Much has been touted about the benefits of 5G to enterprises – mostly from the vendor community, the GSM Association and its cohorts, and analysts/consultants. I will not argue about 5G’s benefits to consumers whose appetite for data seems only limited by the cellular bandwidth they can consume. I have yet to see the adoption of 5G across a broad range of commercial use cases. So far I’ve been presented mostly with theoretical use cases – even here.
FutureCIO spoke to Anup Changaroth, Ciena’s chief technology officer for Asia Pacific and Japan. Ciena is a telecommunications networking equipment and software services supplier. The intent of the discussion was to view the significance of 5G from the perspective of the chief information officer.
In the next few years, why should the CIO care about 5G?
Anup Changaroth: Ultimately, the CIOs are interested in deploying technology that brings efficiency to their core business. One way of being more efficient is through the better performance of existing applications, or a better return on investment of capital involved in the CIO's function such as a data centre of some kind that they need to build their servers and applications. In many cases, the CIOs today still build that out themselves.
But in the future, a lot of those applications and services are going to be sitting in the cloud. 5G then becomes an instrumental element of that connectivity of users to the CIO's server facility applications.
From the surveys that we did and the report that you mentioned (see bottom of this article), we can see that enterprises recognise that they need to make that shift from existing enterprise infrastructure for IT towards a more advanced infrastructure that typically involves a lot of connectivity into the cloud.
There are significant efficiencies for CIOs when they move towards that kind of infrastructure and cloud-based deployment of applications. I wouldn't be surprised if they see a 30-50% savings on investment.
If we start introducing 5G to the enterprise, what kind of costs are we looking at? And should the CIO be prepared to pay more for the latency, connectivity, capacity that 5g promises?
Anup Changaroth: Today, you will find that the initial 5G deployments are targeted at consumers. The low latency and high-performance applications that are designed specifically for enterprises are at a very early stage. We haven't seen that deployed on any large scale, because it fundamentally requires a different architecture or what we call an edge cloud.
An edge cloud is where a lot of the processing of the 5G baseband, that comes from a 5G access point, is processed as close to the customer premises as possible and that includes server farms and VNFs (vertical network functions). That kind of architecture is only getting built now.
In terms of cost factors, how expensive is it going to be compared to traditional fixed-line services? I can't give you an answer, as nobody has those answers yet. It's still in the very early stages.
For private 5G builds, take Singapore's port authority, for example, a lot of the devices, the port, shipping containers, and moving of shipping containers from the ship to the shore are getting automated. 5G is going to be the connectivity of those IoT devices which a lot of that automation is built on. We expect to see a lot more of those kinds of private 5G builds globally. In those dedicated environments, you're going to see a different performance. The commercial price point for a traditional enterprise connecting over wireless to a cloud is going to be very different from some of those private 5G builds.
Now still on the CIO topic, what does the CIO need to do to prepare his existing infrastructure, both wired, wireless and cellular to get them ready for 5G integration?
Anup Changaroth: I think the first thing they need to understand and to do is the migration of existing applications to be cloud-based today. They don't have to wait for 5G to be able to do that. In fact, most of the applications are not relying on low latency.
Many of the existing applications are already cloud-based and utilise existing 4G infrastructure. The first step is for the CIO to make the move towards utilising cloud-based applications. The next step is to recognise and understand how the applications can be further optimised in terms of performance and user experience.
I think a CIO would be looking at how they can improve the core business with some advanced applications that can leverage 5G, such as augmented reality. Because ultimately improving the core business is what they are focused on, rather than connectivity and all that stuff.
5G standards are still evolving. But would the evolving standard impact any effort on the part of the CIO to migrate the core business applications to the cloud? Does it matter?
Some of the newer capabilities that we expect to see with 5G like broadcast technology. Today, when you are consuming a video, it's not very efficient for the operator nor the mobile consumer as it’s on a single unicast traffic.
With some of the newer capabilities brought about by 5G, broadcast technology will be much more efficient and have an impact on performance, infrastructure, and ultimately a better return on investment. The capabilities that will get rolled out over the different 5G releases will have an impact on what kind of applications can get deployed over time.
What is your advice to CIOs and the leadership C-suites? When considering a future with 5G?
Anup Changaroth: I'd say it’s critical to ensure that your service provider or whoever's providing you with 5G has a best of breed technology that's being implemented in their network. In some cases, because of early 5G risks, mobility operators buy everything from one supplier, and they roll it out.
If that’s not a best of breed network, you will have a lot of limitations as you grow the network. You won't get the lowest latency performance, or to offer new kinds of services that come out in the future.
CIOs and the C-suite need to ensure that the service provider they are working with is picking suppliers that have best of breed technology. The wireless part is only the last mile, from the tower of the base station to the end subscriber, whether that's a business or consumer.
Everything else that happens in the network is all fibre-based connectivity. And that's really where Ciena's domain is, the transport of that technology.
Two years down the road we can expect to see very high performance, low latency applications that are pretty revolutionary. While it’s not here yet, CIOs need to ensure that the suppliers they pick on the mobility side of things have the right technology in place to be able to deliver those applications in the future.