There has been a great deal of enthusiasm in recent years over the advent of 5G. Now that it has fully arrived, with communications service providers (CSPs) actively investing in radio and core network upgrades, we are seeing that the 5G revolution is indeed real. So, what’s driving this revolution?
As a brief primer, 5G requirements are defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) from which the 3GPP creates specifications for how communications networks will change. These requirements fall into three families of use cases, also known as service categories, called enhanced mobile broadband (EMBB); massive machine type communications (MMTC/massive IoT); and ultra-reliable, low latency communications (URLLC). Each respectively brings about an increase in data rates and more connected devices, along with a reduction in latency when compared to the current mobility standard. These significantly increased requirements are driving fundamental changes in the communications network architecture, which has a profound impact on CSP business models and the types of services CSPs are able to provide to their customers.
In order to support a reduction in network latency and an increase in devices, 5G radio and fixed wireless access equipment will need to move increasingly close to customers, thereby expanding the radius of the network resulting in a new network edge. Use cases that will lean on edge computing include remote surgery and emergency response — both life-critical scenarios that count on highly reliable, low-latency network communication to be available at all times.
Complementary to the concept of network edge computing is network slicing. A network slice is an end-to-end partition of a CSP’s underlying network (underlay network) that is optimized for a specific purpose. The concept of a partitioned, virtual network is not new. CSPs have been providing companies with access to virtual network capacity for decades, with the classic example being a VPN. 5G network slices are different, though, specifically tailored and coupled to the customer services. The real value of the slice comes from it being tuned for a particular service or set of services and expected to adhere to a predefined quality of service (QoS) in accordance with contracted SLAs.
It is important to address the practical applications of these technologies, especially in today’s largely remote work environment. A common example to consider is the remote patient monitoring scenario. As previously discussed, MMTC provides support for the propagation of intelligent devices, like those a patient under a physician’s care could wear to regularly monitor their vital signs (e.g., heart rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure). EMBB and URLLC work together to provide the ability to capture and aggregate large volumes of biometric data in real-time — data that a physician may want to access and review on a daily basis.
While it is possible that some CSPs may decide to transition into health care, it is more likely that the industry will see partnerships in B2B2X business models with companies who specialize in IoT-based remote health monitoring to deliver this service. CSPs will need a way to onboard these partners with low commercial and technical friction, and quickly assemble the service into a joint offer in the CSP’s commercial catalog of services.
The patient is the ultimate beneficiary and consumer of the service, requiring a channel by which to digitally engage with their CSP to review the service offerings, choose essential add-ons that are automatically recommended based on an intelligent AI-enabled ordering process, and select service billing options that will likely be a combination of monthly subscription and usage charges.
From there, most of the workload for monitoring the patient’s health must occur in the cloud and, because the data is captured in real time, data aggregation must be in proximity of the sensors, requiring edge cloud. These edge clouds are already under active development by CSP and IaaS vendors alike, with geographical coverage rapidly increasing. Due to the sensitivity of the data, these edge clouds must be fully secure and compliant with any management standards related to the handling of health-related data, like HIPAA. In short, end-to-end security of the service is a critical element and must be natively inherent in the communications and IT networks over which 5G services will be delivered.
The main factor driving the 5G revolution across CSPs in 2020 is the expectation that technological advances in communications networks, as well as businesses and operational support systems, will materially improve the way we live, work, and play. We have discussed a few examples of these improvements enabled by 5G innovations, but there are many more with some yet to be discovered. 5G is a revolutionary technology — a paradigm shift that will meaningfully transform today’s societal and business norms.