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5G and the enterprise opportunity

Businesses are eager to enter the 5G world. Although the industry is still in the infancy of 5G, many companies are already making plans to adopt the technology as a key component of their infrastructure.
Unlike previous generations of network technology that paved the way for innovations like smartphones and wireless broadband, 5G’s tremendous improvements in terms of lower latency, faster transmission speeds, and vastly increased network capacity are throwing open the doors to large-scale enterprise digital transformation. 2021 will be the year that real-life 5G use cases for businesses go into production as more 5G-capable devices hit the market.

Leading operators are playing to their strengths and understand that delivering transformational enterprise solutions involves working in ecosystems of complementary capabilities. For operators, 5G represents yet another investment cycle – one where monetization requires making strategic bets on technology, platforms, business models, and partners.

The rise of 5G networks represents a new generation of mobile technology and a door to real enterprise digital transformation through a host of new services, technologies, and ecosystems. This massive technological shift requires infrastructure investments as significant as in previous generations, yet newly minted 5G networks are being launched into markets where the traditional connectivity business is stagnating.

The enterprise will draw on 5G’s powerful capabilities around throughput, mobility, reliability, latency, and data volume to host and manage a rich set of applications and technology functions across an exploding set of potential uses. They shall find most application in sectors as healthcare, manufacturing, construction and engineering, mining, agriculture, retail, events and public spaces, transportation, smart cities, and resource management.

Even though the next-generation cellular technology is still very much in its infancy, 2021 will be the year that real-life 5G use cases for businesses go into production as more 5G-capable devices hit the market.

Impact of 5G on enterprise networking
Among the key areas where 5G might have an impact on enterprise networking are multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and distributed antenna systems (DAS). IT leaders are already showing interest in the idea that 5G-powered Wi-Fi or software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) could be viable replacements for MPLS and DAS.

While some businesses might not be keen on the idea of swapping out an existing MPLS infrastructure that serves several remote locations or even global operations, the idea of upgrading this technology with an SD-WAN powered by 5G is certainly intriguing.

The potential of low latency, higher bandwidth, cost reduction, and other benefits has many IT and networking executives excited about the potential of 5G-based technology as a true wireline replacement.

Among the advantages of 5G for organizations is enhanced connectivity. Basic connectivity is expected to grow at 0.75 percent annually through 2030. For instance, a healthcare institution could leverage 5G technologies to more efficiently interconnect devices equipped with wireless sensors. It could then reimagine aging hospitals that are still using copper wire for communications, bypassing fiber to deliver a wireless experience for staff, patients, visitors, and others.

Solutions such as telemetry and wearable devices would be much easier to manage and use because of the low latency and high reliability and availability of networks made possible by 5G.

Will also provide a new impetus for cloud
With 5G opening the door to closer collaboration with enterprise customers and broader ecosystem innovation, cloud takes on a whole new level of importance. Indeed, cloud is at the center of operator strategy for enterprise 5G.

Cloud-based resources are critical to the working of ecosystem partnerships, for delivering enterprise services such as MEC and SD-WAN, and for supporting platforms that allow developers to scale services up and down through API-exposed network functions. The speed, flexibility, and openness of cloud architecture enable operators to more simply manage their IT operations and network services. Cloud also facilitates access to automation and AI tools, advances that drive performance in IT operations and network management and generate the data that comprise much of 5G’s intrinsic enterprise value.

Telcos’ cloud-first strategies cover the network, IT operations, and also internal IT systems, although these are at different stages of migration. The end goal is to move as many network and IT functions to the cloud as possible. However, there are different streams, priorities within those, and a fully 100 percent cloud-native environment may not be achievable or desirable.

However, getting to cloud native may not be possible given specific technical parameters. The industry operates in a hybrid world: sometimes using physical, on-premise, traditional infrastructure, and sometimes cloud native running in the private cloud, and then other times running natively in the public cloud. This kind of migration path is to move applications that are least risky first, and with cloud technology rapidly maturing they have been able to accelerate these efforts.

Getting enterprises ready for 5G
5G networks are being pencilled into enterprise IT plans, given their promise of low latency, data transfer speeds that can be as much as 100 times faster than their 4G network counterparts, and a projected ability to handle any type of IoT device that exists today or will exist in the future.

 

In the race to 5G, there are political pressures for countries to be first 5G, and for vendors to dominate market share. As these competitive pressures build, enterprise CIOs are being asked to think about what they need to do to be ready for 5G, what business cases can or will benefit from 5G, and if or when they should deploy 5G.

None of the answers to these issues are straightforward, as 5G itself is in a state of disruptive deployment. The technology cannot be used everywhere. A majority of IT appliances and networks cannot support it. And with 5G in early deployment stages and few IT professionals trained to install or support it, 5G is far from stable. Nevertheless, 5G is coming.

This shift marks a truly transformative moment: It is the first-time businesses will build their wireless networks into core operations, transcending communications. Wireless is becoming the linchpin for handling supply chain management, enabling emerging technologies that will automate or greatly speed processes with applications such as wearable technology, secure and instant data transfer, and much more. There are quite a few broad enterprises needs that support an immediate demand for the advanced connectivity only 5G can provide.

Automation, AI, and enterprise SLAs
Smart factories and other Industry 4.0 enterprise services are reliant on high-performance computing and analytics that drive up customer service expectations. SLA requirements around reliability and latency will require operators to have a high degree of control over service quality to resolve issues in close to real time.

Availability KPIs for 5G are really much higher than the network KPIs today, and those or other SLAs cannot be managed manually. One needs to fully automate incident management and root-cause analysis as it would be unworkable to do these tasks by going through incidents log-by-log. Automated root-cause analysis will allow operators to shift toward predictive, proactive SLA management, meaning the detection and prevention of anomalies before they happen.

