5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections. While cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, the take-up has slowed a little in 2020.
To gain an insight into the future trajectory of 5G, Digital Journal caught up with Vinay Ravuri, CEO of EdgeQ (a 5G systems-on-a-chip company) around enterprise 5G adoption, 5G geopolitics, the rise of open network systems, and AI-enabled automation bringing manufacturing back to U.S..
Digital Journal: As enterprise 5G deployments gain steam, will the spotlight shift to the true value of 5G?
We will see a substantial increase in 5G trial initiatives by enterprises over the next 12 months, especially in verticals such as manufacturing, energy and surveillance, to enable mission-critical applications that require low latency. In 2021, consumer handsets will remain the most widely adopted 5G use case, focused on allowing faster data speeds for users, before being overtaken by enterprise applications in 2022.
These enterprise and industrial deployments will offer more radical disruptions and significant value-added services and apps associated with 5G. They will utilize new attributes and properties, such as Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), Massive-Machine Type Communications (MMTC), and private bands which are uniquely 5G. (For example, when a mobile device misses frames while playing a YouTube video, this will only impact the user in a minor way. However, when an industrial surveillance drone or autonomous vehicle loses connection or is slow to receive critical signals, it may crash endangering safety, or leave field staff vulnerable to accidents and leading to significant equipment and property damages.)
Efforts like CBRS and O-RAN will allow enterprises to deploy private 5G networks at lower operating price points, allow new providers to enter the market, and bridge the digital divide.
We may see traditional consumer 5G vendors entering the enterprise space, but these companies will struggle to pivot away from the traditional consumer markets based on available internal resources and expertise. Incumbents will certainly not ignore the enterprise market; however, they are not likely to put all their eggs in that basket as newer players will.
DJ: Will 5G geopolitics halt adoption?
Although the ever-changing global permissions regarding Huawei equipment usage may impact the companies’ investment in innovation and profitability, this trend will not affect overall 5G adoption. Instead, these uncertainties provide an opening for innovative startups to gain footing in the market. In 2021, driven by the rapidly increasing demand for 5G, country bans on specific equipment vendors will not impact 5G adoption or innovation and instead open up the prospect base for other vendors.
Equally, customer and market innovation of 5G will predicate on innovation at the silicon level. This will give rise to innovation at both a software and hardware level. Operators and OEMs will also look for novel solutions that can achieve new levels of performance, power, and TCO apart from existing traditional merchant silicon offerings.
DJ: As network systems become open, what do businesses need to do?
Similar to what happened in the data center space, OpenRAN (O-RAN) will become more mainstream, challenging monolithic solutions of the past. Prior to the open source software trend for data centers, large companies such as Dell, HP and IBM dominated in this market. When companies like Facebook and Google stepped into this space, they popularized the belief that monolithic solutions are outdated, and companies should instead disaggregate the hardware from software and use open source software rather than commercial. Today, as a result of open compute standards, commoditized hardware, and open source software offerings, the market is much more democratized, which has resulted in lower costs, increased vendor competition, more customization, and more room for innovation.
No matter the hype, 5G vendors are still highly consolidated today. To scale 5G solutions with efficiency, intelligence and versatility, the market will prioritize O-RAN solutions rather than monolithic. We will see white-box hardware and open source software elements from different vendors. O-RAN will present the opportunity for a lot more startups to get hold in this space. We have already seen big cloud operations making announcements and investments in open source technology in 2020, and this wave will continue in 2021 and beyond.
Will AI-enabled automation at the edge bring manufacturing back to U.S.?
Enabled by reliable, high-performance 5G connectivity and real-time edge computing capabilities, enterprises will more rapidly implement AI technology to support various use cases across their organizations, including robotic assembly lines, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality training, and more. These intelligent, AI-driven solutions will automate traditional, manual processes to increase performance and visibility while lowering cost.
Traditional manufacturing settings employ a significant amount of manual labor. To keep operational costs low, many industries have taken their factories outside of the U.S. By implementing AI throughout factories, manufacturing can automate many resource-expensive tasks. For example, Tesla was able to place its factories in one of the world's most expensive geographies by automating most of its factory functions. By utilizing AI to operate their robot workers, there is a massive opportunity for the western world to reshore or nearshore manufacturing operations. In 2021, manufacturers will lay the groundwork for company-wide, cost-effective industrial automation. Over the next five years, we will see these industries completely transform themselves due to the automating power of real-time AI.