Advancing Life & Work

The Element Podcast - The 5G Imperative, Ep.3

5G, the much-anticipated catalyst of digital connectivity and innovation, is finally here. But the world has yet to tap its full potential. On this episode, technologists and 5G experts Jeff Edlund and Stuart Strickland, share how enterprise companies can best leverage this powerful technology.

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Peggy Smedley:

Welcome to The Element Podcast from HPE. I'm your host, Peggy Smedley. This season, we're examining different imperatives for our digital transformation. And today we're focusing on one big one, 5G. By enabling ubiquitous connectivity. 5G could be truly world changing from making edge computing and AI more pervasive, to catalyzing autonomous vehicles and the internet of things.

 But we're still getting started in understanding the technology and how to tap this enormous potential.

 So we're going to be talking about how companies can leverage 5G. I'm joined by Jeff Edlund the CTO of Communications and Media Solutions at HPE and Stuart Strickland Distinguished Technologist on the CTO team at Aruba. Jeff and Stuart, welcome to the show.

Jeff Edlund: 

Great to be here.

Stuart Strickland:

Thanks for having us Peggy.


So gentlemen, we've heard a lot about 5G, especially in recent years. But there are still misperceptions about it deep in the enterprise circle. And Jeff, so I thought what I’d do is start with you and get your definition – what does it all include?


So that's a, that's a big question.




So 5G really is a, a technology specifically designed to make room for everything and everybody to become connected together in everyday life. So phones, computers, storage, appliances, cars, people, anything [00:02:00] that you can think of will, uh, be able to connect, compute and interact.

And really, if you look at what's been going on, we started with 1G, which was basic voice calling via analog. 2G which was voice and text and converted over to digital. 3G we added the mobile internet. 4G we added IP telephony and 5G is an umbrella technology that is designed to bring [00:02:30] all of the other communications types, whether it be IoT communications, it'd be wifi under one umbrella, add compute and virtualization where everything can be connected at high speed, with very low latency and expect that you can get a connection anywhere and everywhere you are.


So then Stuart, I guess my question for you then would be, what are the misunderstandings of 5G? And its potential as a game-changer?


I'll speak in three ways to what I think are some misperceptions and, and then what I think 5G is really responding to. So first I think it's important to realize it's not just a new generation of radios, but there's a whole, a whole toolbox [00:04:00] of technology. Yes, there's a more efficient radio, but there's also a modular core network.

There's the ability to access that core via, via wifi, but it's also not just a collection of those technologies. It's a, it's a concerted effort on the part of mobile network operators to change their relationship with the enterprise. And, and it's a, a struggle over what the nature of that relationship will be and who will control it. And it's not even just an effort of the operators to capture this new enterprise market, but it's [00:04:30] also a response to a radically transformed landscape of communication..

We're, we're no longer living in a world in which mobile phones connect to the mobile networks and laptops connect to the corporate wifi. Um, we're seeing a proliferation of all different sorts of devices, sensors, machines, monitors, cameras, control services, and each of those has their [00:05:00] own specific needs.

 Um, and we're seeing a need to coordinate access across a variety of different radio technologies. So devices have both cellular and wifi or both Bluetooth and Zigbee, or they have a fixed ethernet connection, but they still need to get access to the same resources. So, um, this is also about responding and trying to coordinate that.

We're seeing [00:05:30] a shift of, um, data storage and compute resources closer to the edge, away from data centers so that, um, we can meet some of those throughput and latency requirements. And we're also seeing a kind of countervailing demand to m- m- move, um, resources actually out to the cloud to provide global access and to allow networks to be managed, um, remotely as they move between different kinds of networks.

So both, both wifi 6 and 5G are actually aimed at serving this new landscape. Wifi 6 has had to become a lot more like cellular, a lot more secure, a lot more deterministic and 5G has had to become a lot more like wifi than LTE was more, more flexible with network slicing with more capacity, sometimes operating in an unlicensed spectrum.


We're now I think in this midst of this 5G, a- adoption that you just talked about. Tell us about the current state? Are we in the first inning of this? Are we in the fourth inning?


Well if, if I use your baseball [00:08:00] metaphor and, um-




I think about a game lasting nine innings or more depending upon the score. Um, I would say that if you look at the, the way that the mobile industry has handled all of the previous generations of, uh, communications technology, it's been basically on 10 year cycles. And I don't really expect to see anything different this time around, although, because [00:08:30] we're digitizing and connecting everyone and everything. I think it's going to be a, um, it's going to be more disruptive, which to me means a lot more opportunity.

This year we're starting to see the carriers [00:09:30] really start to build their plan, to move beyond a non standalone 5G to standalone 5G. And I really expect that we'll see it start to move strongly to, um, a massive, uh, rollout of 5G standalone networks, starting to, uh, implement, uh, lot more u- use cases and, and actually start to watch the mobile service providers [00:10:00] start to digitize their business in, uh, 2022.

 We're seeing this year, uh, high level of interest from enterprise and then being able to deploy their own private networks and leverage some of the 5G capabilities, uh, alongside upgrading their wifi networks so [00:10:30] that they can do, um, things that the enterprise is very interested in, like being able to assert policies from, uh, their, uh, enterprise controlled wifi network into perhaps their own enterprise controlled 5G network and then beyond. So it, it's a very interesting time.

