The 5G Revolution
5G wireless networks are coming online around the world. If your instant reaction to that news is that, you know, maybe that means YouTube videos will load a little faster—well, buckle up. Because the magic of 5G will be the stuff you can’t even see coming.
What I’m excited about with 5G is like, what are those really transformative, mind-blowing use cases that are just lurking right around the corner? And that’s going to come with very innovative software developers. Once these networks are built out and they can play with the technology, that’s when that innovation is going to come.
The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.
This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.
When 4G networks came online a decade ago, we thought the killer app would be better streaming video. And, of course, streaming video is great. But the defining technologies that emerged in the 4G era are things that weren’t even on our radar back then—things like ride-sharing, mobile payments, even podcasting. Project teams will take the possibilities rendered by 5G and turn them into things most of us haven’t yet envisioned.
We have guesses, of course, such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicle operation. And those potential use cases are useful because it gives the network builders something to work toward and a chance to collaborate with the downstream teams that will ultimately build the things that run on 5G networks.
Let’s welcome Will Townsend, senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy in Austin, Texas, USA. Will, what aspects of 5G are going to be most influential in driving innovation on projects over the next few years?
So from a G perspective, there has been a lot of hype around 5G and what it can deliver and sort of the use cases that it’s going to unlock. It’s not just about speed. And so from my perspective, what’s really revolutionary with 5G is latency. And latency defined is just the response time for applications like video.
And typically what we’ve experienced in our current LTE 4G networks is a latency response time of 20 to 30-plus milliseconds. With 5G, with mobile 5G, when we get to that standalone architecture that is comprised of a 5G core network and a 5G radio access network, we’ll be able to realize sub-five-millisecond latency. Now you might not think, hey, five is just, five is five versus 20 or 30. But in those terms, it’s night and day.
And what that’s going to do, it’s basically going to be able to facilitate near real-time, high-definition 4K, 8K, whatever you want to call it, video without a single buffer experience. And so if you think about the applications for public safety, autonomous driving, I mean, a lot of this technology like today with autonomous driving and the technology that Tesla deploys, it uses lidar technology and in cameras. So it’s all about the transmission and throughput, but also latency factors very heavily there.
Right, if a surgeon is going to conduct an operation remotely, there can’t be a lag between when they physically move and when the machine that they’re controlling reacts. But if that lag vanishes, then it becomes possible—and that’s what 5G enables.
Another key characteristic of 5G is edge computing, which is the idea that 5G requires network builders to push more computing power closer to end users. What’s made this possible is pizza box-sized devices that can be bolted onto existing telecom infrastructure. Will, what’s an early example of what this sort of infrastructure is making possible?
AT&T is doing a great job with edge. One great example with AT&T and IoT is, they have a relationship with Red Bull where they help develop a smart replenishment system. Red Bull is automatically informed through a host of different kind of technology pieces as to okay, is the cooler an optimal temperature to serve the beverage because Red Bull is very particular about the temperature of the beverage.
And as those cases become depleted, it actually triggers automatic replenishment and rolls trucks to go replenish those. And AT&T has been a part of that. So to shift gears out of the U.S. and talk about Asia, SK Telecom in South Korea has been a real innovator with respect to leading with 5G use cases. It started with consumer and around mobile low-latency gaming, esports, and it’s beginning to progress into enterprise applications.
5G buildout looks different around the world—there are big spec variations between rural and urban areas, and while fairly robust networks are coming online in Europe, China and North America, in other places the rollout is in its infancy. In some developing countries, 5G presents an especially big opportunity because adding bleeding-edge tech infrastructure can offer national economies a chance to leapfrog forward.
Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt spoke with Odianosen Peter Ebhabha, a project director in Lagos, Nigeria with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, about the challenges facing 5G infrastructure teams in emerging markets.
So everyone’s talking about 5G and deploying that. What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to innovations like 5G?
ODIANOSEN PETER EBHABHA
I think the first one is always the infrastructure. Even when we were at 4G deployment, we also faced the same challenges. And then it’s going to always be the first point. The question is, you have a new technology like 5G, right? Are you able to make benefits from this technology that will offset the additional costs that you incur in the infrastructure to support it? I mean, this is one question that keeps coming because there has to be the right return on the investments that you will make.
And another one area where we have challenges with innovations like 5G is around the level of knowledge and competence in that area. So when technologies like this come out, it’s often slow. People are often very slow to understand what it involves or the implications that it will have on the market and the opportunities that it presents to them. And beyond that on the technical side as well, we think about the kind of competencies that we’ll need to support the rollout of this technology.
And then we also talk about challenges around the legislations to support it. So oftentimes when we talk about innovative technologies like this, pretty much the regulator or the legislators in this case might not be as fast in providing the legislative framework or regulatory framework to support the technology. So the operators are not clear about how and how this is going to work out. In what ways the investment that they bring in could come, because one of the biggest risks in operating in what I would consider as the evolving or developing economies like Nigeria is the risk involved in legislation or the regulation. So sometimes if this doesn’t come out very clear, it can affect the adoption of this technology in the market.
