In a recent interview with Rethink Technology Research [[i]], Kevin Kettler, Flex’s CTO and SVP for communications and enterprise compute, explained the company’s evolution. It’s been an interesting one. Flex used to be Flextronics, a leading technological manufacturer. It’s now repositioning itself as a design partner for many of the world’s largest technology brands. It’s website describes the company thus: ‘With approximately 200,000 professionals across 30 countries, Flex designs, develops and delivers solutions to companies of all sizes and industries.” The IoT plays an important role in the impressive list of industry sectors in which the company offers expertise, a list ranging from automotive and health to lighting and energy.
Not only Flex but its customers can already see the role that IoT, combined with 5G, could play across numerous industries and products. Kettler said in the interview that all Flex customers were interested in increasing their connectivity options, ranging from white goods appliances to streetlights. He believes 5G could eventually help greatly with unification, by acting as a bridge between different more localized or specialized networks.
There is a potential downside, however, at least in the shorter term. As well as being part of the solutions to many industry challenges, allowing new efficiencies through its role in enabling IoT, 5G itself could in fact be part of a whole new set of problems. Electronics manufacturers are facing the challenges and opportunities of designing 5G products themselves, and particularly the shorter life cycles that go with new generations of mobile and IoT objects. As Flex notes in an essay on its own website, “Some products are becoming so smart that manufacturing them is the easy part. It’s developing them in a timely fashion, testing them thoroughly, and supporting them over their life cycle that have become bigger challenges” [[ii]].
This is particularly true of 5G, with its accelerated timescales and its multi-faceted development path, spanning a range from high bandwidth fixed and mobile broadband, to very low latency IoT. The problems have thrown a new spotlight on new generation prototyping tools, and made these powerful weapons for the electronics manufacturers.
In Flex’s case, cross-pollination and unification are the new watchwords, and that will no doubt be the case for many businesses seeking to ride the 5G wave. For instance, experience in the automotive sector is enabling it to expand into a broader range of design services for that industry, as carmakers increasingly align their efforts with 5G, and its promise of supporting high bandwidth and low latency applications simultaneously.
Whatever the hurdles a 5G IoT future may offer, many, it seems, could be overcome by greater cooperation between once discrete industries in an understanding that 5G could benefit them all if they work together.