In our recent whitepaper The Real Power of 5G we explored how technology developments such as 5G NR, network slicing and edge computing are creating a new technology platform which will have a transformative effect on the modern enterprise.

The real power of 5G

Operators play an important role, exposing the capabilities of these technologies to new sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing and automotive and in the process growing their own business into new markets. Operators will have to engage with companies to address the critical challenges they are facing such as the sharper competition and lower cost base of cloud native companies and the ever increasing demands from customers for functionality and performance.

To meet these challenges enterprises should be aware of the capabilities of the new platform and exploit high performance connectivity and other capabilities they offer to maximum advantage.

Increasingly, services targeted at specific applications require the development of connected devices that consider the needs of those industries, for example industry specific design and regulatory or process requirements. Successful connected product development is based on an expert understanding of the requirements of the customer, as well as the development of connectivity solutions that support the specific applications and services.

In this article I expand on the opportunities for enterprises and operators, which I also discussed at a recent GSMA strategy seminar held at Orange in Paris.

Accelerating digital transformation

Let’s highlight some of the potential benefits to enterprises of networks based on these technologies. First of all, I’ll look at the many benefits of IoT connected smart products.

Combining advanced sensing in the product with edge-based machine intelligence can provide revolutionary levels of personalisation and service to the customer. The data generated by such IoT connected smart products will provide enterprises with large volumes of data allowing them to gain critical insight into customer requirements and transform their products to meet evolving customer trends.

As an example, we designed a novel inhaler for Novartis that included sensing algorithms to recognise ‘inhalation sound signatures’ and hence detect when the device is being used. The information is transmitted wirelessly to the associated service which can detect, for example, if a patient misses a dose and sends a reminder. It is a truly smart inhaler, designed to help healthcare providers – and patients – manage treatment improving patient outcomes and lowering costs.

A recent project we completed to develop a smart home energy service is another good example. Sensors throughout the home allowed the service to learn the unique preferences and schedule of the occupants. Our smart platform anticipated energy needs and delivered the required level of comfort while predicting spend. This concept not only provided a highly personalised service, but enabled energy suppliers to develop closer, more transparent customer relationships, gain competitive advantage and remove resistance to their low-carbon agenda.

Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) brings high-performance communications to the mass market and when combined with edge computing and network slicing, enables enterprises to develop reliable services for either their customers or their internal operations.

URLLC will enable enterprises to convert their private networks to wireless infrastructure, transforming their internal operations. Immediate advantages include reducing the need and costs for cabling. Longer term, wireless connectivity introduces agility and a significantly higher level of efficiency by optimising according to task execution rather than physical organisation. The robust wireless connectivity we developed for Ocado, the world’s largest online supermarket, enabled them to transform their warehousing operations, achieving levels of efficiency and an order accuracy unachievable by other retailers.

Network slicing and high-performance wide area networking will also enable enterprises to integrate multiple sites with hybrid cloud services. Such services are beginning to emerge in the form of software defined networking (SDWAN). SDWAN provides a secure network overlay for the enterprise which ensures their operations, irrespective of the underlying technology. An early example of wide area high performance communications is in the UK’s AutoAir automotive 5G trial where vehicles are being provided with information and functionality which are not possible when the vehicle is unconnected.

How operators can unlock the 5G opportunity

Whilst applications developers can easily access cloud functionality through open APIs, it is far harder to gain access to network functionality. By including APIs, such as the TMForum’s Open API, into the telecommunications platform and making them technically and commercially accessible, operators can open their networks to enterprises in a similar manner to public cloud vendors. Operators who are unable to make the necessary investments can combine cooperation with public cloud operators with the development of their own edge clouds.

Until recently the only spectrum easily available to enterprises has been the unlicensed ISM bands. This is starting to change as regulators in many countries are introducing new mechanisms for licensing specific spectrum bands for local use. Examples of this trend are the American CBRS licensing scheme, Ofcom’s recently announced local licensing mechanism in the UK, as well as similar initiatives in Europe and Japan. This new spectrum will enable larger enterprises to create private networks under their control. Operators will have the opportunity to provide managed services for smaller enterprises or for those companies that wish to outsource their internal communications.

Operators have an important and growing role to play in this digital transformation of the enterprise. In every organisation the culture and processes have evolved based on the experience of the people in the organisation and the technology available. When introducing new wireless technologies, it is important to be sure of how these benefits will be realised to those groups, which will be unique in each company. Operators must be prepared to help enterprises understand and take full advantage of the benefits of connected devices and high-performance connectivity and ease the change to organisation and processes.

Operators role in the connected enterprise

Enterprises that embrace virtualised networked infrastructure, connected devices and digital services will experience advantages beyond those gained by cloud native companies. Advantages include lower investment costs, more agile business operations, new revenue streams and innovative new product capabilities.

By enabling connectivity between devices and services, operators are providing enterprises with the ability to enhance their products by including network-based functionality. Splitting functionality between device and edge cloud will reduce device manufacturing costs, as the requirements on computing and battery power in the device are reduced.

The trend for edge cloud functionality will accelerate as zero-touch QoS provisioning enables networks to become even more autonomous. Enterprises will be able to invisibly include advanced functionality as if it were embedded in their products. An example of this would be very low form factor augmented reality glasses where compute is performed in the edge cloud resulting in the possibility of AR glasses with a similar size and weight of ordinary spectacles today.

Such “as-a-service” functionality exposed through APIs will also accelerate product development and reduce both development and manufacturing costs as virtualised network and platform services reduce the requirements on the device.

I will discuss the opportunity to harness 5G to transform industry at a series of events later in the year, including Total Telecom Congress on 29 October. I’ll share insights from our work in creating connected products for diverse industries, together with our experience in the development of high performance wireless systems and digital services within the telecoms sector. 

If you would like to discuss any other these topics in more depth, please don’t hesitate to email me at derek.long@cambridgeconsultants.com

Author
Dr. Derek Long
Head of Telecoms & Mobile

Derek leads our collaboration within the telecoms and mobile sector, helping create breakthrough innovations that transforms the delivery of high-performance communication - for mobile carriers and ISPs to vendors and component manufacturers. With over 20 years’ experience in mobile technology, Derek has held a range senior management roles with multinationals and has a wealth of expertise across all generations of mobile and broadband technology, including LTE-A and 5G. Derek holds a PhD in telecommunications from the University of Bristol.