The 2018 Ultra Reliability and Low Latency Communications (URLLC) in 5G conference has only just ended but the organisers are already looking to the future of an event that is enormously important to verticals.
Of course, as I am on the UK5G advisory group, I might be excused a positive response – but I am also realistic about the progress made to date. At this stage it’s still about dialogue with verticals, many of which are not yet fully informed about the potential of low latency 5G to their business. That said, representatives of the automotive and manufacturing sectors made a good showing at the event and entertainment and health industry representatives offered some useful insights. Utilities were less well represented than the apparent urgency of their requirements for smart power, water and lighting (among others) might suggest. However, there were, even at this early stage, a number of case studies that gave useful signposts as to how a low latency 5G ecosystem might function in the real world.
But this is still not an established technological approach, let alone an ecosystem, and, as one attendee from a major public transport vertical put it, supportive attendees like him need more material that is relevant to their sector to present to their superiors. That is the challenge for proponents of a low-latency 5G future that the wireless industry has to respond to: there are a few enthusiasts in the verticals who are evangelising within their organisations and they need support.
Already URLLC conference attendees like the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), the 5G Infrastructure Association (5GIA) and the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) are developing ideas and building alliances, while a variety of experts, researchers, operators and major vendors (such as key sponsor Nokia) were on hand at the show to advise and support verticals wanting to know more.
What mobile offers in LTE releases 13 and 14 – a good-quality engineered radio network – will be more than sufficient for some verticals for quite some time. What the URLLC conference does well, is to explain how getting infrastructure to an even higher standard can lead to much more compelling wireless connectivity propositions that can be used to improve many verticals’ businesses, not to mention the experiences of their customers.
However – and Real Wireless has had this discussion with its transport clients quite recently – even those verticals that ‘get it’ are hesitant about going all in on technologies that are nascent and may not be what they need just yet. Events like this give them some idea of the options.
But the wireless industry will need to listen to verticals too, some of whom don’t entirely trust the motivation of URLLC proponents. Essentially (and this point was made forcefully by automation company ABB), the message is this: “As a vertical I don’t want to be buying a SIM from one operator that means I can’t migrate my solution across to another operator.”
This is a necessary reality check for the wireless industry. For many 5G proponents the argument is simple. Latency and reliability and the avoidance of interference are all attractive and not guaranteed by Wi-Fi. This is something Real Wireless has confirmed for its clients: we’ve looked at the trade offs between a lightly licensed or a licensed approach based on an LTE-oriented platform versus unlicensed Wi-Fi.
But for many verticals it’s also a question of whether they can access the emerging eSIM technology with its inherent portability. If not they may conclude that deploying their own infrastructure solution and dealing with their own subscriber management, gives them the flexibility they need and the lowest total cost of ownership.
So it’s a matter of meeting verticals halfway. In a session I chaired on business models we discussed building a consensus around a technology platform or a commercial approach. That was an element of the conference that was welcome and needs to be developed further.
The overarching takeaway of the conference, then, is that this can’t just be a technology push – important and highly relevant to verticals though the technology is. We also need to ask questions. Questions like: where is the pull coming from? What is the demand? What is the business model? How do verticals adopt this area of 5G without limiting their room for manoeuvre? In essence, the verticals need to reflect on – ‘what problems am I trying to solve?’ and ‘what are my options?’. The wireless industry for its part needs to have clear answers for CTOs and Finance Directors in those verticals.
Which is why, at this stage, it’s still about communicating with verticals. As the URLLC website says: “The purpose of the URLLC conference is to open the dialogue between vertical industries, mobile network operators and solution providers in order to give practical insights into what are essential and also realistic reliability and latency parameters for the various verticals; and then explore the means by which these can be delivered across part or all of the wireless network infrastructure and with what cost and engineering premium.”
That’s not an easy ask. But after the discussions that began at the first two URLLC events, maybe it will become a little easier. Here at Real Wireless our independence allows us to facilitate these conversations, helping to bridge the gap between the industry operators and the verticals. If we can help, please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org