I recently delivered the opening keynote at CCS Insight's annual predictions event, where we hosted several hundred guests from across the technology industry. Conversations were striking in terms of the perceptions around 5G's status and use cases. There's undeniable hype and excitement as we approach widespread commercial rollout, but there is also significant misunderstanding as to the role 5G plays. This was something we anticipated going into the event and wanted to address directly.
We firmly believe that the age of interconnected machines is upon us as a huge diversity of endpoints creates a massive amount of data. This will range from simple sensors in an agricultural setting to factories generating millions of gigabytes a day. This will form the basis of a new data-driven economy, but for that to happen the value needs to be extracted from the data created. That is no inconsiderable challenge given the need to deploy and manage a broad proliferation of machines and secure, analyze, prioritize, transport, optimize and create process improvements from the data created.
We believe that for this to happen, several key technologies will have to be embraced in an integrated approach to a very complex problem. IoT will generate massive quantities of data, but AI will be essential to make sense of that data, Blockchain will fulfill a role in establishing identity and trust, and connectivity will be the critical element in seamlessly and intelligently moving the data.
This is the vision for 5G. 5G will be a unifying connectivity fabric that operates in low-, mid- and high-band frequencies to provide a comprehensive blend of capacity, coverage, throughput, low latency and low-power connectivity. That’s a decidedly ambitious vision but one that is critical to the new data economy.
It also goes far beyond the traditional notion of “connectivity.” It comes down to a fundamental change in how the network is architected. It must be defined in software so it can be sliced in real time to respond to demands across a multitude of different use cases from mobile broadband to mission-critical services and massive industrial machine to machine. It will also need to adapt so compute can occur right across the network, from the cloud to the network edge and right down to the devices themselves. We examined this topic of edge computing recently here.
It also means that use cases are endless yet difficult to pinpoint and attribute a value to today. We are the first to emphasize the big difference between near-term carrier priorities, which are largely based on the need for more capacity, and the longer-term vision for 5G. However, it’s important to create the network today to help these new use cases scale and establish themselves. The movement of more compute and intelligence toward the source of the data is a big part of creating a more efficient network that can enable a wave of new use cases. As everything becomes connected, 5G will have to adapt to requirements we can scarcely fathom today. This happened with 4G as the app economy enabled new business models such as Uber and AirBnB that didn’t exist in the 3G era.
The good news is that the key proponents in networks and chipsets understand this vision and are investing aggressively to make 5G a reality. It’s even a government imperative in a growing number of cases. In the meantime, the industry needs to collectively avoid an overemphasis on speed as the holy grail of 5G and maintain a focus on the value it stands to deliver at the heart of a data-driven economy.
Geoff Blaber is vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. Based in California, Blaber heads CCS Insight’s Americas business and supports the range of clients located in this territory. Blaber's research focus spans a broad spectrum of mobility and technology, including the lead role in semiconductors. He is a well-known member of the analyst community and provides regular commentary to leading news organizations such as Reuters, the Financial Times and The Economist. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffblaber.
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