Written by Ste Ashton of 5G Testbed as a Service nexGworx
Much has been written about the potential benefits of 5G: from higher bandwidth; low latency; and ultra-secure networks; to the ability to process terabytes of data at lightening speeds. The technology presents not only an opportunity to unleash the potential of existing infrastructure but also to make the most of new developments such as AI, machine learning, mixed reality and digital twins.
As with any new technology, there are a host of potential benefits as well as challenges to overcome along the way. Getting started with 5G is not a simple ‘plug and play’ process – it is an evolving filed with limited pre-worn paths to tread and different objectives for every business, but there are now a variety of players who can help you begin your digital journey.
So, who do you need on your team and what do you need to know to become an informed customer?
Starting from the beginning, it’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve from your 5G journey. With multiple potential use cases, from tracking equipment and enabling AI-driven training to identifying under-utilised capacity and encouraging greater supply chain collaboration, it can be difficult to know where to start.
It is crucial to accept that it is a journey. Start with one clear objective or use case but be conscious that this is likely to evolve – in most cases expand – once you get underneath the hood of the process and identify additional ways 5G networks can power positive change.
For those who think smart, connected operations are interesting but ‘not for the likes of us’, take a second look. Explore what other businesses are trialling and speak to industry professionals who can help you identify relevant use cases for your business.
You do not necessarily need your own private 5G network – accessing public networks or developing shared private networks with similar businesses can all help you get your digital transformation journey off the ground.
While a recent CapGemini report suggested that 40% of businesses looking to begin their 5G journeys were planning to do so using an entirely in-house team, in our experience, a team made up of internal personnel and external specialists is usually required.
What is is essential is that any team needs to be multi-disciplinary. We often hear stories where companies have asked one member of their team – usually in I.T. – to explore the 5G landscape, but this significantly limits the impact. Creating a working group of multi-disciplinary experts is far more likely to result in success, allowing you to identify and prioritise multiple use cases and understand how they impact on each other, ensuring systems and programmes are optimised from the start. This group should include operations directors, change managers, logistics teams and shop-floor staff. It can also be useful to engage key clients or suppliers at the earliest stages to amplify productivity gains and prevent communications or logistics issues down the line.
Telecoms providers and mobile operators can be crucial facilitators during the early stages of 5G adoption, providing essential advice on when 5G will be available in your location, as well as other options you may need to consider, such as private indoor or outdoor networks, public mobile networks or hybrid infrastructure.
5G testbeds also have a role to play, allowing you to try out processes off- or on-site, experiment with different networks and test use cases to highlight issues you need to consider in your implementation plan. Crucially, as testbed providers usually work with lots of different companies, they can also bring the benefit of experience gained elsewhere to your 5G project. This ensures you have an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of different suppliers, and makes sure you are up to date with latest developments in key areas, such as security.
It is also worth considering the benefits of working with hyperscalers, such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google, or the alternative connectivity platform and ‘network software’ providers. These companies offer a range of services, from applications to virtualised network cores, which are readily scalable and can be used with a range of radio networks. By using shared spectrum licenses, traditional mobile operators don’t need to be involved, making this a cost-effective way to get started and try out ideas before committing to more significant investment.
Finally, systems integrators and professional services providers can be useful allies, working with any or all of the above to build your strategy, facilitate and organise network build and use case integration.
As with all emerging markets, every player has their own commercial interests so investing time to develop your own understanding and setting clear initial objectives is crucial if you want to be an informed customer who can steer your own journey.
In a sector where industry norms have yet to be standardised, adopting a more collaborative approach can also offer a number of potential benefits: ensuring change programmes integrate with key partners’ operations; giving you the critical mass to actively shape your industry’s direction of travel; reducing costs and bringing fresh perspectives to unleash greater productivity gains.
Change is always challenging but, just as the industrial revolution brought huge benefits to the western world, the fourth industrial revolution – powered by 5G technology – promises huge benefits for companies of all sizes. It won’t always be easy but, for those who seize the initiative, the potential rewards are great. Are you ready for the journey?