in conjunction with 5G opens up a whole new world of possibilities for V2X – not to mention the much-hyped autonomous vehicles space.

While I am as eager as the next petrol-head to try one of these out, the technologist in me knows that the autonomous vehicles market is unlikely to be a short-term, mass-market, revenue-generating opportunity.

Industry 4.0: The basic premise of Industry 4.0 is the automation of factory environments – and 5G can help accelerate this transformative process. The counter-argument is that WiFi could deliver similar connectivity. However, in a factory environment WiFi is subject to signal interference, while a cable-based approach can cause obvious health and safety issues in an already hazardous environment. State-of-the-art augmented reality, (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality applications, enabled by 5G, could have a particularly transformational impact in some industries and help realise businesses’ Industry 4.0 goals.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality: These applications are likely to boost the demand for 5G, not unlike the iPhone did with 4G more than ten years ago. While AR, VR and MR are technologies that tend to be associated with the consumer market – think Pokémon Go and other gaming apps – the most interesting applications in my view are industrial and medical use cases. Remote medical procedures, engineering, public safety and field service all represent big opportunities for low latency, 5G-enabled AR, VR and MR services. It remains to be seen whether B2B or B2C use cases will command more focus in the short term. A lot will depend on the large consumer electronics companies and the availability of 5G connectivity.

“As mobile network operators around the world are racing to be amongst the first in 5G, we’re busy working with our customers across automotive, manufacturing, sports, media and entertainment to develop ideas for new applications that would benefit from the capabilities of 5G.”

I am excited about how the new technology will live up to the expectations and the hype, transforming how businesses operate and how people engage with brands and the world around them.

How can China realise the full potential of the MVNO market? Read our previous blog here to find out