It seems the adoption of 5G is yet to make a bang in India; but rumour mills constantly swirl with potential dates as early as August 2021. While we see device manufacturers churn out 5G-compatible smartphones and tablets to better serve the potential of a connected home, there is still yet to be enough comprehensive dialogue about the C Band spectrum (a new set of airwaves designated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) that hopes to fix the perilous state of 5G.
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Speaking with The Hindu on all things 5G, policy, ease of connectedness and more, Jefferson Wang, Accenture Global 5G Lead, says over a video call from San Francisco, USA, “Mid-band spectrum is incredibly important globally; but acquiring spectrum is only the beginning. You still have to clear the spectrum and deploy it. The mid-bad is important to the global 5G industry, since this catalyses the device manufacturers, the chipsets and modems required, the different form factors of mobile devices beyond the smartphone that we will start to put on to the network.”
This year’s Mobile World Congress saw a lot of discourse of 5G services which have accelerated out in the US and East Asia but still have a long way to go. Wang, who is a regular speaker at MWC, elaborates on the fragmented nature of our ‘connected world’ while breaking down some of the ongoing discussions around 5G. And yes, 5G is constantly on the receiving end of skepticism and paranoia not just from policy-makers and consumers but apparently actors too.
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DKB: The last year of the pandemic accelerated a lot of 5G evolution. The 5G market, as we know it, is huge across India – but implementation at a policy level will take some time. How do you see the conversation progress around 5G in India for the coming year?
JW: It’s incredibly important that policy around many areas of the value chain get discussed, addressed and hopefully accelerated. A lot of times, when you look at availability of spectrum, you ask ‘what are the incentives?’ and ‘how do you help with the availability of spectrum or clearing of the spectrum?’
The next part of the value chain asks ‘how are we able to work with the local communities and other parts of zoning, easements and licensing to deply 5G small cells?’ When you compare a traditional sub-1 GHz cellular networking, 5G will require a serious increase the number to the number 5G small cells (femtocells, picocells, and microcells, all providing different coverage limits). So accelerating the process of zoning and easements depending on your country and your government structure is very important.
In India, you have to think about how to work through the 5G value chain: zoning and licensing, getting communities to agree to more small cells, available power to run these small cells, ability to potentially coordinate with local police to ensure this is installed safely, and more.
Given India has 28 States and eight territories, there is not always standard cookie cutter process to undertake 5G small cell deployment.
DKB: One of the more prevalent dialogues in terms of ‘connectedness’ has been the parallel dialogues and progression of ‘smart (or future) homes’ and ‘smart cities’ in the space of 5G adoption. Can you share your perspective on these tech evolutions for the next five to ten years?
JW: Not many people bring this up, but the home is a key starting point. It is actually the very beginning of making people feel “at home” anywhere. Today, we have a home with devices on fragmented technologies such as cellular, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-wave to name a few, all with scheduled automation which is called a Connected and Smart Home.
But tomorrow, we can leverage 5G harmonize device connectivity and personalised a 5G Future Home that is predictive and thinks for you Finally extending the Future Home personalisation into the daily lives helps consumers feel “at home anywhere.”
We believe in this space so much that I co-wrote a book on it called the 5G Future Home . We wrote the 5G Future Home book prior to the global pandemic and we predicted that within the next five years, we’d teach our kids at home, work from home, get healthcare at home, enjoy virtual entertainment or immersive gaming at home – then COVID-19 pandemic accelerated all these predictions
We take that one step further and ask how to make that consumer feel at home in their autonomous car during the ride to work, in their office which may move each day, at a shared gym Naturally, the next step is connecting the communities to districts to get to a smart city infrastructure – a smart, personalised environment.
DKB: What about the role of edge computing (a distributed computing paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the sources of data) in all of this?
JW: A key performance improvement from edge computing is latency or response time. Latency is the time it takes for data to travel across the network from one point to another. get to its destination across the. Today in our 4G networks, we have smartphones and devices that communicate with the Radio Access Network (RAN), this information is then back-hauled to a core network and then routed to cloud or a central data centre.
But if we intercept that chain and add edge compute to a closer point such as the RAN or network core, it shortens the physical distance that data has to travel. There are a couple of beauties to this: naturally, if the latency is reduced, your response time is improved; also if you design the solution well, the data cost is reduced. All the data generated does not need to be sent back to the central data centre, back and forth over these hundreds of miles.
