In a recent interview, Liam Quinn, Senior Vice President and Senior Fellow in the CTO team with Dell Client Solutions, shares his thoughts on 5G, its exciting applications, how organizations should be considering it and the worldwide impact it’s going to have on businesses and industries.
What is 5G?
For context, let’s reflect on 5G relative to the other Gs, which stands for generation. In the early 80s we had 1G that used analog for voice traffic. In the early 1990s the Telecommunications (Telco) companies introduced 2G digital for voice and added support for SMS and texting capabilities. In the early 2000s, 3G was introduced and in addition to voice and texting it added support for higher data rates and mobile data. 4G was introduced in 2010 and that was really where data rates increased and moved to mobile data and cloud streaming capabilities.
5G will start deployment this year initially on mobile handsets with a lot of announcements coming out of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But it’s really more than just a transitional change from 4 to 5. It is a complete infrastructure change and will realize the convergence of computing, cloud and IoT. Think of it as the era of hyperconnectivity.
What is the difference between 5G and LTE?
LTE is synonymous with 4G and it’s got significant bandwidth and capability improvements over 3G. The transition to 5G adds additional frequency bands, both in and around existing LTE (4G), as well as new millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum that is pivotal to support low latency and mission critical applications – such as smart cars, smart cities etc….
Why is 5G a significant shift?
The use cases for 5G can be distilled down into three main areas – massive mobile bandwidth, very low latency and network capacity. At the abstract level, providing more bandwidth enables end (user) devices to upload/download very large amounts of data (think of downloading an HD movie in a matter of 7 – 8 secs vs 7 – 8 minutes with 4G or a full day with 2G). With very low latency (1 millisecond) support for mission critical applications and end devices (smart cars for example), as well as the tactile Internet (Telemedicine), it will enable new markets and usage models. With the explosive growth of IoT and intelligent sensors (all of which have some form of network connectivity), 5G networks will have the capacity to service and support these new workloads.
The transition to 5G will drive disruptive changes within the Telco’s and the service provider network architecture and infrastructure. It will also drive a more distributed architecture with a migration to edge computing, placing more compute/storage and analytical features closer to the source of data. 5G really opens opportunities for artificial intelligence and machine learning to take advantage of these huge data lakes of data and content. The ability to process more data, means more analytics to drive better business decisions, which has a stronger impact on business models and capabilities that haven’t been available before.
The primary benefits of 5G is the transition of the core telco network infrastructure from a centralized architecture model to that of a distributed edge computing model. With the increased workloads and diversity of data traffic patterns required to support endpoint connectivity, this drives the need for Edge Computing frameworks to process, analyze and move data based on usage and profile models.
How do customers and organizations benefit from these features?
The benefit for customers are yet to be defined but certainly, where you have more bandwidth, more features and lower latency, there is an excitement about what can be done. There are businesses that haven’t been developed yet, but will develop, in this new capable 5G environment.
Think of a professional on the go who wants to download massive amounts of content, or a consumer who wants to download content. Instead of it taking minutes to download a movie, it would take seconds. Think about how many movies you could download. This means a few things. First, there is going to be a benefit for customers to have access to their information on a very rapid reliable network infrastructure. Second, it’s going to drive new capabilities for technologies that have been emerging for years, like IoT. So now you have the enabling infrastructure and capabilities to support diverse workloads in a dynamic, reliable and resilient way without compromising on quality of service.
Consider AR and VR. So, as we see rapid innovation in silicon size and architecture integration, can you imagine AR glasses or headsets with the ability to have 5G content delivered to those headsets in a very smart and elegant way? An example would be a service technicians down the road in a mobile environment and having all the content they need to fix an appliance, an application, or do repairs because now they have all the content delivered directly to the headset, displayed on the glasses in a heads up display and provide the interactivity between the technician back to a call center through voice. So, it’s real-time end-to-end connectivity.
Think of conference calls in the future. Today, I dial in with a handset or a headset. In the future, I would be able to see you. We would have a discussion without being impeded by the technology that’s limiting us from collaboration.
A third example would be tactile internet. Imagine in the future, you would have medicine where a huge amount of content may be uploaded from a triage accident on the road. It’s uploaded to the emergency room, the ambulance is connected all the time. Real-time data from the ambulance is coming up in a predictive quality of service, with full bandwidth capability, into the operating room before the patient even gets there. Then it allows the networks to pre-provision the hospital site as that ambulance is travel from the accident site to the emergency room. 5G allows that unimpeded delivery of content.
The benefits of 5G will be realized over the next number of years and will be exciting, more so than we ever had with 4G, by an order of magnitude, in all sectors.
Which industries do you think are going to benefit the most from this technology, or are its applications more widespread?
Smart manufacturing is an exciting environment. Companies and industries are starting to set up 5G environments to have machines communicate to each other in a very controlled way. With machine-to-machine communication features, manufacturing and industrial plants will become more intelligent, mode efficient based on predictive analytics and machine learning features, close to where data is generated and processed. It also provides the capability to set up private networks so another one could be in mining or in private network setups to allow those controls into the smart manufacturing environment for better analytics.
Telemedicine is another industry that has a lot of interest. I mentioned the example about the ambulance. Another one could be from a teaching perspective, where students from around the world would get a real time video feed from a procedure in a classroom environment. They will have this ability to be immersed, virtually, into the environment based on the high bandwidth capability of that environment. In an environment with tactile feedback with low latency, you get that feedback in an almost instant way because of the low latency.
What are the realistic challenges of implementing 5G?
Well first and foremost I think we need to realize that 5G will be a multi-year roll out. It is going to start this year and continue to evolve over multiple years, similar to the deployment and transition from 3G to 4G.
And by the way, 5G will be built on the 4G network initially. Then it will transition to what’s called a standalone environment or architecture over a period of time. We will see potentially towards the end of the year, more mobile PC platforms with 5G capabilities. I think there will be more proof of concepts with carriers. We should expect a broader set of end user devices supporting 5G in 2020 on mobile platforms such as PCs.
Essentially, the challenges are really in the details of getting there because they are massive in terms of the:
- Capital expenditure by Telco’s and service providers.
- Disruptive changes that they’ve got to add to their existing networks while at the same time not dropping service levels. The overload and the investment around that is significant.
What are you most excited about when you think about the future applications of 5G?
5G is a journey and we will see the new business, operational and technological applications will emerge in the next couple of years. It will drive a lot of innovation across vertical markets and how people will use and apply this to their lives and businesses.
5G’s capability to deliver new features, services and applications is extremely exciting. You’re going to see a lot of new industries and businesses starting up and to take advantage of that. For example, Instagram stories started because it was enabled by 4G. Uber and other car transport companies started because of the capability to do GPS tracking on a car, GPS tracking on the end user device, and the ability to view where the car is and to anticipate where and when the car will get to the customer. What is the Uber of tomorrow with 5G? Imagine having a magnitude of capability from a bandwidth perspective, a latency perspective and IoT perspective, that’s at least 10X better in all of those categories than it is today.
It’s going to provide what’s called a hyperconnectivity environment. We’re going into this hyperconnected environment in our lives where data will be available no matter what the device is, the location of the data or the platform being used. Content will be accessible in a secure, reliable way with the right policies and services. It’s an exciting future ahead of us.