Carriers can transform enterprise infrastructure with 5G

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As enterprises look to equip their workers with rich new functionality, they are increasingly relying on networks to provide resilient low latency connectivity that supports the different requirements of a wide portfolio of enterprise applications. Starting from the relatively simple proposition of hosting data and apps in the cloud, it’s clear that enterprises now rely on networks to provide ubiquitous, always-on connections to enterprise systems and applications. If those aren’t in place, the business can’t operate so the stakes are very high.

The focus there is on traditional connectivity, which is either available or unavailable at the capacity needed. However, as big video applications are increasingly adopted because of their ability to support high-definition collaboration technologies and better performing virtual desktop services for both fixed and mobile workforces, enterprises need more flexibility and the network to understand and dimension itself for the differing needs of the specific applications. As 5G comes to market, it can address many of the concerns enterprises have had in adopting these technologies for mobile workers.

Traditionally, mobility has meant relying on Wi-Fi or patchy 4G/LTE coverage and rich, bandwidth intensive-applications such as high-definition videoconferencing, have not been widely seen as enterprise-grade in the mobile world because of this.

5G can be a critical enabler of these services and enable true enterprise mobility because of the vastly greater bandwidth, lower latency and likely 100% coverage at 50Mbps it will provide. The experience available away from the fixed network will be, at last, at a similar level and that will sustain desktop apps for workers on the road.

In addition, user applications are becoming far more immersive experiences with applications such as augmented and virtual reality routinely being utilized. These necessitate ultra-high reliability and very low latency, along with traditional requirements of security and full coverage. The more dependent a business becomes on these technologies, the more reliant on the uptime of the network it becomes so carriers can play an increasingly important and more highly monetized role in supporting and providing enterprise applications with 5G.

Far from being just a dumb pipe, the carrier actually becomes a highly intelligent enabler of critical business infrastructure. This is particularly so with the increasingly popular software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) that enterprises are deploying because 5G has sufficient capacity and resilience to provide an additional diverse path to support SD-WAN, providing greater choice and coverage, particularly for remote sites. Support for services such as SD-WAN should be viewed separately from other enterprise traffic because the answer here isn’t to provide unlimited 5G bandwidth for every enterprise application to access. This will be both costly and wasteful as inefficiently managed connectivity will swamp even the 5G network with unoptimized traffic that hogs bandwidth and degrades user experiences while costing the enterprise a disproportionate amount. However, selecting 5G as an alternate path for SD-WAN traffic, which can be managed appropriately, is a viable option.

Traffic needs to be treated according to its requirements so the demand it places on the network is optimized. New approaches such as network slicing can aid this efficient utilization. For example, a network slice designed to support a multi-party high definition video-based collaborative working app can configure the network in such a way that the performance requirements of the app are met with minimized impact on the network, freeing up bandwidth for utilization by other slices.

In addition, new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (AR) will increasingly be utilized to enhance enterprise productivity. Workers will use these technologies to aid them in performing their jobs and these may take the form of head-up displays presenting remote workers with information to assist them in the field. For example, AR glasses might present a circuit diagram to engineer repairing plant equipment in the field or present an interactive instructional video session. 5G will be critical infrastructure for this and many other enterprise applications, many of which are still under development.

This new wave of enterprise applications creates far more complexity in the network as the demand profile of service fragments. In this new landscape, carriers have a more extensive opportunity to apply their network monitoring – and other – capabilities to assure services and monetize 5G effectively. Enterprises will be happy to enable the monetization of 5G because the networks will be providing a new level of value to them that goes beyond simply providing connectivity. In fact, carriers will be the providers of a transformed enterprise infrastructure that, in turn, forms the foundations of enterprises’ own transformations as they servitize traditional products enabled by 5G-powered IoT apps and tools such as virtual and augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

~Written by George Malim. George is a freelance journalist who covers the telecoms and internet markets.