Although 5G in, and of, itself is likely to be the most disruptive technology globally over the next 3-5 years, it is actually its wider ecosystem that will be truly revolutionary, particularly for enterprises.
5G is the linchpin of an ecosystem that will connect everything and everyone, everywhere. This ecosystem has data at its heart and it will enable the veritable tsunami of data from a myriad of sources, which 5G is likely to release, to be securely exploited in new ways. Apart from 5G, this ecosystem consists of other emerging technologies, such as augmented intelligence, the internet of things (IoT), robotics and augmented/virtual reality, that are all maturing at just the right time. The cloud is also an essential ingredient, as cyber security and privacy are. Together this ecosystem will power the fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0.
Essentially, a confluence of other technologies exists, and those technologies are maturing at just the right time to exploit the 5G potential. This will supercharge the other technologies, and the sum of the parts will make the 5G story even more revolutionary. They will, for instance, deliver on what to date has been the empty promise of edge computing. Just how this will happen, well let’s examine the components.
Although it will take a number of years for a universal rollout of 5G, the networking capability already exists to provide campus rollouts of private 5G networks around such enterprises as ports, airports, factories, warehouses, universities, hospitals, arenas, entertainment centres and even metropolitan areas. These will not be dependent upon a universal rollout and can use fibre to provide long haul to other locations. The speed (the physics suggest up to 20Gbps is possible, but let’s say 10Gbps) and latency (less than a millisecond), as well as its ability to support up to a million active connections in every square kilometre, mean that every aspect of an enterprise can be connected. This will enable sensors and actuators in equipment, such as industrial robots to intercommunicate amongst themselves and potentially make decisions independent of humans.
Most organisations effectively exploit less than 25% of the data that already exists within the organisation. AI is making great strides, but it needs significant bandwidth to be able to operate on these workloads without degrading performance. 5G will release new waves of data and has the bandwidth to support the AI needed to make sense of it. This offers the potential to augment decision making, both human and machine, by delivering very near real time decision support.
At the same time, huge strides forward are being made in the IoT arena. With embedded online sensors and actors in equipment, we can now, for instance, envisage full predictive maintenance of machinery, rolling stock etc., so that maintenance is conducted only when a part needs maintenance, rather than on a schedule, leading to huge productivity gains and cost saving. With the ultra-low latency of 5G, it is also possible for sensors to sense unusual vibrations in machines and stop production before damage is done.
Robotics are also advancing apace, particularly in factories and in the healthcare arena, where very fine robotic surgery is now entirely feasible. In addition, aerial, land, sea and sub-sea drones are all rapidly advancing and will be controlled by 5G. We can readily imagine in a public safety situation, such as a major urban fire, that the existing 4G network would be swamped and close down, but 5G offers the potential to provide to first responders a secure communications envelope from an incident control point supported by drones, plus the potential to control and use drones to reduce the risk to responders.
Beyond this, augmented reality capabilities are also coming of age. The speed and latency of 5G offers the ability to overlay additional details onto it, for instance, sports events or in the defence, industrial or medical setting onto heads up displays to enable hands free enhanced working in real time.
The whole 5G ecosystem needs to be set in a cyber security and privacy envelope to fulfil its game-changing potential. Sensors and actuators intercommunicating and making decisions independent of humans can only work if we can be sure that no malicious code has been injected and that the output we are going to get is what was expected. This is no mean challenge, given that one of the key characteristics of 5G is the ability to network slice and to enable different authentications on each slice with negligible impact on the workload.
With good security, the 5G ecosystem will not just be the fundamental underpinning of Industry 4.0, but can also deliver on what, to date, has been the empty promise of edge computing, allowing parsing of vast amounts of data in mobile data centres at the edge and only passing back the results over the network to the corporate cloud.
So, whilst 5G in itself is a game changer, it is the fact that it unlocks a wider ecosystem of capabilities that are truly revolutionary in the enterprise space.
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