INTERVIEW: Rui Inácio, Head of Consultancy and Solutions at Vilicom has over 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, starting as an engineer.
He is a technical expert in 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G, multi-vendor RAN (Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia), network optimisation processes, network performance management and network configuration management. We spoke to him about 5G, IoT, AI, and how businesses can best take advantage of them – including how developed countries developed countries in industries affected by the offshoring advent of the 1990s and 2000s can regain a competitive position.
Is 5G as revolutionary as it appears to be?
The proposed vision for 5G technology is revolutionary, and its architecture truly innovative. It offers features that enhance not only network performance, but also the way networks are built and deployed. This is an essential aspect because one of the drivers for 5G is the reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX, which will open the door for more players offering more innovative business models.
Today, an alliance is being forged between 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) that together will be pillars of the digital transformation of millions of businesses around the globe. 5G’s technological proposition is aimed at closing the cycle on the network convergence between fixed and mobile. This means that 5G architectures and technology will allow the migration of all the services that are today dependent of fixed connections (namely fibre) to mobile (ubiquitous) connectivity, enhancing the existing portability to become true mobility of services.
The benefits of 5G are expansive. Imagine that you can use Salesforce (and other cloud-based applications) seamlessly indoors and outdoors. Imagine that you have a factory that is entirely wireless and that you want to extend or expand to another building. You would be able to do by using the same network. Alternatively, imagine that you can experience a fibre like connection in your home using a wireless connection.
When 5G and IoT, in particular, are connected are security and privacy concerns are quick to surface?
When we talk about 5G and IoT from the perspective of cybersecurity, to understand the real challenge, we need to separate these technologies. 5G (and 4G) offers highly secure connections that are ciphered and anonymised.
The issue of security is mostly related to IoT because the technology is based on sensors that are mostly multipurpose microprocessors that run software that enables the functionality for which they are built. The standards that exist in terms of IoT are limited to the connectivity that enables these to transfer and receive data from their servers. Also, there are no standards for how to build cybersecurity procedures into the software that runs these sensors.
Therefore, these sensors can be attacked (the same as our laptops and smartphones) by viruses and malware. The heightened danger comes from the massive numbers of IoT devices that are predicted to be deployed in the future, and the possibility of a hacker being able to find a way to control a big number of these devices and orchestrate them to execute Denial-of-Service attacks to damage or disrupt internet services.
How should businesses prepare to take full advantage of 5G?
The key driver for 5G is digital transformation and is designed to implement a truly converged network, which will allow the end user to experience a similar level of service quality and capability to that experienced in fixed networks (mainly in fibre networks) from the mobile network.
5G, combined with IoT and AI, will underpin the development of solutions that will enable the delivery of Industry 4.0 business use cases. This is thanks to the advanced connectivity capabilities offered by 5G (low latency, increased capacity and capabilities) that can support the massive amount of devices that generate enormous amounts of data, which enable the ability for AI orchestrators to implement decision-making processes and act upon this network of devices through advanced control systems.
These solutions also have the power to replace human intervention, thus creating new business models that enable higher degrees of agility, flexibility, accuracy and predictability, all contributing to lowering the CAPEX and OPEX of the businesses and industries that adopt it.
Several different industries are set to benefit, such as manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and supply chain, construction, and more. In particular, companies from industries that manufacture and trade goods on a global scale have a lot to win with the advent of automation, as it will enable them to compete with countries that offer lower paid labour. This means that developed countries in industries affected by the offshoring advent of the 1990s and 2000s can regain a competitive position.
Masses of data will be produced by autonomous vehicles, for instance, and the environments they move through. Is 5G edge computing a prerequisite for 5G success?
It is essential to differentiate between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles supporting vehicle-to-everything standards.
Autonomous vehicles should use a set of their own sensors to collect data about the surrounding environment and use AI capabilities to process this data, analyse it to implement decision-making processes and continuously improve by learning from experience. This mode of operation should run autonomously in each car and should not depend on data collected from a network of cars and so should not be dependent on receiving traffic information.
There are many benefits to using 5G to enable the collection of Big Data so that AI can analyse it, and be used by autonomous vehicles to improve their decision making to avoid traffic congestion, be aware of avoidable risks, and improve security by implementing algorithms that use network-wide data to calculate collision routes and inform the vehicle’s AI to take measures to avoid it.
How vital are standards to service providers and 5G users?
5G standards are still being defined, and the most important standardisation effort is being made by 3GPP, which typically issues annual releases that incrementally improve the overall technology features and functionalities. The first commercial release of 5G is based on 3GPP Release 18, and it offers all the cybersecurity features required.
Another aspect that is important to mention is 5G’s impact on health and safety. The first deployments of 5G in Europe will use the 3.4GHz to 3.7GHz bands, which have been extensively tested regarding the impact on human health. The predicted evolution of spectrum allocation to 5G is that more new bands will be made available, mainly on the 700MHz band (previously used to broadcast TV) and higher bands (with lower coverage) will be used mainly on the 26GHz to 30GHz bands. As well as the spectrum currently being used by 2G, 3G and 4G.
What does the future of network communications look like?
New devices will be created to support Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) features. While IoT will be further used in our daily lives, from domestic appliances and smart clothing with embedded devices that monitor our health to industrial revolution based on automation and sensor data. Also, the future of communications, concerning what the user experiences, is set to be truly wireless and will enable the digital experience to be fully mobile, agile, flexible and enriched.
The way communication technologies evolve is incremental. 5G was designed to address requirements that were defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to incrementally improve 4G through to IMT-2020. So, it is expected that in another five years from now we will start talking about IMT-2030 that will eventually drive us to 6G.