5G enables real-time applications for business

Virtualised networks, 5G connectivity and edge computing give a glimpse of potential breakthrough services that will primarily benefit the B2B market, says Jehanne Savi, Senior VP Innovation for Future Connectivity Business & Beyond at Orange.

“5G frees the company from a physical wired infrastructure, making it easier to modify and adapt the production line.”

“5G is coming! Good news?” This was the thought-provoking title of one of the sessions at SIDO 2020, a European event dedicated to the IoT, AI and robotics, which took place in early September in Lyon. Jehanne Savi reiterates her contribution: “One thing is certain; real-time applications are growing. Some studies suggest that, within five years, 30% of data generated will be for real-time applications. We are talking about substantial volumes here—in particular, live video processing, thanks to computer vision and artificial intelligence—but also about the Internet of Things, to a lesser extent. The new technologies, as an end-to-end architecture combining on-demand networks, 5G connectivity and edge computing, provide a technical response to the emergence of these new uses in a very different way than 4G and the centralised cloud.” Network slicing is one of the areas with the most potential, as it allows the service quality and level of security to be adapted to each use.

A turning point for the industry

At the port of Antwerp, Orange is conducting an experiment that demonstrates the potential of network slicing: “It is an interesting situation because it brings together several players, each with their own activities. We have built two public network slices on the site for non-sensitive, multi-customer and multi-purpose flows, and six private slices dedicated to customers and to one of these new applications specific to their activities. For example, a tugboat that manoeuvers ships in the port: a complex task in a tight space with real-time challenges. The system we have put in place combines video recording of the environment with IoT data from radar in particular. At the same time, we are collaborating with the LACROIX Group on autonomous logistics, combining robotics and vision.” Depending on the case, fibre may be suitable for this type of use. But 5G has the advantage of freeing the company from a physical wired infrastructure, making it easier to modify and adapt the production line. This is one of the challenges faced by the industry, as production models—and even economic models—are being overwhelmed with greater demands for flexibility.

Beyond smart factories

These “on-demand” models have the advantage of being constantly in line with needs, with economic and environmental optimisation as key factors. Among the first areas to benefit from these 5G-specific features are Smart Cities and Utilities, particularly the water and energy sectors. However, customer experience isn’t missing out. For example, in Rennes train station, Orange and SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer français — the French state-owned railway company) are conducting a project to allow near-instant downloads of high-definition content. This is one of the areas explored by SNCF to build a seamless customer experience from platform to train, including while customers wait. There are many possible avenues per sector: customer experience and business efficiency in the distribution sector, employee safety in the manufacturing and construction sectors etc. For B2C, the avenues for development are almost exclusively linked to augmented and virtual reality, in games or at events. However, while these areas are promising, they are far from being fully developed in terms of applications. This is because companies also have to undergo a transformation process and their business models need an overhaul.

A shared ambition

There are still some technological barriers to be overcome. There are currently few 5G modems for the IoT, and trials remain focused on static slices. Manufacturers and carriers must work together to meet objectives, prioritising interoperability, which requires the development of more APIs. “This is essential to guarantee availability and the potential of ‘quality on demand’ on end-to-end services. Co-innovation—between players from the IoT and robotics, connectivity, the cloud and the application world—is heading in the right direction. This is seen in the recent partnership between Orange and Google, which includes an extensive innovation component on edge computing. With this shared strategic interest, we will play to our complementary strengths—connectivity for Orange and cloud computing for Google—in order to successfully secure our position in this emerging market. Edge computing, including the ability to accelerate AI at the edge, is likely to solidify the ambitions of telecoms and IT ecosystems in the coming years, as it opens up all these new opportunities.”

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