5G is well on its way. What does that mean for industry?
round the world, telecommunications networks are gearing up to launch 5G in 2019. That’ll mean more connected devices than ever before, phones that can be used as VR headsets—and represents a profound industry shift.
To learn more, Industrious spoke to Marisa Viveros and Arpit Joshipura. Viveros leads strategy and offerings of IBM’s telecommunications, media, and entertainment industry, where she focuses on 5G network and its business implications. Arpit Joshipura is the Linux Foundation Networking general manager. He works, speaks, and writes widely about open source software.
Is 2019 the year of 5G?
Viveros: For me, 5G is the next technological change in our industry. There’s an extreme demand for applications with rich user experiences—including video—with high-speed, low latency, and energy efficiency. 5G has the characteristics to enable the requirements customers and enterprises have now and will have in the future.
5G is an important mobile communication technology. The possibilities are very exciting, and our industry needs changes on a periodic basis.
Why are changes a good thing?
Viveros: When mobile communications began a few years ago, we had second generation, or 2G, that allowed us to make phone calls. The phones were extremely big, and batteries only lasted a few hours. Then we went to 3G: phones got much smaller, allowed us to send short text messages with multimedia. The whole area—not just connectivity but communications—got richer. Then we went to 4G, which opened the wide set of applications with internet connectivity we see in mobile phones today. New business models came along, from making travel reservations to paying for parking via an app.
Every generation has brought not only faster communication and better user experience, but new possibilities from a business perspective.
Joshipura: Each technology change Marisa mentioned was mostly a linear change: speed went up, bandwidth went up, latency went down.
5G is a complete mindset change. Two important points here.
First: with those tech advantages, you have machine to machine communications. You move from 3.5 billion phones to 20 billion connected devices and connected things. It’s a completely different connectivity, transport, and application game. The scale is exponential.
Second is the process change, including automation and business processes. Today’s manual processes won’t work. We cannot have an IoT device connected to 5G that’s waiting for an operator for service.
Those two aspects are what makes 5G so exciting. We at the Linux Foundation, along with IBM and others, are working on solving the second issue—the network automation. Making sure that telecommunications networks are autonomous, automated, and zero touch.
For telcos, why is 5G such an important play in 2019?
Joshipura: Technologies come in cycles. There’s a set amount of time required to standardize the radio technology. That standardization happens all the way from radio to devices to PlayStations.
What’s different is that we in the software world are getting ahead of the standardization game thanks to open source.
5G would normally first be deployed on devices, and then the back-end.
Here, networking systems are getting ready from an operational perspective before the first radio tower hits.
Viveros: Building networks takes time. To go from metropolitan areas to rural areas can be three-year, even five-year investments for telcos. They need to start now so that 5G can be massively available by 2021, 2022.
Building the network is one aspect. The other is building the devices—all the new model phones and sensors Arpit mentioned—so they can be deployed seamlessly within those environments.
The fact that this takes time is an opportunity for telecommunication companies to apply AI and automation in all aspects of network engineering, from design and build to operation and maintenance.
This is almost like a perfect storm that will enable the new user experiences and new services we all want to provide to users in the future, while taking advantage of high bandwidth, low latency, and improved energy management.
How can we monetize 5G?
Viveros: That question is coming up for each of our clients, not just in telecommunications but also industries as well.
One of the driving premises of 5G is that it will enable Industry 4.0—more connected devices, deployment on the manufacturing floor, even remote surgery. That level of precision will be enabled by those fast, low-latency networks.
5G brings an opportunity for telcos to participate in a much larger and more diverse ecosystem. That’s exciting because enhancing that ecosystem with 4.0 will bring new revenue streams for the telcos.
Joshipura: With monetization, you have to separate the end users from the vendors and system operators.
Operators spend a set of capex (capital expenditures) on services to get technology. For that, they have a revenue stream they get from consumers, or business services.
My view is that 5G actually changes the business model.
The first thing that happens is the total addressable market goes up. Now you have more, larger equipment types beyond phones and infrastructure gear. There’s a larger capex pool from a market size perspective.
Your savings on operational expenses, opex, will go down in terms of automation. Operators will spend less money on maintaining and managing networks. They will move that money over to services and customization, to development, to enable new applications.
With suppliers, Marisa said it well. Systems vendors and integrators now have a broader base to capture in terms of selling. But the money they will receive is more services, customization, integration.
Viveros: That’s a perfect segue into why there’s a new wave of open source software. Other industries, like government, have been on the wave of open source for some time. For our industry it’s new, and it’s becoming more and more relevant and important.
It’s about doing our research and development in a much less expensive manner, and using the combined power of all the companies working on a particular problem. We can bring all that together for the benefit of our client.
Arpit and I started working together on an open network application platform, for network management and operation. That’s now become a bigger umbrella, the Linux Foundation Networking project.
We’re collectively responding to clients who say, ‘I need all this sophisticated software but can no longer afford to build it on my own. I need the collective power of all developers to make that software a reality.’
Most importantly, sharing common architectures and platforms across different telcos and providers will allow us to get to the scales we’re all looking for. Then we can move to the next level, add more valuable services.
Joshipura: Very well said.
The telco industry is 143 years old. I’m counting since the phone was invented.
In just the last three years, it’s moved into an open source world. With projects like the one Marisa described, we have the participation of nearly 70 percent of global subscribers through the service providers. We have all 10 networking vendors participating actively. We’re working closely with all the standards bodies. We have a huge developer base and releases that are moving into deployment and production. And we have a big certification program to onboard virtual network functions (VNF) automatically.
We’re getting to a new wave of automation based on open source that will enable end users and suppliers to cooperatively build and get ready for the world of 5G.
What will this mean for the workforce in the short-term and the long-term?
Joshipura: Since 5G is a mindset change, that includes technology, process, and people.
From the people perspective, there’s quite a bit of retooling required. Admins who historically ran the network now need to understand software development. They don’t necessarily have to be software developers, but they need to understand it.
We’ve already seen telcos launch huge training programs to allow for that retooling.
People’s mindsets need to change, and their skill sets need to be updated—these should include software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), cloud native, OpenStack. Many of these courses are offered by the Linux Foundation and are free. IBM also has a number of trade courses. Everyone is trying to help reskill people.
In the next three years, we’ll see a whole new breed of engineers trained in DevOps and born with this new mindset.
Thirty years ago nobody got trained on the guts of the system. Now they know what goes inside, so they’d better get trained on it. Universities are stepping up on courses, organizations like ours are also stepping up.
Viveros: I fully agree on training current employees on hardware and software engineering. And there are so many tools right now to help them do their jobs better and in a more contemporary way. That learning curve may not be as big as suspected.
I also want to bring up the developer community. So many people of all ages are pumping out code, contributing to big missions around the world. Capturing that community’s new ideas into this new ecosystem is important.
We recently did a hackathon with a number of young people in the telco space. We gave them a number of APIs and challenged them to develop new applications. They developed what they called an “internet of parks.” They put a sensor into every trashcan in the park, and each time the sensor detected the can was full, park workers would come and clean it. So the park was always clean.
I couldn’t have imagined an application like that, but the young minds—over a weekend—got it done.