As we write this, American mobile carriers continue to roll out their 5G networks as efficiently and quickly as possible. All of these carriers have hundreds of things to consider as they develop and install their new infrastructures to take advantage of the 5G effect. One of great importance is how to approach enterprises and effectively showcase their value.
As we all know, the defining characteristics of 5G mmWave are its lightning-fast speeds and extraordinarily low latency. The anticipation is eating away at so many of us. So what’s the reason the implementation of this new technology is taking longer than we’d prefer? One of the primary reasons is that 5G frequency bands can only travel short distances.
What Does This Mean For Enterprises?
It means that mobile carriers have had to adapt where enterprises are concerned. Specific-use cases will need to be the focus.
Representatives from many 5G corporate players like Ciena and Swisscom have recently made comments about this. One common suggestion for meeting the needs of enterprises is to transition from network operators into IT companies. If this happens, it would represent a historic telecom moment. Communications will be transcended by core operations as wireless networks are built in preparation for a 5G future.
As a result, wireless will be supply chain management’s new foundational piece. In many ways, it already is. (We’ll address this in more detail below). It’s acting as a catalyst that is speeding up the advancement of emerging technologies, such as secure data transfer, wearable tech, and more.
How Will 5G Do All Of This?
The promise of advancement accompanies every new wave of technology. But not every wave delivers on that promise. 5G, however, is all but guaranteed to yield massive advancements. All signs point to a radical alteration of the way industries operate. Simply calling it an improvement on 4G would be a colossal understatement. What 5G will bring to our lives is so much more than super-fast speeds. It’s the latency and device density that will truly transform industry and enterprise capability.
In our current 4G world, bandwidth really struggles for people living in densely populated areas. 4G can only handle 10 thousand devices per square mile. Compare that to what 5G is capable of: 1 million devices per square mile. The math says that’s 250x more. Giving 4G credit, it does a great job at distributing coverage over a wide area. But 5G operates with a different technology called MIMO (multiple input / multiple output). It improves coverage, capacity, and speed via multi-targeted user tracking. As a result, 5G’s bandwidth capabilities are 5x that of 4G and its speeds are, at minimum, 8x faster.
Let’s look at a few enterprises requiring technology that will most certainly see substantial and immediate advancements as a result of the 5G effect.
5G’s impact on the core operations of smart office spaces has been on telecom company’s radars for some time. 4G LTE has done a great job providing coverage thus far. But 5G will change office environments forever.
Take the partnership between Steelcase and Ericsson as an example. They’ve had their eyes set on Atlanta’s WorkLife Center; stationing a private 5G network there. Their goal is to showcase how workflow is drastically improved with 5G wireless. Specifically how it enhances data management and collection.
Even before 5G, big data and IoT have been making their potential known in corporate office spaces. But with 5G-era applications like edge computing, robotics, augmented reality, and machine learning coming to fruition, smart offices are going to take off.
Supply Chain & Logistics Management
E-commerce disrupted the way we buy and sell products long before 2020. But with the advent of 5G’s low latency on the horizon, any supply chain concerns that still exist will almost certainly find game-changing solutions very soon.
It isn’t any wonder that e-commerce growth has soared as a result of the economic shutdowns and behavioral mandates enacted by local and federal governments in response to COVID-19. It’s estimated that we’ll hit a 40% growth in e-grocery alone by the start of 2021. And that’s only one of many similar predictions. The pressure this puts on the supply chain is immense, particularly regarding inventory management and delivery.
5G will unquestionably improve all transportation logistics. We can expect serious upgrades to vehicle-to-vehicle communications, product delivery, lost cargo retrieval, trucking routes, and shipment tracking. With data transferring in real-time, management of warehouses and inventories will be more accurate than ever. Delivery services, retailers, and distribution centers can communicate their needs with each other instantly. Questions concerning supply and demand will be virtually eliminated. As businesses and consumers are brought closer to the supply chain, e-commerce will continue to grow.
3 Specific Ways 5G Will Impact Global Supply Chains
1. Streamlined Logistics Operations
Tracing and tracking products is still primarily done using manual controls. But with close to no latency, all shipments can be recorded, tracked, and labeled automatically. This solves a mountain of issues that plague companies on the regular, like inefficient manual processes, smuggling, counterfeiting, misplaced containers, and lost cargo. Some companies have already seen success after establishing private networks.
All that being true, it’s important to remember that we’re still a ways away from a mass 5G roll-out. Some of the things mentioned above can’t be executed to their full 5G-induced effect quite yet.