As we’re talking about all of these things regarding 5G, what needs to happen for emerging markets to prepare and launch it
ODIANOSEN PETER EBHABHA
The first challenge for me for emerging markets in general that we see is politics. So I think the politics is very important prerequisite for any kind of innovation to come into a country, because that actually poses the highest risk for whatever investment that you make in an emerging market like Nigeria.
One other thing that needs to happen is the funding. There has to be the right level of fund available to enable the operators to invest in 5G. Funding is a challenge especially foreign exchange in the last two years following the recession in country, two, three years, it’s been very difficult getting foreign exchange for the operators in the country. So we have to have the funding in place to support them. And then just to add one more point around that, what will determine the investment in 5G really, especially from the operators, will be the business case. So the right use cases that will ensure that they generate revenue with this technology has to be there, otherwise it’s very difficult to make these additional investments without some assurance that there will be the right return on those investments.
Once 5G launches, what innovations do you see it bringing?
ODIANOSEN PETER EBHABHA
5G is going to bring about the internet of things. Now I’ll talk directly from where I operate right now. Currently we manage a lot of towers, say in Nigeria we manage about 25,000 towers, and most of these towers have to be managed by people staying on the sites and reporting the events that are happening on those sites. We have to send people to carry out site audits, to carry out site surveys in order to get information from those sites, and we have a lot of security incidents happening on those sites on a daily basis.
We are not able to tell in real time what events are happening on the site beyond those events that could be captured by the network operating centers. Now with 5G, what we foresee is that we would have cameras operating on all those sites. We could also have the equipment on those sites become more intelligent with internet of things and connected. That way, we are going to be able to monitor these sites. Visually we can see the events that are happening on those sites, and then we can also save the costs of having people go to the sites to carry out surveys because we can then be able to collect intelligence, collect data from the site directly. I mean, this data will be much more reliable than what a human being would provide.
So this I think would be easily or much more easily enabled by 5G through internet of things. And it’s going to make managing this kind of projects that we have not just better but also cheaper. In essence, it’s going to make it more efficient to do. So this is a typical case for me, and if I take it a little further, you will see that with this kind of scenario where 5G is helping me to collect good information and also helping me to carry out surveillance on the site, we could extend it to national security.
So with the advent of drones now, with 5G we could be using drones for surveillance, not just surveillance for collecting intelligence on-site, but also for going into areas that are probably prone to terrorist attacks. We could go in there and use it for surveillance to support the military or the police who are actually fighting terror.
We could also use it for agriculture. In terms of pest control, we have seen the use of drones and technology supported by 5G to go to areas that might normally be hazardous to humans. You could use 5G technology, ease of control and things like that.
How could you see it used in emerging markets?
ODIANOSEN PETER EBHABHA
In the health sector, we have a shortage of doctors or medical experts in certain parts of the country. These parts of the country are generally not very inhabitable for what I consider a lot of white-collar experts. So with 5G and with the deployment of 5G, I foresee a situation where those people in those areas would have access to medical consultation. They might be able to talk in real time to a doctor on a video. Hopefully with some kind of devices, they can reach out to a doctor and get medical support. And even in cases where they need items, those items could be delivered to them through drones and all of that.
So there are just so many use cases that cut across different sectors including education. Now that we’re talking about online studies and all that with 5G, I think we can get a broadband connection for remote areas in Nigeria. And then that little child somewhere of little means in a very far place would have access to the best education in the city.
What skills do project professionals need with the rise of 5G?
ODIANOSEN PETER EBHABHA
I see the industry will grow more around services. There will be projects around the deployment of services, the development of services. Services that will ride on 5G. So the project managers really will still need the traditional skills of leadership, for instance. I think that’s very important because of the project manager as a leader in general. So you will need the leadership skills but beyond that, because of the level of data collection that will come with 5G, because of the amount of IT involvement and things like that, data analytic skills will become more and more important. I mean I’m talking about general IT skills, especially data analytics.
With 5G comes big data, which means a lot of information is going to be coming at you. Lots of information, and you somehow need to process that information. Project managers will need to process information. So they need to have those skills that will enable them to mine data and then to make sense of the information in order to get these critical inputs to make decisions. So that skill is going to be very, very important for them.
The New York Times quoted an AT&T executive as saying, “2020 is pivotal because you’ve got a good foundation built, and the ecosystem starts to form.” Meaning, the groundwork is in place, and now’s the time when the carriers begin the functional handoff to the project leaders who will bring 5G to life.
Laying the foundation is hard, meaningful work, and in this case it’s taken many years—industry players like Samsung, in South Korea, have been working on 5G for the majority of the 4G era. Now comes the fun part when we see what all that speed can deliver.
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