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Learning about 5G:
What enterprises need to know about the next generation of connectivity

Connectivity in the enterprise world used to be about connecting buildings and people. The advent of 5G raises the game to encapsulate every moving and fixed asset in the business. The question is how to connect those assets best and leverage that connectedness as part of the business flow.  

5G, for the first time, brings a deterministic flavor to the connectivity of these contributing components. It also brings more accurate location tracking and high definition video to be considered throughout an organization. Furthermore, through network slicing, it brings dedicated network service to discrete elements of the business. Then, there is the higher capacity and lower latency that often get the headlines when discussing 5G in consumer and business contexts.


How 5G impacts different industries

From the business perspective, every flow of information contributing to the way the business works internally and externally can be connected. The challenge for the business leaders is to identify these flows and see how being connected would improve particular areas and create links between formerly separate aspects.  

On one level, putting connectivity into smaller and smaller devices is getting easier. The creation of the eSIM, with no physical element to embed, makes the more minor sensor elements more inclusive. The range of things that can potentially be connected is dramatic, from a seismic sensor plugged into a mine wall to a major piece of industrial equipment costing millions. Having them connected allows a cleaner and frictionless flow of information to support the business.  

In mining, for example, it allows tracking of seismic activity as a background function while also controlling the expensive vehicles that trundle around mining locations. Both have a real-time component. Running those vehicles more efficiently, feeding back location data, maintenance status, operational efficiency, and even human behavior can contribute to a more efficient business running. Data capture and tracking can improve the use of physical assets in any business environment.

In the past, these elements would be addressed by separate and often isolated technologies. Companies would have different networks for different aspects of the business, from TETRA and WiFi to good old-fashioned wiring. All of these come with individual applications for their areas and their life cycles. The arrival of private mobile networks and the availability of spectrum for this purpose is the real game-changer. For the first time, the business can consider using cellular as the means of bringing it all together. For example, in countries like Germany, spectrum has been allocated for this specific purpose.  

The business invests in its 5G private network and essentially controls the flow of everything within the factory, campus, retail environment, and office. Resultant data is kept locally where appropriate and processed via suitable edge computing facilities. When the public network has to be involved, the route to the cloud and a more centralized, global element can be incorporated.

The changing role of communications in the enterprise

5G moves the role of communications from monitoring to controlling. Connected everything will come from improved operational efficiency of machinery, reduced maintenance on equipment, and more efficient distribution of product and service to customers. The calculation of how the cost of increased connectivity stacks up against the investment cost is an individual company issue. It is clear that a combination of 4G, 5G, WiFi, fiber, cloud, and the edge gives businesses the flexibility to deal with that data and turn it into executable information locally, nationally, or globally, according to requirements.

Hence, where businesses formerly saw cellular as an expensive and inappropriate service for supporting business processes and analysis, it should now be seen as an enabler.  This is a way of dramatically improving the supply chain, improving information flow between suppliers, partners, and customers, and driving efficiency into all parts of the business.  

No doubt, the boards of enterprises will want to hear the business case. Identifying an anchor tenant for the private network is an obvious start point. However, once the investment is determined for that anchor tenant, the other elements contribute dramatically to the business. 

Gone are the days of businesses force-fitting their requirements into rigid telecoms service offerings.

In the mining example, the payback on those massive trucks is justified through more efficient operations, uptime, proactive maintenance, and potentially even removing the need for human operators. Other elements of the mine are also connected through the private network, delivering everything from tracking the extracted raw materials to building management and the services employees require on-site or remotely. In short, the networks allow for a holistic view of the business to be captured in real-time. Yes, the data analysis is the vital element, but it can be done remotely if required and all parameters adjusted accordingly.

Educating the enterprise on 5G requires open minds

Education cuts both ways. Gone are the days of businesses force-fitting their requirements into rigid telecoms service offerings. CSPs’ services now have to fit into and around the business processes that drive the particular enterprise. Connectivity is genuinely embedded into every aspect of the business, but today’s and tomorrow’s connectivity services must not constrain how the company works. This requires a greater degree of industry knowledge and may require integration and management skills from several parties. As one Group CIO put it to me, we need ubiquitous, high-quality connectivity in the context of “my” business.  

In short, the roles are reversed: businesses can now have an open mind to think of every process within their organizations and expect connectivity to be built into the support infrastructure. The CSPs and others building and managing private networks can no longer expect the business to adapt to fit in with technology constraints but need to build the different generations of connectivity into those business flows. This will require deeper sector knowledge from the suppliers and their ecosystem but it will embed them into these businesses for the long term.