It’s not too hyperbolic to say that the emergence of 5G networks brings us to the cusp of a new and truly exciting era of innovation. What new services will 5G enable? When will we begin to fully reap the benefits of ubiquitous bandwidth?
For our most recent Mayfield CIO Insight discussion I was very pleased to welcome an old friend, Toby Redshaw, who serves Verizon as SVP of Enterprise Innovation and 5G Solutions. It’s safe to say there are very few people with a deeper expertise in 5G than Toby.
Toby discussed the promise and potential of 5G, what early wins CIOs can pursue, and how technology leaders can take greatest advantage of this new high-speed, low-latency environment.
- 5G is a quantum change that will help usher in the 4th industrial revolution
- It will act as a force multiplier for AI, IoT, XR, and cloud
- 5G will enable the real-time enterprise and give huge boosts to automation and productivity
- To really understand 5G you’ll need to dive in and get your hands dirty
- It may require huge changes in corporate culture
I’ve got the coolest job at Verizon because I get to talk with government agencies and companies about how 5G is going to change education, healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, entertainment, and so on. And when they tell me what they want to do with 5G, it’s almost always something we hadn’t thought of yet.
But what 5G will ultimately do is drive the 4th industrial revolution. If the first three revolutions were enabled by steam power, electricity, and silicon, respectively, the fourth will be driven by four principal technologies and one force multiplier.
The first technology is artificial intelligence. This year we’re going to see AI that’s 100X better per unit cost throughput. You never see technology take that huge a leap forward, but that’s what’s happening with AI. It’s going to hockey stick.
The next technology is IoT, followed by augmented/virtual/mixed reality (XR), and then cloud. Imagine taking those four technologies and connecting them to a software-defined, cloud-native, super low-latency, high-bandwidth edge computing network containing a thousand times more IoT devices with 10X battery life. You could really do some amazing new disruptive things.
That’s 5G. It’s a quantum shift that will change how the world works, just as the first three industrial revolutions did. We’ll see enterprises running on real-time data with autonomous machines handling more physical and mental work. We’ll see unimaginable gains in productivity. And we’ll see a lot of companies that fail to take advantage of these technologies go out of business.
Think about going to a healthcare center. If you had to choose between a facility that had implemented these technologies and one that hadn’t, which would you choose? The same logic can be applied to sports stadiums, airports, manufacturing facilities, and so on. By layering controls and intelligence into these systems, you can reduce costs and increase customer engagement. I may not be the smartest business guy on the planet, but if I’ve got a better cost structure and a better customer experience than you do, I win.
5G radios do some really cool things. For the first time 5G enables real-time pattern matching and mixed reality applications. Latency is in single-digit milliseconds, with sub-20-millisecond round trips including compute. You’re doing real-time computing over the air. That means you won’t get that Starbucks discount offer 300 yards after you’ve passed the store, or a notification that a forklift is about to run over a human after it’s already happened.
Reliability, throughput, and burst rates are all 100X better than 4G. Connection density is 1000x better, with 10x battery life for IoT devices. If I only have to replace my IoT device battery every 10 years instead of every year, the net accretive value of my IoT network has just grown. The 5G spec calls for the ability to communicate with objects traveling at up to 300 miles an hour; that’s going to have a dramatic impact on the utilization of drones over the next three years.
With 5G, the network is no longer just a network, it’s part of the compute fabric that collects all the data exhaust, drops it into clever machine learning platforms, and comes up with new insights – what I call ‘evolutionary intelligence.’ Every process becomes one of continuous improvement and ever increasing agility.
But moving to 5G is an enormous change from 4G. I like to compare it to learning how to play rugby. You may be able to master the basic rules of the game in a classroom, but that’s no substitute for actually doing it. Unless you go out onto the field and get the dirt under your fingernails and develop the right kind of callouses, you will not be able to compete.
At Verizon we like to brag about being first to market with 5G because we know it’s the dirt under your fingernails that matters. We’ve put $120 billion of capital into this network over the past 10 years. It’s crazy capital intensive, so how good you are at rolling this stuff out is really important.
