BT: ‘5G will make mass IoT deployments across the UK a reality’

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Chris Sims is the MD of Strategy for BT Enterprise. He leads BT’s 5G strategy for businesses and public sector organisations in the UK.

Chris was formerly of Commercial Director at EE before its acquisition by BT. His career in the mobile industry spans  20 years, having joined Orange in 1999. He sat down with Silicon UK to talk 5G, autonomous vehicles, and even (gasp) 6G.

Will 5G have a profound impact on every industry and every consumer?

Ultimately, 5G will drive convergence so customers will benefit from the best of the fixed and mobile worlds, switching seamlessly between the two without having to know which network they’re using. The 5G standard is also the first to support the specific behaviours of IoT devices which can ‘sleep’ for months and only ‘wake up’ for a specific event – such as major flooding incident, for example. This will make mass IoT deployments across the UK a reality, bringing a wealth of operational and efficiency benefits to the energy, utilities, logistics, supply chain and smart cities sectors.

It’s also important to stress that the true potential of 5G will only be realised over the course of several years as the technology continues to evolve. The launch of 5G services for businesses in 2019 is just the beginning of the journey; the benefits that businesses will see initially in terms of improved latency, speed, reliability and volume of connections supported will be a step change from where we are with 4G, although the networks will be very much complementary. Further down the line, we can expect to see 5G underpinning the converged network for the UK’s digital economy, with customers switching seamlessly across fixed, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies.

Broadly speaking, we see 5G technology as being targeted at three distinct groups of use cases. Firstly, enhanced mobile broadband will support new services for existing customers who require high-speed connectivity – such as rapid site connectivity for companies like construction firms which need temporary superfast speeds without the need to wait for a fixed line installation.

Is 5G secure, and how will network providers address privacy concerns?

 Security is, of course, paramount to both IoT and 5G, as with many more connections come potentially more points of vulnerability. Our approach in IoT has been to develop solutions by design with the highest levels of security built in, leveraging our deep expertise in this field with 3,000 cybersecurity professionals based out of 15 security operations centres around the world. However, we and other network operators also need to equip customers with the ability to react in real time to identify and respond to known, emerging and zero-day threats – in IoT that means the capability to update the device remotely and upgrade security patches later in the life of the solution.

What are the key drivers for businesses to ensure they make the most of 5G?

That’s something that we’ll be busy helping our public and private sector customers to understand. We’ve already started a dialogue with hundreds of companies across banking, accountancy, central and local government, the media and broadcast sector and many others; many of whom we have already hosted at our 5G live network demo facility in Canary Wharf.

Over this year, we’ll be focusing on a series of proof of concept trials and use cases targeting sectors such as media and broadcast, smart cities/surveillance and narrowband IoT. We’ll be examining how real customers use the technology and use the new capabilities to enhance their business models, and even create new ones they haven’t considered yet.

How will moving data processing to the edge of the network ensure efficiency, reliability and security for drivers?

 A key goal for connected vehicles is to increase safety by reducing accidents. Sharing of sensor data between road users and infrastructure will be the critical enabler for safety applications. Roadside infrastructure which can identify hazards, allow vehicles to see around corners, and which pre-empt dangerous situations are currently being proposed.

For example, real-time visual analytics of road conditions would require constant monitoring of multiple video sources to determine useful, actionable information. Keeping this processing at the edge of the network, where actions will be taken, is potentially the most efficient and reliable method of deploying this type of application.

Simulating a 5G-connected highway using mobile edge computing and network slicing, for validation testing on connected and autonomous vehicles, enables the sharing of sensor data between road users and infrastructure (V2V, V2X, X2X) over a long distance.

Are standards defined enough to deliver high levels of interoperability?

 Interoperability between network slices will be a key enabler for the full benefits of 5G technology. The industry needs to be very careful not to overspecify standards for slice interworking to avoid implementations becoming too onerous and restricted. The GSMA has activities underway around interoperability standardisation, and this could become the cornerstone for future interconnect.

How important is network slicing to the successful application of 5G?

Network slicing will open up a wealth of exciting new possibilities. It will give us the option to create virtual networks optimised towards specific characteristics and do so in an agile way. That will enable us to more quickly and efficiently deliver the critical digital services that business customer need, at the right SLA levels, and with the QoS and network monitoring they need.

Also, network slicing for 5G will essentially create multiple networks with different software-based functionalities on top of the same 5G infrastructure – meaning the 5G network can be partitioned into multiple virtual networks for specific purposes. Each network slice will be independent of the others, meaning no slice can interfere with the other – allowing for guaranteed latency, speed and reliability.

A common example will be in stadiums, where the 5G network can be sliced so that it is configured to provide broadcasters such as BT Sport with the connectivity they need to broadcast live sports events without interruption, while also configuring the network on another slice to support those in the stadium using mobile phones, providing faster speeds and a better user experience.

What does the future of network communications look like? Will we need 6G?

 At BT, convergence is at the very heart of our technology and network strategy, and our vision is to create one smart digital network. So, we see the future being about how multiple access technologies across fixed, mobile and wireless can be bound together by an intelligent, software-driven common infrastructure to deliver the seamless connectivity experience that customers really want.

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