Finally, this can potentially change ecosystems. Accenture has worked with and deployed Edge networks. You can offload the device’s heavy graphics (Graphics Processing Unit) GPU processing and storage to the edge which would lower the device cost. You potentially don’t need a high-cost GPU processor for each device. A GPU is typically what we use to process a lot of the AI/ML. So if we can use a lower-cost GPU, we can offload some of the device GPU functionality onto the edge – that lowers the cost of the device, which can increase adoption.
DKB: There’s still a lot of paranoia and skepticism around 5G and the future home. As a technologist, what role do you play in myth-busting and responsible dialogue around 5G?
JW: Federal governments and administrations of global communications are responsible for the safety of what is broadcast, the power levels that are decided upon, and how ultimately, this is used for all of us. We leave the safety and policy to the government officials.
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Our job, as technologists, is more to talk about the similarities and differences in what we have in technology today. When you look at spectrum and Wi-Fi today, the latter being very dense and every home is broadcasting Wi-Fi, they’re using 2.4 GHz and5 GHz. We started this conversation with mid-band 5G spectrum which is between 1 GHz to 6 GHz. It’s surprising that people aren’t as concerned about Wi-Fi but when it comes to 5G , people are very concerned. Part of it is what we’re using today and part of it is allowing the government to show, with science, what is safe around non-ionising radiation spectrum, density of radios and / or levels of power required.
DKB: Let’s wrap this up by elaborating upon what this means in terms of the 5G connectivity layer in terms of infrastructure. What if fragmentation and synchrony?
JW: The way to look at this now is we have many ways to connect. We have unlicensed spectrum like Wi-Fi, LoRa, and several different low-powered networks that are ‘best effort’ networks. Then we have other ways to connect like licensed spectrum that’s more managed, reliable and secure: 3G, 4G, 5G (which is still coming). So the consumers, developers, device manufacturers have a choice to make, which takes time and effort.
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Factors include questions around: ‘Do you want to develop on the lower cost, but on a ‘best effort’ network? Do you need a hub to pull all that together on an unlicensed spectrum? Or if you go to cellular, how do you deal with the cost of that? Does 5G have potential to be a harmonising technology layer? If we harmonise on that layer, how does that potentially lower the cost of increased adoption and increased experience?’
Let’s look at the home as an example; we have to look at the device you’re getting – such as a camera, a doorbell, a sensor – and decide what you need from it. And then you look at the back of the product and find out if it works with your existing connectivity, or if you need to buy a new hub, or wire this to the actual Ethernet of the home. Then you have to download an app (we already have app fatigue) then enter some massive 16-digit password in the home just to get connectivity.
That’s a lot of friction and set-up to get the device in, we haven’t even talked about getting the device to work with the others, putting it on a dashboard, sharing data. Today, I have three different applications for the single security system in my home! Then we look at home entertainment, lighting, and more. There’s an incredible opportunity to harmonise this on one technology, on one network. You should be able to go to one dashboard to know what’s going on in your home in terms of security, entertainment and so on.
The next thing is to figure out the business models to get everyone to want to do that – for the user’s benefit. We have to consider how to scale that for increased personalisation. The nature of connectivity plays a huge role in that; we are all on different networks and technologies, and we can’t communicate.
DKB: It’s funny, we look at popular culture representations of the ‘future home’ and everything is in a single hub or dashboard. It’s interesting how it’s helped shape some dialogue around the connected home. Hopefully this all ties in with the notion of ‘we should use the technology rather than the technology using us’.
JW: Absolutely, we want consumers to demand better. Pop culture has helped say ‘this is something basic and something we deserve’. Let’s say we get to that harmonised connectivity, set-up and integration – and the network does the rest. No need for more apps, more passwords.
Now we have something in the future where the automation and personalisation are as good as the information we get. Technology exists to assist, save time, save money, save effort.
It was incredibly validating that many of the use cases in the first four chapters of ‘ The Future Home in the 5G Era: Next Generation Strategies for Hyper-connected Living ’, which I co-wrote with Dr Boris Maurer, George Nazi, Amol Phadke, are starting to at least come into the public eye.
To an extent, perspectives on how to execute emerging technologies and connectivity can always be updated and are required. There’s always new development methods, operating models and business models.