[Column] Giordano Albertazzi: 5G, the future, the present and the channel opportunity
There was a time, not so long ago, when 5G was only talked about in relation to ‘the future’. But as the first 5G networks are deployed around the world, with higher bandwidth and faster speeds, applications such as high-definition video, ultra-low latency gaming and advanced telemedicine are already being enabled. The so-called “channel” presents several new opportunities, and by channel we mean a route to market that involves working with distributors, partners and resellers. What opportunities are emerging in the channel and what considerations should we bear in mind?
Covid-19 has changed most things, but in the case of our relationship with technology – certainly in the IT channel – it has been more accelerant than catalyst. As such, we are seeing demand for more sophisticated products, more deployment friendly solutions, more edge use case applications and prefabricated edge or data centre solutions. The channel is ideally placed for that because it’s got the breadth of the region in order to scale, take advantage of stock distribution and move things forward. But even the friendliest edge-ready solution has many moving parts requiring the partner to work more closely with the vendor and take advantage of the tools, configurators and practical support that a partnership should offer.
What does this mean for the rollout of 5G? Well, Ericsson is ready to offer secure on-site connectivity with its private 5G network (https://bit.ly/3Cotsai) and Deutsche Telekom and partners have successfully trialled the world’s first 5G voice over new radio (VoNR) call. But if we’re already seeing tangible examples of 5G’s application, realistically, we must have only just scratched the surface.
If we look at edge computing and 5G, the use cases are almost endless, as illustrated in Vertiv’s whitepaper on the subject: Turning on 5G: Using Edge Archetypes to Identify the Most Mature Use Cases. Everything from smart security to smart cities; digital health; automated cars; drones; extended reality…all have the potential to be accelerated by 5G. As the main enabler of 5G networks then, edge computing has to be considered one of the most important technologies of the next decade.
This should go some way to explaining how 5G will become the foundation for many emerging technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI), in particular, is set to propel business into an era of data awareness and 5G will play a critical role in realising this vision. Yet, for businesses to reap the full benefits of this technology, AI cannot be solely located in the data centre. Rather, it needs to be located at the site, where the data is generated, within the business. As a result, the demand for highly secure, private 5G networks has increased to provide the data sovereignty and privacy needed for effective remote operations.
But the implications for 5G go further. Thankfully, as a global community we are increasingly mindful of sustainability and the impact we are having on the planet. And here, 5G is widely recognised as being more energy efficient than 3G or 4G when it comes to the power required to transmit data. According to our new research with STL Partners, 5G networks can be up to 90% more efficient per unit of traffic than their 4G predecessors. However, 5G deployments will increase to fully propagate the technology, meaning that overall energy consumption is set to rise and that telco companies will be under close scrutiny on energy sourcing and management.
There is a strong business case for channel partners, too. Indeed, as businesses decentralise and move towards smaller, more local data centre facilities, they will be looking to leverage 5G in order to increase the speed of data processing and decrease latency. For partners, this means there is considerable scope for selling the critical infrastructure to support data processing on a local scale and offer simplified, modular and self-managed solutions to accommodate 5G networks. Approaching the edge through three types of application, legacy, geographic and dynamic, is going to be key here.
Possibly buoyed by its own recent success, Ericsson predicts that 5G will penetrate every market on the globe by 2026 and has acknowledged that 5G expansion has been rapid. Notably, 5G subscriptions with capable devices grew by more than 70 million during the first quarter of 2021, reaching 290 million. What’s more, Ericsson predicts that there will be 580 million 5G subscriptions by the end of the year. But whether one chooses to look at the numbers or the multitude of potential applications for 5G technology, one thing is clear: the channel opportunity is huge and it must be seized sustainably. It’s time for IT channel businesses to lead from the front, engaging the market and building on an ecosystem of expert partners to steer and mentor the distributed compute revolution.