by Catherine Mulligan and Sylvia Lu
Fifth-generation mobile networks look set to transform whole industries.
5G – the next generation of mobile internet – is set to increase communication speeds by up to 20 times for a broad range of enterprises and end-users, and connectivity for huge numbers of IoT devices. For these reasons, it is expected to be increasingly used across industries such as logistics, healthcare and the public sector. It is estimated that revenues from 5G for ICT players will be 18 per cent of overall revenue by 2026 in manufacturing alone.
Indeed, 5G is rapidly starting to become a reality as the first networks are now being rolled out across the globe. Given the hype, you could be forgiven for wondering if it really is such a big shift from existing technologies.
But 5G represents a fundamental shift, not just from a technology perspective but from an economic one. In conjunction with other emerging technologies such as AI, 5G is delivering on the promise of a truly digital economy.
There are many reasons for the drive towards 5G. Its updated radio technology provides dramatically reduced latency and higher bandwidth. Its powerfully updated core network allows developers to programme networks in ways not previously possible and for dramatic innovation to be unleashed across a broad range of developer communities. Combined, these 5G advances provide for new business models across many industries, and in some cases may even challenge the concept of what a mobile operator is.
5G New Radio is the next generation of mobile radio technology defined by standards organisation 3GPP in June 2018. 5G NR is already live in several markets, such as the USA and Australia, and will soon arrive in the UK. According to the Global Suppliers Association, as of March 2019 there were already 204 operators in 85 countries investing in 5G networks in the form of tests, trials, pilots, planned and actual deployments.
According to Ericsson, the main driving force behind this commitment is the promise of an additional 36 per cent revenue that operators could benefit from, thanks to industry digitalisation by 2026. Energy and utilities are the most prominent 5G sectors, followed by manufacturing.
Applying 5G technology will differ across industries and use cases. A solid understanding of the requirements and domain expertise are essential for technology suppliers to provide fit-for-purpose solutions. Industrial alliances such as the 5G Alliance For Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) and the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) were set up to bridge this gap, and help unleash the business potential of 5G.
There are many more exciting features in the pipeline, specifically around standards. For example, NR-IIoT (New Radio Industrial IoT) is introducing a time sensitive networking (TSN) feature to enable key services needed in factory automation, including time synchronisation and accurate reference timing. It will enable new industrial IoT use cases, particularly for factory automation and electrical power distribution.
More broadly across 5G networks, the drive to web-scale technologies has meant that the industry has embraced technologies such as cloud and microservices, and is providing a more fully-fledged development experience with HTML, allowing for the creation of programmable networks – where the network was previously based in hardware it is now software driven. 5G networks are therefore significantly more flexible, enabling developers to better use their capabilities via a series of network interfaces or APIs. Combined with the 5G NR described above this allows for a series of dramatic new business models to emerge as developers are able to manipulate the underlying network infrastructure for their applications.
Such innovations will allow mobile operators to offer better solutions to enterprises – combining the power of low latency with high-speed analytics will dramatically reframe both the efficiency gains enterprises can make. At the same time, however, it will allow the creation of niche suppliers of mobile services tailored to meet the requirements of specific industries – for example, a shipping port may want to establish its own 5G network for its ecosystem and merely rent the spectrum from a mobile operator. The structure of the mobile industry is therefore likely to shift because of 5G.
Our mobile future is therefore no longer just about increasing wireless connectivity or speeds. Changes in demands from vertical industries, new technology capabilities as well as in the economics of production and value chains, have led to a fundamental shift in the way the digital realm is positioned and capitalised. 5G is an essential part of this shift and is something that all enterprises should monitor with interest.
by Catherine Mulligan, Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Digital panel, CTO DataNet/GovTech Labs @ UCL and Author of 5G Networks: Driving Digitalisation (Elsevier) and Sylvia Lu, Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Digital panel, 5G tech lead at u-blox, Advisory Board Member for UK5G and Board Director for CW (Cambridge Wireless)