There is an increasingly important link between 5G, IoT and edge computing, with each having implications for the success of the other. So believes Jeremiah Caron, Global Director of Research and Analysis of the Technology Group of the independent analyst firm GlobalData.
“IoT has been around for a long time, thanks to existing network technologies,” he explains. “But now there are a number of different elements that come into play on the network side, and also on the compute side. Analytics and artificial intelligence also come into play. All of this means that the IoT is complemented by new solutions such as 5G network services and edge computing capabilities, together driving a more automated, clean, secure and productive industrial and business world. We are on the cusp of something faster, more real-time, more integrated into all business processes.”
After a rocky start for 5G, Caron believes that momentum is picking up, with work underway in the area of standards, as well as spectrum auctions around the world: “The next 3GPP standard is going to to be 5G-Advanced, which will take things to the next level, to that place we’ve been talking about for four years at the corporate level,” he says. “And a lot of effort has gone into private 5G networks to match them.”
The other big 5G-related topic that Caron thinks people are becoming more focused on is edge computing, with numerous different kinds of solutions in development: “There’s a immense diversity of ecosystems around the edge,” points out. “There are numerous different players, from hyperscale cloud providers to proprietary network operators to compute providers to multiple types of software companies and integrators. We are beginning to see how models emerge that present a certain coherence. There are still questions to be answered. What are the consumption models of edge computing? Who do you buy it from? How do you buy it When it comes to service models, companies are still thinking about what to do in this case. Their supplier partners are more than willing to help them think about it. The market is looking for early successes, real implementations that can be said to have made a difference in automation or real-time business, and when we see more of them, that will boost a lot of confidence and encouragement.”
To amplify the discussion and get front-line testament on 5G, IoT, and edge issues, Caron drew on the insights of a select panel of experts. He began by asking for an explanation of what they are seeing in terms of business use cases, with a focus on the business value being created.
“Think about the convergence that is happening, with data coming from sensors, being fed through cellular networks in large hyperscale environments, with software, services and AI capabilities running on top of that, driving business value,” enthuses Shamik Basu, Director of IoT Products for Verizon Business, the main US carrier executing a series of 5G deployments across the US for the benefit of business customers. “Just look at emerging locations and branch offices where our customers want constant wireless access as they look for alternatives to steady broadband connectivity. An example would be crowd management, with the need to constantly degree foot traffic in the building. There’s also cashless retail, and the ability to use visuals and cameras to support asset protection in store locations. Think of functions that have traditionally required intense human involvement now moving to robotics and automated guided vehicles with the use of thing recognition. Edge is a perfect use case for that. Also, 5G is one of the things that is making mixed reality take off.”
From a vendor perspective, Mikael Bäck is Vice President and Corporate Director of Group Function Technology at Ericsson. He says the company has been experimenting with 5G use cases since the early days of the technology, in verticals such as manufacturing, automotive, and transportation: “We’ve recently seen a lot of interest in private 5G networks in manufacturing plants. and in remote places,” he says. “There is network slicing, which gives the end user their own network, rather than building it yourself.” Fixed wireless technology is another case where the logistics sector is an early adopter. We are seeing a lot of experimentation and the first use cases going live. We are at the beginning of a journey that will be as big as the 4G smartphone revolution.”
Stephen Spellicy is Vice President of Solutions and Product Marketing, Service Provider and Edge at VMware. He is seeing a lot happening in industrial IoT, with developments like smart meter infrastructure: “This is pushing operators to look at that next network solution, which is 5G,” he believes. “Modernizing the 5G infrastructure is key for the customers we are working with today so they can go out and deliver on the promise of these advanced use cases.”
Terence McCabe, CTO for Asia-Pacific and Japan at Nokia, believes that private 5G could well be key to the future of the enterprise-grade mobile market: “Private networks offer a more controlled surroundings that can be dedicated to use cases. and you can iterate through the standards more quickly,” he says. “We have a mix of carrier customers and private customers who have deployed 5G standards. And there will be early adopters for ultra-reliable, low-latency use cases as we go forward.”
McCabe says that the next two years will see a whole new range of deployments: “Getting use cases refined and ready for mass-scale deployment is much easier to do with private networks today. than using a general purpose block 5G network that is serving a whole host of other use cases,” he says. “By starting with private networks, you give yourself the possibility to build new use cases without having to convert entire networks to do so.”
VMware’s Spellicy agrees that private networks are the first real footprint of 5G: “It all starts with private networks and then goes to edge computing,” he believes. “For more advanced use cases in areas like manufacturing or healthcare and smart medicine, that’s going to require an extra network. Of course, 4G offers plenty of capacity for some of the most basic services. But when bandwidth and latency become limited, 5G will be the network to turn to. Let’s also think about verticals like mining and exploration, which use automated guided vehicles. These require very low latency communication to be able to control them. In other industries, like manufacturing, you may need more bandwidth, but you can do without higher amounts of latency.” The communications service provider, he says, has an possibility to help bring those capabilities to the customer.
Saratendu Sethi is Vice President of AI at GEP, a specialist in the field of procurement and supply chain solutions. His company is building use cases that bring technologies like 5G, IoT, and edge computing to customers to solve specific supply chain problems: “Even before the pandemic, the supply chain was experiencing a whole process of digitization,” he says. “At the core of a digital supply chain, what things is data and end-to-end connectivity. And this is where 5G comes in. The promise of 5G in accelerating data speeds to reduce latency, in connecting significantly more devices, in enabling the IoT, is phenomenal. For example, we are working directly with customers using the IoT to enable just-in-time manufacturing by tracking parts in real time as they move from the assembly line, rather than waiting for a scheduled arrival. We are creating opportunities for these manufacturing processes to continue to function at all times. 5G allows us to connect increasingly devices so we can truly track goods at the SKU level as they are being manufactured and as they move through warehouse distribution centers.”
In conclusion, Nokia’s McCabe looks at the web-scale players and what they’re doing with deployments in this area: “It’s not just a competitive dynamic,” he explains. “There is a lot of cooperation and there is a real ambiguity about the roles that the actors in the ecosystem are going to assume in the long term. We see many examples where web competencies partner with CSP companies nationwide and work together to deploy edge data capabilities to host applications. There are other cases where web skills are actually working in the development of telco cloud solutions to support the workloads of the CSPs themselves. When we talk about the role of web scale, it is a space to watch. The dynamic is not fixed and will change a lot in the coming years.
By Guy Matthews, NetReporter Publisher
Participants in the discussion
Analyst Chair: Jeremiah Caron, Global Head of Research and Analysis – Technology Group, GlobalData
Mikael Bäck, Vice President and Corporate Director, Group Function Technology, Ericsson
Saratendu Sethi, Vice President – AI, GEP
Terence McCabe, CTO Asia Pacific and Japan, Nokia
Shamik Basu, Director of IoT Products, Verizon Business
Stephen Spellicy, Vice President of Solutions and Product Marketing, Service Provider and Edge, VMware