5G and the digital economy - the business impact (2/2)

Profile picture for user mbanks By Martin Banks January 1, 2017
Martin Banks picks up the business impact of the 5G revolution in the second part of his analysis.

The start point here has to be that all businesses in the digital economy  will look to exploit the advantages that come with greater bandwidth and mobility - why be tied to a wired infrastructure when wireless really will provide not just everything that is needed but a great deal more that has not yet been contemplated.

This combination will certainly lead to new client devices for the business market, ranging from much more powerful `road warrior’ tools through to almost passive `portal’ devices that are just window onto whatever that users is authorised to work with on the corporate system.

But in the same way that Microsoft’s Surface systems are giving the Apple iPad a good race now, the former’s advantage is not so much the technology or design of the beast itself, it is its connection to and collaboration with corporate information infrastructures that has become the key attribute.

The market with 5G is likely to come from powerful, flexible and agile collaboration software tools that allow people to work together like they are `inside each other's system'.

The point here is that 5G as a service delivery platform is following hard on the heals of some other developments, particularly SDEA (Software-Defined Everything and Anything), and in-memory processing that, when taken together, could provide the foundations of a basketful of business management innovations.

In-memory processing is becoming pretty well understood with systems like SAP HANA, but there are a couple of downsides to it. One is that it is still an expensive, large-enterprise environment, and the other is that it is currently stuck running on inappropriate hardware.

But the news that HPE will be launching hardware designed from the ground up for in-memory processing next year creates the opportunity for an entirely new dynamic container-based architecture to emerge that combines highly scalable applications - from an individual phone and `sub-phones’/IoT sensor through to supercomputer – that carry with them everything they require as part of the application. This will include metadata on what memory, processing, I/O is required in the container along with the data and relevant processing code.

The containers will be dynamically scalable from a `container-ship’ capable of delivering a complete business environment in individual containers across a 5G network to required locations, through to a container-lite `clutch-bag’ package capable of processing a complete, if small, task or a component part of a larger application.

The latter, might well be appropriate for servicing IoT and specialist group sub-functions. Each application will be dynamically scalable to meet the needs of the type compute device – large core server through to handheld edge client – in order to provide full compatibility across the whole network.


One problem here, of course, is that there is still going to be a high level of vested interest in maintaining the status quo, from both the legacy software vendors and many of the user community. This does mean that in practice two things are likely to happen, almost simultaneously. One is that many of the architectural advantages of 5G will be left on the shelf for a good few years by the majority of the current players.

The other will be a consequence of that, for the current players will leave the field open for new applications and hardware vendors to come along that can and will exploit those architectures. And as with both games players and the PC, and consumers and mobile services - where in both cases it was individual users that led the charge on exploitation and innovation – all but the sharpest and far-sighted businesses will need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into what the 5G/SDEA world will be able to offer.    

The ubiquity of mobility that will be possible with 5G opens up significant new opportunities for businesses to exploit the potential. This in turn opens up a range of possibilities for new product ideas, some obvious and some coming out of left field.

Some new products will undoubtedly be targeted at the existing range of known applications, from standard networked desktop office system through to high performance systems used by currency traders or large systems designers. The fact that they can do their jobs where they happen to be rather than just where their assigned IT resources happen to be, could greatly extend their productivity.

The combination of 5G capabilities with SDEA and in-memory processing in servers architected from the ground up for such work, should provide fertile ground in which to grow new innovations and applications. The combination of performance and agility alone could make the re-engineering of existing application functionality based on / what data goes in / what questions need be asked / what answers should be expected an obvious first target.

The dynamically re-scalable container model will be able to create applications that can use the same data and function in exactly the same way, and run in an environment which dynamically readjust its resources according to user and application needs. This would make it a matter of convenience where a process ran within the resources available to a user. 5G would provide the performance, bandwidth and coverage to service this model.

A campus environment could have anything from communications resources only through to having sizeable datacentre resources on site, for it would also have direct access to much richer resources, from a global palette of service providers, via the 5G network.

And as the `last mile’ connectivity problems fade to the level of `horror stories’ told to first-year service management college students, BT will at last become just another bit-part player...at last. 

My take

This is a personal view of the developments that may come with the arrival of 5G wireless communications are set out not as a road map for the diligent CIO to follow. Instead, it is a heads up on the gargantuan step forward the technology will bring. It is now only four years away – if that – and all business managers need to start thinking now about how they will exploit it. Those that don’t will likely be left for dead.