Fourth Industrial Revolution

Why businesses must drive the next evolution in global connectivity

5G is about much more than faster download speeds to mobile devices.

5G is about much more than faster download speeds to mobile devices. Image: Unsplash

Phil Mottram
Senior Vice-President, Communications Technology Group, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
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  • Deployment of 5G networks is resource-intensive will require support from businesses.
  • Businesses stand to benefit significantly from 5G innovation and will be the driving force behind adoption.
  • To accelerate global growth post-pandemic, 5G needs to be integrated with the other prominent technologies including WiFi and the cloud.

Conventional wisdom tells us that every business is now a technology business. Through the explosion of devices that compute in some form or another – from cars and phones to medical devices and farming equipment – the lines between the ‘technology’ sector and other industries blur into transparency. As we stand on the precipice of another era-defining technological shift, as outlined in the World Economic Forum’s 5G outlook series, there is good reason to predict that every business is about to become a 5G business as well.

The evolution in previous generations of cellular networks has enabled increasingly better services for individual consumers, and hence the adoption of 3G and 4G was to a large extent driven by consumer demand.

5G, on the other hand, is about much more than faster download speeds to mobile devices.

Smart cities, cloud-enabled crop management, digitised healthcare systems and long-awaited autonomous vehicles will all be enabled by 5G. While individual citizens and consumers stand to benefit greatly from all these innovations, it is not a monthly increase to cell phone plans that will pay for them. It is businesses and public sector organisations that will adopt and utilise the vast array of new technologies enabled by 5G, and this opportunity for innovation is what will drive value back to network operators deploying this new and expensive infrastructure across the world.

Opportunity for innovation with true 5G

For businesses to start integrating new 5G-enabled services, telecom operators themselves must continue to adopt the latest 5G network technologies, as many of the high-profile innovations linked to 5G can only be realized when networks are upgraded with 5G cores – the ‘brains’ of networks. Once installed, network operators will be able to provide dedicated superfast speeds and guarantee low latency connectivity for services that require instantaneous data transfers, services such as industrial IoT devices and telehealth systems, through a concept of dividing the network into channels – also known as network ‘slicing’. This potential for organisation-level innovation will drive progression in network infrastructure itself, with positive outcomes for consumers as well.

Alongside this, 5G represents an immediate opportunity for telcos to deliver new cloud computing services at the edge of their networks. To give an example: Some applications, including those that need faster download speeds, optimized bandwidth or particular security requirements, are better suited to the edge. These apps can be hosted on cloud infrastructure close to the user, such as at an office, or on street furniture: If you have a connected car communicating with a traffic light, low latency is crucial, but that data doesn’t need to be transferred hundreds of miles to a cloud data center because the information is only required for 30 seconds.

Telecom operators and cloud providers see this opportunity and are moving quickly to offer cloud services at the edge via the 5G network, another crucial avenue where telcos will start to realize a return on their investment in deploying 5G. Again, the benefit to individual consumers is apparent but the innovation required is for businesses in the first instance.

Connectivity to power global growth

Together with the desire for new and innovative services, there is a pressing need to increase connectivity and start driving economic expansion as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 5G will undoubtedly play a significant role in addressing these needs but it cannot do so in a vacuum.

GSMA estimates that 5G will cover one-third of the world’s population by 2025, adding $2.2tn to the global economy by 2034, while research commissioned by the WiFi alliance notes that the global economic value of WiFi will reach $3.3tn this year and $4.9tn by 2025. Similarly, opportunities from convergence are becoming clearer as 5G and the latest iteration of WiFi - WiFi6 - are understood to be complimentary technologies that together will transform entire sectors.

A 2020 report from Deloitte found that 86% of networking executives believed that 5G and WiFi6 will be transformational to their organizations, and 79% believed this scale of impact will extend to their industries as a whole as well. The foundation for widespread adoption of next-generation networking technologies is evident in the private sector.

Image: Deloitte

Enabling digital transformation at the society level

As the IT and telecommunications sectors become increasingly intertwined, there is now a broader ecosystem of companies contributing to the evolution of networking technology that will shape our economies in years to come. For example, in Fort Collins, Colorado, HPE has established a shared lab to enable this ecosystem to come together and trial new 5G solutions ahead of deployment in the real world, and in 2020 – in response to changing customer requirements - we launched a cloud native 5G Core network software and hardware platform on HPE Greenlake. We are encouraged by the level of ambition and innovation taking place in the telco sector and while it is clear that businesses will be propelling adoption, we are excited about the potential ramifications for businesses, governments, and individuals alike.

To ensure the many innovations enabled by next-generation networks become a reality, businesses from all sectors should be alive to the potential of 5G - and it’s convergence with WiFi - while governments must do all they can to enable roll out. The prosect of fully digitally enabled economies and a new Age of Insight defined by discoveries that benefit all of society, depend upon it.

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