Telcos are developing AI platforms, which seek to track performance against the top moments that matter for enterprises and even extends to industrial IoT. By understanding the customer’s experience and satisfaction with service elements such as ordering, contracting, and pricing, telcos can analyze when a customer’s SLA is potentially not being met. The systems then proactively recommend next-best actions for resuming SLA compliance, as well as preventing the slide of the customer from a promoter to a detractor.

Industry 4.0: Moving from massive production to massive customization
Indeed, manufacturing is expected to be the largest beneficiary of 5G services. The unique attributes of the technology could unlock USD 740 billion of value in manufacturing by 2030. The combination of 5G, edge computing, and AI will be a driver of Industry 4.0 with billions of machines, devices, and sensors just waiting to be wirelessly connected. This will become the backbone of manufacturing and related services in the future. It will be powered by robotics, AI, IoT, 3-D printing, AR, and cloud technologies, all of which will use 5G technology to allow machine-to-machine communication.

Supply chain and logistics management
E-commerce has become an important part of the way people buy and sell goods, and 5G’s low latency can provide solutions to common supply chain challenges that will enable the instant gratification wanted from online purchasing. This is especially important because e-commerce growth has skyrocketed due to the global health crisis. For example, e-grocery is expected to grow 40 percent this year. This places immense pressure and expectations on improving the supply chain and getting a better handle on inventory management from ports to warehouses, retailers, and package delivery.

For transportation logistics, 5G can improve everything from tracking and visibility of shipments, optimizing trucking routes, improving vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, locating lost cargo, and providing transparency and accuracy for product delivery updates. For inventory and warehouse management, sensors and real-time data transfer will offer far more visibility tracking products within a facility and can communicate the needs from the distribution centers, retailers, and delivery services to get a better handle on supply and demand. This all works toward bringing the supply chain closer to consumers and businesses to support the growth of e-commerce.

Realizing 5G aspirations indoors
Building out nationwide 5G macro networks is essential to advancing the Industry 4.0, but it is not always enough. 5G is no use to enterprises unless they can bring that connectivity indoors — something that is harder to achieve than the previous LTE generation due to the limited distance of mmWave frequency bands. While LTE has challenges penetrating buildings, mmWave simply is not capable of it without additional infrastructure. Fortunately, enterprises would not necessarily need blanket coverage for 5G and can point coverage at specific areas of their facilities where it is needed.

For example, a factory may want to have strong 5G coverage to power its autonomous robotic workforces but does not need that connectivity to extend to other areas of the facility, such as administration. To effectively bring 5G indoors, a collection of wireless technologies including DAS, small cells and repeaters are required to deliver 5G capacity throughout buildings, while also still supporting LTE connectivity in areas that may not require 5G initially.

Smart offices. Telcos are already exploring how 5G wireless connectivity will impact core operations in smart office spaces. Legacy 4G/LTE networks are a way to provide great coverage to office workers, whereas 5G will redefine how they work.

The potential of IoT and big data to achieve goals in the office existed long before 5G networks, but it’s the high speeds and low latency that allow these technologies to come together for meaningful applications such as artificial intelligence/machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, robotics, and edge computing.

Preparing the edge
Edge computing has arrived at the right moment. If 5G introduces new threats in IoT, edge computing can provide solutions.

Edge gateways. Part of the purpose of edge nodes is traffic control, to organize IoT traffic. By creating points of entry into physical networks, additional security can be layered onto IoT devices. Even if a device is hacked, a malicious actor is stopped in his tracks, getting no further than the gateway.

Edge analytics. Many network attacks are automated these days, and analytics, combined with AI, can detect and subsequently predict their activity. Anomalies in infrastructure performance can produce machine-learnable patterns that can then be watched for as possible attack points, making it easier to bolster network perimeter security.

Securing DNS. Domain name system (DNS) gets a serious workout from IoT, and DNS on the edge is yet another vulnerability. More than 90 percent of the malware used in network attacks exploits DNS as a protocol for intrusion. This, too, becomes a machine learning process, through the installation of a DNS security service to monitor and analyze DNS requests for suspicious request patterns, resulting in the blocking of malevolent domains and websites.

AI-powered endpoint management. Vendors have begun addressing the challenges of IoT proliferation with AI-based monitoring and management. These systems consider the new IoT devices attaching to the network, analyze their connectivity and data traffic patterns, and offer risk exposure and vulnerability notifications.

A 5G world
Addressing the seemingly infinite number of enterprise opportunities, with all of their hardware and software complexities, means that operators cannot go it alone. A central feature of the shift to 5G is the partnerships and ecosystems that are evolving to meet customers’ unique and complex goals for digital transformation.

With the arrival of innovative and potentially lucrative technologies such as IoT, edge computing, AI, ML, VR and AR, and others, as well as the ongoing push toward remote and mobile computing, the need for high-quality, reliable communications has never been greater.

Going forward, network providers will not have the luxury of building out expensive infrastructure in the hope that customers will come to enjoy it. Network services must be implemented quickly and at scale, which is simply not tenable on legacy, single-vendor platforms. By building 5G from the ground up on open hardware with a state-of-the-art NOS, providers can ensure their networks will remain at the cutting edge now and well into the future.

5G is more than just a new wireless generation for enterprises. 5G is more than just a new wireless generation for enterprises. It will represent an entirely new way of functioning and the ability to unlock new capabilities that were not possible before. It has transitioned from a supporting role to a leading role in today’s increasingly data-driven economy and will continue to be an enabler of innovations moving forward.

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