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Why digital transformation for enterprises relies on 5G private networks

5G
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Who Is Danny)

Enterprises are continually seeking ways to improve business outcomes. Productivity, operational efficiency, quality, cost, workplace safety, revenue growth and sustainability are all areas that dictate the success or failure of a business. To realize such outcomes, an outstanding digital infrastructure is essential. 5G is the technology that promises to enable new services and applications that will allow enterprises to address these areas. In fact, 5G and its associated technology ecosystems (IoT, AI, edge compute and robotics) are the substrate on which enterprise business and operational models can be transformed.  

Transforming the enterprise 

Today, there is huge demand from various verticals—from transportation and logistics to manufacturing, education, health services and agriculture—for digital transformation. The advanced network characteristics of 5G private networks, combined with the latest disruptive technologies, will empower enterprises to realize the ultra-low latency applications and use-cases set to impel business transformation. 

This is because 5G private networks not only offer faster speeds, improved bandwidth, and ultra-low latency, but they also provide exclusive control of the network, as well as the ability to manage security policies with data stored and processed locally on-site. These features are especially critical for organizations such as shipping ports, distributor warehouses, factories and universities, where high network performance, consistent reliability and data security are vital to manage and optimize operations. 

Up until now, wired networks have been limited in their ability to connect large numbers of small devices, or support the mobility of people and equipment. 4G and Wi-Fi on the other hand don’t deliver the same ultra-fast speeds, reliability and low latency that 5G can achieve—a key enabler to data-hungry applications on the move such as AR, VR and XR. With enterprises requiring performance, reliability and increased levels of security to transform their processes through digitalization and automation, 5G private networks, combined with edge computing, can deliver these assurances.

Mobility is key 

Demand for wireless in the enterprise is being driven by the appetite for mobility across industrial sites and campuses in numerous business vertical scenarios. As a result, focus on the use of 5G for private networks is seen as critical. For a 200-acre shipping port, or a large construction site, mobility solutions are essential to enhance operations and drive business development. Wearables, portable devices, handhelds and tablets augment worker’s abilities, provide access to essential real-time information and improve productivity. By moving beyond purely fixed access which does not support roaming, workers are empowered to achieve more whilst capacity increases. 

Unlocking the full potential of 5G 

Today, 5G private networks and their associated technologies—converged connectivity and next-generation devices—provide the foundation which allows enterprises to realize their digital transformation ambitions. By reconciling 5G private networks with edge computing (where network data is captured and processed on a customer’s premises rather than in the cloud to support ultra-low latency applications), it is possible to guarantee the highest levels of security, efficiency and performances required to run the next generation of business-critical applications. This will dramatically improve and accelerate existing business processes, bringing mobility support to companies that previously relied on centralized and fixed information access. It also introduces the possibility of rethinking the process through decentralization and distribution.  For instance, this will create the perfect conditions for the wider adoption of Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) in factories, warehouses and campuses, where they will be able to maneuver safely and wirelessly around workspaces. 

5G private networks in action   

5G private networks are providing enterprises with the foundation to deliver on their digital transformation promises.  Today there are a number of new and innovative use cases that illustrate the tangible benefits of this technology, one exemplary example being the UK’s first 5G factory installation. The expertise and knowledge from various stakeholders of 5G private networks, wearable devices, IoT, data analytics and mobile edge computing all unite to enable precision monitoring and control at the site. This is the first known UK example where the implementation of 5G enabled automated guided vehicles (AGVs) has been recorded. Although a number of manufacturers currently use AGVs to transport resources across sites, they are still limited to rigid, pre-defined routes. The key difference is that now 5G allows AGVs to move around in a far more flexible way and adapt routes themselves by using data from multiple sensors and intelligent systems. 

In a further example, Belfast Harbour is progressing with building a 5G ecosystem within the port, laying the foundation to deliver a series of 5G led innovations. It has proved to be the natural use case for the initial roll-out of ‘Remote Expert’, the delivery of augmented reality experiences over 5G to improve efficiencies by supporting workers to carry out maintenance and repair tasks and lead training programs. With the help of mixed reality, port operatives can inspect one of the harbor’s cranes under the remote guidance of an expert-based back at the office. Wearing an augmented reality headset connected to a 5G device, the operative can receive step-by-step maintenance guidance and remote support through video collaboration with a remote expert, via an application server in the cloud. Demonstrations like this illuminate how maintenance activities can be simplified and improved by delivering information and expert guidance to staff, when and where they need it.

Outcome-based innovation for enterprise 

5G creates an incredible opportunity for enterprise and it is set to unlock significant economic value worldwide. Enterprises now need to look to 5G private networks to facilitate the fourth industrial revolution which will open up a world of possibilities, and most importantly, ensure their continued success in a fast-moving digital era. 

Phil Baulch, Technology Director, BT’s Enterprise unit

Phil owns future technology strategy and innovation for BT’s public and corporate sectors. He’s responsible for emerging and future technology innovation, helping customers deliver digital transformation, CX and digital working.