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Develop 5G ecosystems for connectivity in the remote work era

Adopting a 5G ecosystem could enable enterprises to better compete in offering edge computing and remote work options without sacrificing connectivity.

As remote work necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic becomes the new norm, network providers will consider building a 5G ecosystem to connect the work, worker and workplace in the future.

One, there are remote workers -- those working from home or the field. Even after COVID-19 subsides, the organizational landscape is likely to change forever. While 2020 brought business resilience into the spotlight, operational dispersion will be a key focus area post-pandemic.

Second, there's work happening remotely -- factories and plants built closer to resources, an oil rig or a mining site, for example, are being operated remotely through a combination of cloud and edge computing. 5G connectivity will also be the cornerstone of edge computing, bringing data analysis and computing capabilities closer to sites where data is sensed and then processed, using low-latency communication. According to a recent Frost & Sullivan report, edge computing in wireless networks is estimated to grow from a $64.1 million business in 2019 to $7.23 billion in 2024 -- that's an annual growth rate of 157.4%!

Of course, delivering on the promise of 5G involves a complex ecosystem of network providers, equipment manufacturers, infrastructure providers and cloud platform providers. The network providers are developing a 5G-driven ecosystem for these diverse scenarios of the remote work era. They have significant opportunities for network virtualization, AI and automation, in addition to significantly lowering associated costs and enhancing the delivery of network-based services.

The operators are expected to buy the spectrum, set up the stack, make services available and provide the backhaul for carrying data back into the mainstream. The system integrators will have to enable abstraction from the hardware layer by disaggregating the software stack. Together, they will enable enterprises to move from one technology to another as and when needed. When working on public 5G at large, the system integrators must also help with field trials, testing, and validating the core stack and devices.

Challenges in 5G adoption

Along with the usual challenges of testing, hardening and integration, learning and discovery are other hurdles expected in the first wave of adoption. There are also challenges in the practical implementation of the 5G infrastructure, especially in radio planning. An organization might set up connectivity aligned with its real estate and facilities, as well as the current line of sight, yet it may find a new construction obstructing that line of sight, affecting the network reach and capacity.

The biggest challenge in 5G adoption will be its pricing models and associated ROI. Building a network from the ground up is expensive, and carriers would like to pass on these costs to the customers. According to Heavy Reading, the total global spending on 5G is to reach $88 billion by 2023. All these costs getting recovered from enterprise customers will certainly make for a challenging ROI case. For the enterprise, on the other hand, the increase or decrease of operating costs will also depend on the kind of use cases. Enterprises that leverage 5G merely to replace enterprise connectivity or substitute cost will not realize the full potential of the technology. On the other hand, those looking at new business models -- for massive IoT deployments, enterprise solutions that require low-latency features or smart connected products as a service -- would find great benefits.

Most experts agree that, while the cost factor of 5G adoption is exorbitant, the value expansion and the disruption opportunity it offers justify the investment. There will be a definite need for maturity in understanding the value offered by 5G. The value proposition and the opportunity offered by 5G will outweigh the costs for most scenarios across enterprises. That said, some industry segments will delay adoption until the costs are viable for consumer experiences.

5G adoption

Despite said challenges, 2019 Infosys research suggested a staggering 90% of enterprises are either actively investigating 5G business cases or defining various use cases and service portfolios with ecosystem partners. Over half of them believe 5G will help in customer acquisition and generate new revenue streams.

5G networks promise better connectivity, higher speeds and low latency. The accelerated adoption of remote operations and servicing is already disrupting several industry domains, including healthcare (telehealth and patient documentation), entertainment (immersive experiences, virtual reality and gaming) and retail (virtual trials, as well as broader adoption of online retail and hyperlocal commerce).

Also, while incredibly fast speeds remain the consumer-focused pitch for 5G connectivity, the ultralow latency enables several use cases across various sectors that were simply impossible earlier. In remote surgery, for example, precision is of paramount importance. A lag could result in loss of life. The ultralow latency will also transform remote work culture across large organizations, enabling them to move beyond video conferencing to telepresence and mixed-reality experiences.

In the next three to five years, enterprises will adopt 5G because it enables them to innovate and compete, transforming businesses and industries. The benefits of 5G, too, will evolve as rollouts accelerate, with far and wide mainstream adoption.

About the author
Nitesh Bansal is senior vice president and global head of engineering services at Infosys. Since joining Infosys in 1998, Bansal has been a passionate advocate of amplifying business value, leveraging technology including AI, machine learning and process automation. He holds the global profit-and-loss responsibility for engineering services at Infosys, leading both the sales and delivery functions.

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