Connectivity in the enterprise world used to be about connecting buildings and people. The advent of 5G raises the game to encapsulate every moving and fixed asset in the business. The question is how to best connect those assets and how to leverage that connectedness as part of the business flow. 5G, for the first time, brings a deterministic flavour to the connectivity of these contributing components. It also brings more accurate location tracking and high definition video to be considered throughout an organisation. Furthermore, through ‘slicing’, it brings dedicated network service to discrete elements of the business. This is not to mention the higher capacity and lower latency that often get the headlines when discussing 5G in consumer and business contexts.
From the business perspective, every flow of information contributing to the way the business works internally and externally can be connected. The challenge for the business leaders (right from the top) is to identify these flows and to see how being connected would improve individual areas as well as the benefits of linking formerly separate aspects. On one level, putting connectivity into smaller and smaller devices is getting easier. The creation of the eSIM , with no physical element to embed, makes the smaller sensor elements more inclusive. The range of ‘things’ that can potentially be connected is dramatic; from a seismic sensor plugged into a mine wall to a major piece of industrial equipment costing millions. Having them connected allows cleaner and frictionless flow of information to support the business. In the mining example, it allows tracking seismic activity as a background function whilst also controlling the expensive vehicles that trundle around mining locations. Both have a realtime component. One seems more critical but, in fact, running those vehicles more efficiently, feeding back location, maintenance status, operational efficiency and even human behaviour can all contribute to a more efficient running of the business. Take any business environment, and a similar range of data capture can be tracked to improve the use of physical and human assets.
In the past these elements would have been addressed by separate and often isolated technologies. Different networks for different aspects of the business from TETRA and WiFi to good old fashioned wiring. All of these come with individual applications for their areas and their own life cycles. The arrival of private mobile networks and the availability of spectrum for this purpose is the real game changer. The business can, for the first time, consider using cellular as the means of bringing it all together. This is easier where spectrum has been allocated for this specific purpose, such as in Germany, but it can also be addressed in conjunction with the mobile operators. The difference is that each piece being connected does not require a separate subscription. The business invests in its 5G private network and essentially controls the flow of everything within the factory, campus, retail environment and office. Resultant data is kept local where appropriate, and processed via suitable edge compute facilities. Where the public network has to be involved, then the route out to the cloud and a more centralised, global element can easily be incorporated.
5G moves the role of communications on from monitoring to controlling. Connected everything will come from improved operational efficiency of vehicles, reduced maintenance on equipment and more efficient distribution of product and service to customers. The calculation of how the cost of increased connectivity stacks up against the cost of investment is an individual company issue. What is clear is that a combination of 4G, 5G, WiFi, fibre, cloud and the Edge gives business the flexibility to deal with that data and turn it into executable information locally, nationally or globally, according to requirements.
Hence, where business formerly saw cellular as an expensive and inappropriate service for supporting business processes and analysis, it should now be seen as an enabler. This is a way of dramatically improving the supply chain, improving information flow between suppliers, partners and customers and driving efficiency into all parts of the business. No doubt the Boards of enterprises will want to hear the business case. Identifying an anchor tenant for the private network is an obvious start point. However, once the investment is identified for that anchor tenant, the other elements contribute dramatically to the business. In the mining example, the payback on those massive trucks is justified through more efficient operations, uptime, proactive maintenance and potentially even removing the need for human operators. All the other elements of the mine are also connected through the private network, delivering everything from tracking the raw materials being extracted through to building management and the services employees require on site or remotely. In short, the networks allows for a holistic view of the business to be captured in real time. Yes, the analysis of that data is the vital element but it can be done remotely if required and all parameters adjusted accordingly.
Education cuts both ways. Gone are the days of business force-fitting their requirements into rigid telecoms service offerings. The services that CSPs now provide have to fit into and around the business processes that drive the particular enterprise. Connectivity is truly embedded into every aspect of the business, but today’s and tomorrow’s connectivity services must not constrain the way the business works. This requires a greater degree of industry knowledge and may require integration and management skills from a number of parties. As one Group CIO put it to me, we need ubiquitous, high quality connectivity in the context of “my” business.
In short, the roles are reversed: businesses can now have an open-mind to think of every process within their organisations and expect connectivity to be built into the support infrastructure. The CSPs, and others building and managing private networks, can no longer expect the business to adapt to fit in with the constraints of technology, but need to build the different generations of connectivity into those business flows. This will require deeper sector knowledge from the suppliers and their ecosystem but it will embed them into these businesses for the long term.