The themes around 5G in recent months have focused on how the reduced latency, high reliability, increased connectivity, and large bandwidth provided by 5G will disrupt industries. But the promise of 5G is only part of the story. The real value of a technology is not its attributes but what that technology actually delivers to people. There's a reason why internet infrastructure companies don't have the same market capitalization as FAANG companies.
When I read about a 5G use case claiming to disrupt the status quo, three questions come to mind:
- Does 5G really add to this use case? For some use cases, 50ms-100ms improvements in latency isn't going to matter much.
- Can you do the same thing with existing wifi or cloud infrastructure? You can deliver many use cases from the cloud without sacrificing needs or user experience.
- Does it make sense to use 5G? Some critical use cases would be better off to just do data storage and processing on the device itself.
My experience is that many use cases lose their relevance to 5G once you start asking questions. So which use cases actually make sense for 5G?
Computer Vision technology
Use cases dealing with Computer Vision (CV) and 5G-enabled cameras are an intriguing candidate. CV is a field of study that uses machine learning techniques to help computers “see” and develop context around digital media like photographs and videos. Many use cases like quality control, change or object detection, etc., fall into this category. This category's suitability to 5G makes sense to me because
- CV use cases are often real-time in nature and will immensely benefit from reduced latency.
- CV use cases produce a lot of data (video streams), but 90% of it is noise. It's poor economics to send all that noisy data to the cloud, assuming one has the capacity to transmit.
- Moving data and compute to a 5G edge will reduce the cost and improve the battery/longevity of the device.
5G stadiums and events
The benefits of 5G for sporting events and stadiums are multi-faceted. On one hand, 5G reduces fan frustration because it can handle more users, and the extra bandwidth allows fans to receive or send large amounts of data with very low latency. In addition to reducing frustration, 5G can even heighten fan experiences with features like augmented reality. Additionally, use cases dealing with large crowds for other events and conferences make sense to me because
- Stadiums and sporting events bring thousands of people and devices into a relatively small area. Providing ideal connectivity and bandwidth over 4G or wifi to provide rich experiences just isn't possible.
- Real-time crowd management is another significant factor in this category (estimating queue wait times, tailored updates, social distance monitoring, crowd analytics, etc.)
5G transportation and drones
Use cases dealing with mobility like public transportation and drones are another excellent candidate. Drones have become invaluable assets for end-users, enterprises, and governments, and much of this technology is helpful for companies testing autonomous aerial transportation as well. They make sense because
- Public transportation involves both mobility (i.e., increased connectivity) and large crowds. Providing continuous connectivity and a large bandwidth to meet a crowd's needs is not something you can do over the cloud or wifi.
- Drones involve both mobility and a lot of noisy data. Providing continuous connectivity and processing of noisy data at the 5G edge makes sense and is cheap. Also, 5G edge will enable drones to share computing resources (i.e., device offload), reducing their cost and increasing their stay in the air longer.
Smart factories are just as much about generating data and optimized workflows as they are about making things. Use cases dealing with smart manufacturing, factories, and construction are good use case candidates for 5G because
- Smart manufacturing, factories & construction involve many devices/robots doing real-time monitoring, learning, and actuating in a small space. A lot of the generated data is noise. So it does not make sense to send to the cloud. A better alternative is to pool the resources and process this data at the edge. That will reduce the cost of the devices & improve their longevity.
- I am not fully sure about this category's applicability to 5G, though, i.e., one can also achieve the above benefits by utilizing Wi-Fi. 5G provides more security out of the box and network slicing compared to Wi-Fi. So that could be the reason to use 5G.
5G and gaming
5G and gaming is empowering game developers to create new digital experiences. A 5G use case for gaming makes sense because
- Improved bandwidth and lower latency creates a better multiplayer experience or enhanced cloud gaming delivery.
- 5G's high reliability means games can go uninterrupted, regardless of where the player is in the mobile network.
As a small thought experiment, think about a photograph you have seen or liked recently. Chances are it is a color photograph.
When Kodak introduced a 35mm camera in 1934, no one called photos "black and white" photos. They called them photos. When color photos were introduced, only then did people start differentiating between the essence and attributes of a photograph. Suddenly photographs were either color or black and white. Over time, black and white photos became a unique case, and color photographs became the standard.
To me, 5G NSA or SA today is a lot like photographs in 1934. If you dig deeper into the use cases above, data is the common thread. These use cases are either about
- Volume & velocity of data (i.e., bandwidth) or
- Mobility of data source (i.e., mobility) or
- Reliable data access (i.e., reliability) or
- Time to process & actuate on data (i.e., latency).
Data is the color. So what is this data? The data is the context to process an event or request and take action. The context could be about the
- The environment in which the event/request and processing happens or
- Relationships between itself & its peers or
- Connections between its past and present or
- Configurations & Constraints around processing the event/request etc.
Current cloud native data platforms can't meet all of the needs of 5G. These use cases, to reach full potential, need edge native decentralized data platforms to bring much needed color.
Please feel free to share your perspectives. What other 5G use cases are showing promise?