It’s 2025. Bob is driving down the freeway – or, at least, he’s behind the wheel. The car is driving itself.
On the car’s video screen are some of Bob’s colleagues back at the office, hosting a video conference and requesting his feedback on an upcoming project. They can see and hear him just fine, thanks to his car’s audio-visual features and the 5G network that connects the car to the world beyond.
That, at least, is the promise of 5G: massive amounts of wireless bandwidth to support potentially life-altering applications that would choke on today’s 4G cellular networks. Recent tests show Verizon supporting speeds over 1Gbps on its Chicago network while AT&T claims to have hit speeds above 2Gbps on its 5G network in Atlanta – fast enough to download a two-hour HD movie in 10 seconds, the company says.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 5G will eventually support speeds of 10Gbps and beyond, “a massive boost that will make next-generation wireless competitive with even the fastest fiber-optic wired networks,” as Network World described it.
5G is about more than speed, though. It brings two other big advantages to the wireless table: lower latency, for those response-sensitive applications like autonomous cars, and the ability to simultaneously connect far greater volumes of devices, such as IoT sensors and devices.
“5G will invert the last mile problem, wherein bandwidth from users to the 5G edge will far surpass bandwidth on the next hop from the edge to the cloud,” said Satyam Vaghani, vice president and general manager of Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence at Nutanix.
“The next AWS might be a provider of rich application development and hosting services on the 5G edge, not in the core or cloud. The physics of 5G will challenge the “locality” of data lakes, accelerate dispersion of AI, and so on.”
Carriers currently have 5G available only in select cities, but the rollouts are in motion. Verizon, for example, says it will have 5G in 30 cities by late 2019. It’s not too early to assess what 5G will mean to existing enterprise networks in terms of opportunities and challenges.
Overload at the Network Edge
For starters, all that 5G data is likely to put more pressure on the already heavily-loaded network edge, according to Jeff Paine, senior vice president of marketing for Pica8. Pica8 makes an open network operating system intended to run on low-cost “white box” switches targeted at access edge and distributed campus deployments.
Legacy three-tier edge architectures – with access-layer switches or routers feeding into aggregation-layer devices that ultimately link to core routers at the top tier – already struggle under the data burden generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) and distributed branch-office cloud connections, he said.
“5G basically becomes the final straw. [It will force] wholesale campus and access edge network infrastructure upgrades, because the legacy edge switches, switch stacks and chassis switches are already overwhelmed before 5G piles on,” Paine said. “It’s likely to drive the need for more edge data centers to handle all that traffic, especially for real-time applications.”
Fresh Security Concerns
5G may also be a boon for hackers, warned Scott Robinson, CIO for the research consortium GlenMill Group, in a recent blog post.
“Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks will likely increase, as 5G will boost IoT’s participation in real-time enterprise systems,” he wrote. “And IoT is built on the old client/server model, with old security mechanisms. This will take time to adaptively correct.”
A potential fix is to use artificial intelligence (AI)–driven analytics embedded in systems at the network edge to detect anomalies in network performance that indicate an attack, he suggested.
Rob Joyce, senior cybersecurity adviser at the U.S. National Security Agency, sees a bigger problem. At the RSA Conference 2019, held in March in San Francisco, he suggested that security concerns with 5G go beyond the confidentiality of information. At stake is trust in 5G network infrastructure providers’ abilities to securely host critical functions that, if compromised, could have disastrous consequences.
“We’re going to have to trust that [5G] fabric,” said Joyce in an article by SecureWorldExpo.com. “We will work hard on standards and on examining products. But I can tell you…it is really hard with something of that size and magnitude to lock it down where it can’t be exploited.”
In the near term, 5G’s improved wireless speeds open up exciting possibilities for bandwidth-intensive applications like those mobile video conferences in cars and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).
Goldman Sachs Research expects the AR/VR market to reach $80 billion by 2025, about the size of the desktop PC market today, with enterprises adopting it as much as consumers. In the real estate industry, for example, the technology lets home buyers take virtual tours of houses, dramatically speeding up the buying experience, according to Heather Bellini, business unit leader for telecommunications, media and technology at Goldman Sachs Research.
“We think this technology has the potential to transform how we interact with almost every industry today, and we think it will be equally transformative both from a consumer and an enterprise perspective,” said Bellini.
Hospitals can also use it to help train surgeons, she pointed out. Educational institutions can take students on virtual field trips, and AR/VR applications can assist field service personnel with repairs.
Another area of potential 5G impact is in the area of software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs). Unlike its predecessors, 5G offers speeds fast enough that, when integrated into SD-WAN appliances, can serve as a robust back-up link or as one of several broadband paths the SD-WAN can dynamically select to use.
Extending SD-WAN to 5G could give enterprises more control over application performance when accessed from mobile devices, according to Verizon and Cisco, who announced a partnership earlier this year to build a mobile SD-WAN.
Fixed Wireless Applications
5G might also serve as an outright alternative to broadband Internet and leased-line access networks at enterprise branch locations, including banks and retail stores. While 5G is a cellular service, which connotes mobility, it doesn’t have to be used solely for mobile applications, as Network Computing points out.
These so-called fixed wireless solutions also provide a good way to test the technology, especially considering that the first generation of 5G modems may be quite power-hungry. While that matters in a mobile device like a phone, it’s much less of an issue for fixed wireless applications, Network Computing notes.
It’s clear that while 5G presents a wealth of opportunity for innovation in AR/VR, autonomous cars, SD-WAN and other applications, it will not be without its challenges in areas such as security and the network edge. It’s definitely not too soon to start planning accordingly.
Paul Desmond is a contributing writer. He is co-founder and principal of Saratoga B2B group and formerly an editor at IDG’s Network World, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner magazine.
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