5G and the Data-Driven Economy

Connectivity Is One of a Potent Quartet of Technologies

I recently delivered the opening keynote at CCS Insight’s annual predictions event in London, where we hosted several hundred guests from across the technology industry. Talking to attendees at the event, I was struck by several people’s perceptions about the status and potential uses for 5G technology. There’s undeniable hype and excitement as we approach widespread commercial roll-outs, but there’s also significant misunderstanding about the role 5G plays. This was something we anticipated when creating the event and wanted to address directly.

We firmly believe that the age of interconnected machines is upon us as a huge diversity of end points creates a massive amount of data. These machines will range from simple sensors in an agricultural setting to factories generating millions of gigabytes a day. They 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 plethora of machines and secure, analyze, prioritize, transport, optimize data and create process improvements from it.

We believe that for this to happen, several key technologies will have to be embraced in an integrated approach to a very complex problem. The Internet of things will generate massive quantities of data but artificial intelligence will be essential to make sense of it; blockchain will fulfill a role in establishing identity and trust, and connectivity will be the critical element in seamlessly and intelligently moving the data around.

This is the vision for 5G. The technology 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. It’s a decidedly ambitious vision, but one that is critical to the new data economy.

It also goes way 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 by a multitude of different uses, from mobile broadband to mission-critical services and massive industrial machine-to-machine connections. It will also need to adapt so computing can occur across the network, from the cloud to the network edge and right down to the devices themselves. We examined the topic of edge computing recently here.

It also means that usage scenarios for 5G are endless yet difficult to pinpoint and attribute a value to today. We are the first to emphasize the big difference between operators’ near-term 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 uses grow and establish themselves. The movement of more computing power and intelligence toward the source of data is a big part of creating a more efficient network that can enable a wave of new uses for the technology. 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 like those of Uber and Airbnb that didn’t exist in the 3G era.

The good news is that the major proponents in networks and chipsets understand this vision and are investing heavily to make 5G a reality. It’s even a government imperative in more and more countries. In the meantime, the industry needs to collectively avoid 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.

A version of this article was first published by FierceWireless on 24 October 2018.