One of the things I’m proudest of is that we haven’t done all this alone. I like to say that nothing great is invented by ourselves with PowerPoint in a fancy conference room at headquarters. It would have been really easy for gigantic Verizon to go “Oh, we’re super innovative, we can manage this.” We actually partnered with a tiny company called Alley that was really good at building connections into local startup scenes.
That’s why we have labs around the country where we co-innovate and bring in startups. We base our labs inside Alley locations, where we finance startups and help get them going. We try to be as humble as we can and listen, because we know this is undiscovered territory.
Are there any early proof of concepts that show the potential of 5G?
The combination of the 5G radio and edge computing lets people do some really cool things. One example we call ‘photonic sensorization’ is just taking basic cameras and turning the images into intelligence processed at edge with AI. Big manufacturers, healthcare organizations, retailers, and venue operators are all collecting intelligence through video to find out what amazing things they can do with it. I can take the same dumb camera and detect anomalies in circuit boards at a factory, do planogram comparisons at a giant retailer, or manage traffic flow at airports and stadiums.
Another example is immersive engagement. Think about Pokemon Go, which is not exactly fantastic AR and yet still signed up 50 million users in 19 days. Or Candy Crush, which has generated hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue in micro transactions. What could you end up with if you built something like Pokemon Go that was actually useful?
When will there be sufficient coverage to fully leverage the 5G network?
For competitive reasons Verizon is very careful about what it says publicly. We’ll be in 30 cities by the end of the year, and we’ll step on the gas in the following year and start deploying where there is dollar density. But it’s not just all about money. We’re also looking at some really cool educational and social responsibility deployments. One of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning is that we’re literally going to change how education works and blow through some of the socioeconomic barriers to quality of education. Hopefully that will also bleed into healthcare at some point.
Are there any platforms that can help enterprises manage the growth of edge computing?
What we’re really talking about with edge is managing virtualized functionality. The entire 5G infrastructure is a virtualized, software-defined cloud-native platform, so orchestration is really important. But during the first wave of 5G we will show up with a solution that just looks like it lives in the cloud. It will have capabilities enabled by the crazy cool radio stuff coupled with compute at the edge. There will also be opportunities for co-management and co-development in those environments.
Will we need a critical mass of 5G handsets to make these scenarios viable?
Not necessarily. You’ll see some cool things we’re doing with consumer handsets, as well as devices that will have huge business impact. But right now there are things I can do with devices even without a 5G chip set. We’ve done some very cool things with older iPads in a distribution center just with super low latency and compute at the edge. We’ve got some great medical examples using HoloLens devices from two versions ago.
Will the move to 5G improve cyber security?
Absolutely. One of the things we did when planning for the new network was look back at 4G and ask ourselves, what could we have done better? Security was a big part of the answer. Because 5G is software defined, we can slice the network into separate pieces with different characteristics. And when we do edge computing at places like factories, stadiums, or healthcare facilities, that data isn’t going to cross the entire network. It’s usually staying at the edge, which creates a kind of compartmentalization that’s inherently more secure.
What advice do you have for CIOs who are struggling with how to get started?
One thing CIOs should understand is that the impact of AI will be more disruptive than 5G. Even if we didn’t invent 5G, AI by itself will be massively disruptive over the next three or four years. Layer on that what we can do with 5G and you’ve really got to get out on the playing field, because it’s going to be massively different.
It may require a major shift in corporate culture. Huge companies must learn the art of the pivot and not fall in love with their own plans.
You’ve got to become really good at partnering with your enemies and frenemies. A key part of being agile will being great at partnering and being humble. When you think of big companies, humility is not the first thing that comes to mind. You’ll also need to be fantastically good at architectural thinking, because your agility is directly proportional to how flexible you are. If that’s not thought through at an architectural level, it doesn’t matter how humble, smart, or quick thinking you are.