5G at the Edge: A force for transformation

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Dell Technologies

For decades, people have talked about the transformative power of the upcoming fifth-generation mobile network. Today, the talk is turning to action.  We’re at the dawn of the day where 5G will transform mobile technology, moving it from people-to-people connections to people-to-everything connections. By virtue of the fact that 5G antennae and base stations are deployed “in the field,” 5G is inherently a technology whose adoption and efficiency/efficacy is going to be harnessed at the Edge.  (A side note: Although there is certainly a definite definition of “Telco Edge” versus “Industrial Edge,” we won’t get into those semantics here.)

Consider this: 5G is up to 10x faster than 4G. To put this into the context of connected mobility, a lightning-speed network is fundamental to a 5G road, to allow real-time interactions among the infrastructure and the vehicles that use it. 5G will facilitate many emerging trends — from autonomous vehicles and factory automation to remote monitoring and control. However, being realistic, while 10X faster is certainly attractive, it’s important to note that 5G, with its high-frequency band operation, and especially when deployed using much shorter millimeter wave (because low-band spectrum dramatically reduces speeds) currently realistically has only a range of 1,000 feet (which doesn’t come close to 4G’s approximately 10 miles).

Here’s another 5G consideration: Larger infrastructure deployments mean much higher capex costs. Use cases with more defined, smaller physical environment footprints, where extremely low latency is required, will be the real winners in initial 5G deployments. For that reason, use cases where life or death (healthcare/medicine), safety and security (video surveillance, crowd control, loss/theft prevention), or extremely high finance (low-latency algorithmic stock market trading) are likely to be some of the first areas where 5G’s true value is harnessed.

Compelling use cases

Take remote medicine, for example. In healthcare today, surgeons cannot do their jobs remotely if there is any lag between their actions and what they see as the result. Surgery must happen in real time. Soon, surgeons (not to mention robotic surgery assistants) will be able to help patients remotely via high-speed wireless connections made possible by 5G networks. Similarly, Dell Technologies’ Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) Infinite Testbed and, more specifically, its Project Bluelight, an ambulance dispatch and routing solution (kicked off way back in 2015, as the first-ever IIC testbed), can experience a dramatic latency reduction with the incorporation of 5G base stations strategically placed along common ambulance routes.

In another example involving several key partners of Dell Technologies, Intel is collaborating with NTT DOCOMO, a national partner of Tokyo 2020, to provide 5G technologies supporting network infrastructure, connectivity and collaboration on new experiences for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. These transformative technologies are expected to enable things like high-resolution video — with 360-degree, 8K-video streams that showcase real-time action across high-resolution devices at Olympic venues.[1]

No matter how high-resolution our at-home smart TVs become, the common/running joke is that they are limited by the actual content we can receive in that native resolution. 5G at the Edge brings the promise of not only enabling a safer world, but also providing entertainment experiences at home that hardly differ from being at a physical event in person (and in many cases, augmented/ancillary content will provide an even richer experience).

The AR/VR value-add

This brings to the forefront a technology “sub-trend” that leverages the aggregate value of the emerging tech explained above: augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications. These applications will get a big boost from 5G networks, and, when capturing IoT data (cameras + sensors) from Edge environments, will offer unparalleled experiences for both home entertainment consumers and industrial AR/VR users (i.e., field service technicians and factory floor “fixers”).

To stay with the Olympics theme from above, together with partner Sky Limit Entertainment (SoReal), Intel is developing 5G technology-based VR/AR solutions to help bring more immersive experiences to the 2020 Olympic Games. These solutions will help bring new experiences for hosting countries, worldwide athletes, participants, and for billions of global spectators. “This cooperation [with SoReal] is not only an exploration into VR/AR technology and application in the 5G era, but it will also enable new Olympic experiences via innovative technologies and help spread the Olympic spirit to every corner in the world,” Intel notes.[2]

On the industrial side, perhaps no other place is more representative of the power of a well-knit Edge-Core-Cloud strategy than for a field service technician (FST) use case. Before we get into this, however, it’s important to first determine how to use technology to prevent FST costs — one commonly accepted figure (first popularized by the Technology Services Industry Association) is that a single “truck roll,” or trip involving an FST, costs, on average, more than $1,000. By using the emerging (in many cases, emerged) technology trends discussed above, you can fairly easily deploy a predictive/conditional/even prescriptive asset management and maintenance approach to reduce or eliminate most truck rolls — but that topic is for a different blog post.

In cases where you absolutely do have to deploy an FST, the costs of fully training an entire staff of FSTs, often on highly-specific technologies, can be considerably defrayed by leveraging technology in the right way. Instead of training every FST, and specifically for industries where FSTs need not have specific certifications, you can instead have just a few experts sit in a command and control center remotely, and, through the use of AR/VR technologies, walk the FST through the remediation process. (Side note: Calvin Smith does not take legal responsibility for any environments where field certifications are mandatory for field service technicians. Compliance first, technology second!)

The field service technician’s technology-induced empowerment is particularly well highlighted when you consider specific examples:

  • The ability of 5G to move data quickly enough without lag (data transmission for large-file-size 3D renderings based on CAD/CAM data overlaid on real-world physical objects)
  • Edge AI/ML to automate some conclusions for the field service technician (based on all other plants with similar layouts, this valve is in the “off” position and it should be “on”)
  • IoT (these sensors are telling you that the water pressure, though normal now, was far too high only 20 minutes before you arrived on site)
  • AR/VR (pull out your cell phone and hold it on the valve, and I’ll show you which way to turn it)

This field service technician, working at the Edge, is able to leverage multiple technologies to make immediate, data-driven decisions.

Key takeaways

The rise of the 5G mobile network and complementary technologies — including Edge computing, AI and AR/VR — will have a profound impact on the world around us. Together, these technologies will transform everything from business processes and vehicle safety systems to remote healthcare and home entertainment.

Calvin Smith is the CTO for IoT and Industrial Edge at Dell Technologies.

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[1] Intel, “Intel 5G Technology at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to Play a Transformative Role from Sports to Transportation,” February 25, 2018.

[2] Intel, “Intel Signs Strategic MOU to Develop Innovative VR/AR Solutions,” October 22, 2019.

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