Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Michael Entner, Digital Transformation Officer at Wind River, takes a look at technological best practice for private networks.
5G and edge computing are two technologies that are joined at the hip so to speak. The edge computing model drives resources closer to end users and 5G is a best-of-breed cellular technology standard can be used to attach to those resources. Combined, the range of use cases that the intelligent edge and 5G cellular technology empower can drive significant value capture along a broad range of industries.
These complimentary technologies can deliver new classes of services, greatly improve the performance of existing applications, and facilitate massive real-time data ingestion and analytics. By bringing compute capabilities closer to the connected devices where data is generated and consumed, it is possible to fully exploit the benefits of 5G: high-speed wireless access, super-fast response times, secure communications, and prioritized traffic management. On the other hand, with the majority of 5G deployments still in relative infancy, the consensus remains that there are limited consumer use cases outside of opportunities in gaming and esports.
At this point in time, consumers are highly unlikely to pay a premium to leverage a service that they don’t need or can’t use. This leaves telcos with a dilemma: how to identify the best strategy to invest in and monetize 5G. One simple answer is to match the offer with demand, and while in the consumer space there isn’t yet a “killer application,” there are established enterprise requirements for use cases that clearly benefit from a combination of these technologies.
Telcos are now looking to private 5G deployments to accelerate their return on investment (ROI) in the network, bringing the technology closer to those that can consume it. Rather than building out expensive infrastructure across the board, telcos can apply their knowledge and expertise to targeted use cases and deliver customized networks that meet the business needs for a specific customer.
The advantages of private 5G in focus
Currently there is huge demand from a number of verticals including manufacturing, energy and utilities, healthcare, and logistics, to radically transform business outcomes and guarantee their continued success in a fast-moving digital era. For many enterprises, only the advanced network characteristics of 5G private networks, in combination with adjacent disruptive technologies such as robotics and Industrial IoT, will enable enterprises to acquire the ultra-low latency applications and use-cases that will allow them to transform their current ways of working.
Private networks are a hugely attractive proposition for enterprise players as they bring convergence between the traditional human communication needs of voice and data services – (email, messaging, conferencing, document sharing etc.) with the connectivity required by IoT and autonomous machines. Instead of a cable or Wi-Fi access for IT resources and a mobile service used by humans, the result is one unified network. Additionally, private networks also provide exclusive control over access policies, the ability to handle sensitive information security through locally stored and processed data, and the ability to handle security policies with data stored and processed locally on site. Such features represent a major advantage for organizations such as healthcare campuses, factories, airports, and mining and shipping sites where consistent reliability, high network performance and data security are all essential to the safe operation of an environment where humans and machines collaborate.
Moreover, 5G also reconciles the high through-put characteristics of wired networks, while simultaneously catering to the high device density access and mobility support normally associated with mobile networks. It is therefore well suited to serve the next generation of mobile and data hungry applications, in particular virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR). 5G architecture, with the support of edge compute infrastructure, is extremely well configured to serve enterprises whose interests are focused on performance, reliability, latency, and increased levels of security.
Opportunity through mobility
The highly advanced AR applications used on expansive factory floors and campuses will inevitably require the characteristics offered by 5G private networks. They are data intensive, latency sensitive and require mobility support – today 5G is the best positioned technology to inherently deliver on all of those aspects. For very large-scale operations, for instance a mine or a warehouse, mobility solutions are vital to improve operations and drive business transformation. Portable devices, handheld equipment, wearables and tablets augment worker’s abilities, enable access to essential real time information and increase productivity. By transcending purely fixed access which cannot support roaming, productivity and capacity rise exponentially.
5G also allows manufacturers to build factories without wires or cables – the type of hardware that traditionally represents significant investment and requires a considerable amount of time and planning to install and maintain. In addition to this, wires and cabling severely limit mobility within factories potentially leading to the slowdown of assembly lines at the point at which they need to be serviced and replaced. Similarly, verticals such as healthcare are often required to periodically and quickly reconfigure the layout of their equipment in response to service usage patterns: avoiding a dependency on cabling-induced restrictions greatly simplifies such processes. And with edge compute, smart factories can implement AI, machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL) applications almost instantly without disrupting the production line and slowing down supply chains.
Private 5G networks in the field
Today many verticals are beginning to benefit from a private 5G network. For the energy and utilities vertical, there are several advantages, for instance, the ability to operate plants with predictive maintenance patterns that reduce downtime service and labor costs. By analyzing the vast amounts of data gathered by sensors, energy and utility companies can detect faults, prevent leakage, and repair grid failures more efferently. This in turn reduces downtime, reduces the number maintenance sessions needed per plant, and minimizes loss of income through downtime.
In the case of healthcare, hospitals need a network that protects highly confidential patient data. Devices sharing sensitive information between staff can benefit from private 5G networks to register on a restricted access domain and communicate test results and patient records across the network. Hospitals and other healthcare institutions capturing, analyzing, and storing data at the point it is created leads to greater overall efficiency, thereby supporting faster patient recovery times.
Enabling the digital ambitions of enterprises
More than ever, enterprises are looking for superior connectivity solutions that will effectively support their ambitions for growth and evolution. As enterprises look to the future and try to keep pace with the latest technological advancements, private 5G networks will be the elemental force which will accelerate operations and transform the way they do business. Private 5G networks hold the key to a truly customized connectivity solution that guarantees the appropriate levels of performance, reliability, security, and control for many enterprise verticals.
Michael Entner is a digital transformation officer at Wind River. In this role, he works to identify transformative opportunities for global clients and drive C-Suite sales strategies to address areas such as Cloud-to-Edge computing, DevSecOps enablement, real-time mission-critical edge applications, and industry-specific solutions. Prior to Wind River, Michael has held senior roles at Verizon and PwC.