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Ripples for 5G Rollout?

April 27, 2020
Q&A looks at how the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint could impact its rollout – and what it means for manufacturers.

5G has received significant buzz within manufacturing circles. And for good reason. For the first time, the wireless sector is introducing technology that promises to help manufacturers further empower growing IoT networks with an appealing blend of speed, consistency and capacity. 

Of course, widespread rollout remains on the horizon, and for many manufacturers achieving the results they desire may require additional investments. Read on as VoltDB’s CPO Dheeraj Remella talks with IndustryWeek about how the T-Mobile-Sprint merger impacts the ongoing 5G rollout.

IW: How will the merger impact 5G rollout?

Remella: According to the GSMA, 5G has gained significant traction over the past year and is now live in 24 markets worldwide. The finalized T-Mobile and Sprint merger brings two distinctly different focuses together. T-Mobile has been focusing on ensuring complete coverage, albeit at 600 MHz spectrum (slower than 4G LTE), for rural coverage (5G for everyone). Sprint has been focusing on mid-band Sub-6 GHz spectrum that is fast enough, travels far enough, has enough bandwidth to serve the purposes of smart city implementations while also providing better than 4G LTE speeds/experience for consumers. The combination of these communication service providers (CSPs) will give consumers access to a faster, more efficient network and expand access to 5G across the U.S.

Since T-Mobile operates on the lowest band of 5G, so while its customers, including those in more rural areas, will have 5G on their mobile device, measurable increases in speed or mobile experiences will be slim to nonexistent. In urban areas, it will support network density and enable more devices to connect to existing towers. Sprint customers, on the other hand, will see more of a mix of speed and density enhancements. Customers in urban areas who consume large amounts of data, like the volumes associated with gaming and augmented reality, will notice an improved user experience. It will be interesting to see if the merged entity will make any investments or inroads into smart city enablement.

For Industry 4.0 enterprises, I am skeptical about this combination of low band and mid-band spectrum addressing the extreme levels of performance, latency and speeds needed for something like Multi-Access Edge Computing in an industrial setup with hundreds of thousands of sensors pumping telemetry data to make decisions driving automated actions. This will require investment into the over 20 GHz spectrum and private 5G. It is well recognized that industrial and enterprise applications are the keys to unlock 5G monetization compared to subscribers, and consumers. It will be exciting to see what new investments, if any, T-Mobile/Sprint is going to make in this space.

IW: Why is 5G important to manufacturers?

Remella: Manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to streamline their processes, like through machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, to help improve automation and effectively monitor their production processes to avoid unplanned downtime. As 5G continues to roll out, the manufacturing industry is expected to benefit greatly from the network’s increased connectivity and speed, using its intelligent connectivity to drive robotic process automation, sensors and modernized Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems to incorporate decisions and actions in real-time in addition to acquisition. The enhanced speed and scale of 5G is expected to help streamline production, improve product quality and reduce machinery downtime.

IW: What do you see as the obstacles to getting the most out of what 5G offers?

Remella: CSPs are promising a lot with these early 5G rollouts, especially when it comes to the speed and availability of 5G services. The reality is that the infrastructure for a successful 5G network is not yet in place for widespread adoption, and it will take time before consumers will experience direct benefits. Enterprises that make investments in IoT devices, or any deployments close to the edge, will be among the first beneficiaries of 5G to take advantage of its speed and scale enhancements. The main reason behind this is because an enterprise can deploy small cell technology within its premise without needing any city permits and other red tapes.

At a city level, in order to effectively provide coverage for higher speeds, 5G networks will require 10 to 100 times as many small cell antennae as would a major tower. Traditional towers will no longer make the cut. You can see this in the recent investments by companies like American Tower and Crown Castle. In order to monetize their 5G rollout, CSPs need to move to a standalone 5G core that can support both 4G eNodeB and the New Radio upgrade their billing systems to support the changes in the 5G Core’s service based architecture without compromising on reliability, availability and accuracy of the BSS systems. These systems need to support the new charging triggers getting added in the upcoming 3GPP specifications.

In addition to implementation challenges, the increased volume of data generated by 5G will create new security risks, with a heightened threat of fraud and network breaches. Enterprises cannot keep up with the barrage of data in a threat reconciliation model where the threat event has already happened. To protect themselves, organizations will need to leverage 5G’s speed and connectivity capabilities to implement artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) systems that can detect abnormalities from event data streaming in from multiple sources to identify a threat as it is about to happen to be able to actively prevent the threat from materializing. By detecting critical signals early on, it becomes easier for organizations to avoid failures, breaches, revenue loss, or loss of consumer trust.

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