An Example in Italy
Italy is partly known for its many beautiful seaports. One of the largest and busiest is the Port of Livorno in Tuscany. Some 30 million units of cargo come through this port yearly, carried by around 7,000 total ships. Ericsson (previously mentioned) recently partnered with the port to design and install a management solution based on 5G. The goal was to solve 3 of the port’s main issues: the recurrence of bottlenecking when dealing with large shipments, a problematically complex turnaround process, and a thinly spread workforce.
The partnership between the port and Ericsson has thus far yielded very positive results. Cloud-based automation now powers unmanned ground vehicles on-site that handle the majority of operations. Vessel mooring time has been drastically reduced. An estimated savings of almost $3 million has resulted from the increased productivity. Not only that, port security is enhanced, the work environment is markedly safer, and they achieved an 8% reduction in carbon emissions.
2. Smart Warehouse Management & Inventory
Company owners are often frustrated at the number of resources that inventory and warehouse management require. Fortunately, 5G brings very good news for this aspect of supply chain operations. Archiving, delivery, and collection of products and goods will be more efficient and transparent than ever with the help of 5G networks. It will undoubtedly enhance inventory and warehouse management in 3 specific ways; by optimizing:
- transport with autonomous vehicles
- maintenance with remote controls
- critical processes with real-time, no-latency data transfer
An Example in Great Britain
Ocado (a British online supermarket company) was keen on addressing the very 3 areas mentioned above. They hoped 5G’s networked solutions would help them sharpen their order processing system, reduce downtime, optimize packaging, and streamline delivery of goods. Previous internal testing suggested that integrating a 5G network would allow a 50-item order to be assembled in less than 5 minutes. If this could be accomplished, it would be proof that Ocado’s packaging and delivery process times could be drastically reduced. The testing was so convincing that plans to integrate a 5G network are well underway.
3. Smooth Fleet Management Operations
Fleet management is a complex aspect of the supply chain that is perpetually concerned with safety; avoiding collisions and keeping vehicles in top condition. Yes, we already have vehicles equipped with sensors that help find emergency services, avoid collisions, and stay in specified lanes. But extremely low latency takes all of these features to whole other level. Real-time responses made possible with 5G is the consensus advantage for fleet management.
Testing the effect of 5G networks on fleets has been underway for some time. Prototype test vehicles fitted with advanced 5G tech have already produced lots of positive results. The vehicles are much safer. For example, 5G connectivity gives semi-trucks the ability to effectively stop on a dime, coming to a halt even while driving at high speeds. These hyper-fast reflexes are a result of the low latency, fast speeds, and advanced sensors of 5G.
Integrated 5G systems make vehicle-to-vehicle communication instantaneous, especially for robotic fleets or automated trucks (also made possible with 5G). Combining a skilled human workforce with an autonomous fleet – both optimized by the 5G effect – should legitimately save the trucking industry billions of dollars long-term.
5G Isn’t Just For The Outdoors
Enterprises need to get serious about bringing 5G connectivity indoors. The 5G benefits that we’ll all experience in the great outdoors is amazing, yes. But remember that bringing the 5G effect indoors is more difficult due to the limitations of mmWave frequency bands. The 4G we are used to doesn’t require anywhere near the infrastructure that 5G does. This is one of the main reasons it’s taking a long time for a mass 5G roll-out in the United States. But the nice thing about 5G as it pertains to enterprises is that blanket coverage isn’t necessary. Coverage can be pointed in precise areas within facilities where it’s needed.
An administration section of a factory, for instance, would need 5G connectivity far less than, say, an area where a workforce of autonomous robots are stationed.
Still, an internal 5G infrastructure that delivers signal throughout a building requires DAS (distributed antenna systems), cells and repeaters, and other wireless technologies. It’s not a simple undertaking. It takes particular resources and a lot of time.
Remember that 5G systems still support 4G LTE.
The 5G Effect: How Enterprises Will Change – Conclusion
A lot of reinvention and reimagining is in store for enterprises that adopt 5G. Data infrastructures that we’re used to will have to change as 5G-infused analytics solutions are implemented. Many new practices will need to be adopted in preparation, such as:
- determining the capabilities of their current platforms for rapid scalability
- adopting AI/ML-powered analytics solutions
- adopting new data management strategies
- adapting to the shift from cloud-scale data services to localized low-latency services
- developing higher efficiency by automating network processes for reduced costs
Enterprises that take these practices seriously will have a leg up in reaping the benefits of the 5G effect. Doing so will make sure supply chains are secured. Their path to future successes will be fast-tracked.