So getting back to innings, I'd say we're in the third inning.


Do you agree with that Stuart? You, you feel that we're at that same level right now?


Yeah, so [00:11:00] I, I think that we are at the juncture that Jeff identifies between the operators having done what they could do on their own, um, which essentially was the fixed wireless access, they control both sides of that, uh, equation. And that's a, that's a service that they, they want to be able to provide in 5G is well suited for it, to a point where enterprises are taking interest and trying to figure out what they're going to do with it.

When we look back, um, I think we'll see that our biggest mistake today was having, um, a tendency to underestimate the impact [00:11:30] of 5G. Um, but in the near term, um, it's clear that expectations have probably been set too high and, and certainly in some of the wrong places. Um, and we're seeing adjustments, I think in the early days, it wasn't uncommon to hear mobile network operator executives claim that 5G was going to replace wifi in the enterprise.

 And, and, and now if you look at, for example, the, the television commercials of the major mobile network operators, they say things like, um, with 5G, we'll give you speeds just as fast as wifi. So I think there's [00:12:00] been an adjustment to the expectation, but there's also, uh, there's, there's, there's really a vast underappreciated 5G story around spectrum. I'd start with the, the new 6 gigahertz band, which has just been opened up in the United States.

That's 1.2 gigahertz of new unlicensed shared spectrum, um, for use [00:12:30] by both 5G radios and wifi 6. Biggest allocation in history, tripling the capacity that wifi has today. Um, this is gonna be a really important resource, but it also highlights that 5G comes in, um, several different flavors. Um, I was going to say three because all good things come in three, but Jeff-




... mentioned the fourth that I wanna include, and that that's the fixed wireless access. Which is typically a kind of millimeter wave. Um, but the three that I want to highlight, um, were the licensed mid-band [00:13:00] spectrum, um, which is where LTE lives today. And it's great for mobility. It gives, um, all the wide area coverage to people associate and look for in cellular networks, but it has limited capacity. And in any of that, that used for 5G will come at the expense of 4G.

Um, and then we have mid-bands shared spectrum, like the 6 gigahertz band or like 5 gigahertz that's shared currently with LAA and wifi. Um, which is great in terms of capacity. Um, but doesn't offer the protected status that [00:13:30] I think many people associated with cellular networks. And then finally, there's the, the millimeter wave spectrum, which as Jeff points out, has been used for back haul, but we'll see enterprise taking a keen interest in using to deliver services to client devices.

But it's, it's got, you know, most of the headline features that people associate with, with, with specifically with 5G cellular of high throughput, very low latency, but it's also very short range. And I'm not actually all that well-suited for mobility and it won't penetrate buildings very well. So I think [00:14:00] that's going to be used for some very specific applications and enterprises will need to look closely at the use cases for which it, it makes sense to, uh, to sprinkle some millimeter wave into their enterprise networks.


Some of the analysts touted that by 2035, it's gonna equal about $2.3 trillion, and that's gonna make a significant contribution [00:14:30] to the economic society at large.

Now hearing what you're saying, "Well, yeah, there's some problems." So enterprises have to really take a good hard look at this 'cause it's got some pros, but there's [00:15:00] also some cons based on how you're gonna apply it in what vertical or what enterprise you have to really look at it.


Yeah. But I think there is a really important opportunity. I wouldn't wanna minimize. 'Cause we've, we've seen. And Jeff and I have worked on a number of these projects together. Enterprises flirt with private cellular networks in the past. And, and, and most of those have, have run aground on complications, around gaining access to operator spectrum, or around the complexities [00:15:30] of managing a cellular network or under mismatch security models between cellular credentials and enterprise credentials or problems with mobility between the cellular and other enterprise networks. Um, and those, those kinds of problems, the, the 5G architecture, um, addresses.

We're finally in a position where, um, those who have a genuine need to run their own private cellular networks, whether that's for IoT or for wide area coverage, um, completely independently from mobile network operators [00:16:00] could do so. Um, without having to ask for a spectrum and without some of the steepness of the learning curve of managing the complexities of cellular networks.

I think there is a real opportunity in that enterprises will be looking more closely at exploring a space, which, um, I think in the last round, um, they came to the conclusion. It was, it was largely blocked for them.


So Jeff, how do you see 5G? Why [00:16:30] does it matter to the telecommunication company itself?


You know, when you look at 5G, um, you know, one of the primary things about it is it helps the, the service provider move away from these, uh, proprietary [00:17:00] telecommunication protocols. It allows them to leverage much more, uh, open and secure technology and it leverages cloud and it's gonna allow them to take a lot of costs, uh, out of their business.

So really 5G is kind of the digiti-,digitization play for, uh, the mobile providers. The other thing I think is really interesting about 5G [00:17:30] is it, it brings to, to reality a vision that has been out there in the ICT industry since 1984. So in 84, we had this bright guy by the name of John Gage and he coined this phrase that the network was the computer.

And, uh, you know, you store client server technology kind of make an appearance, but at the end of the day, the network, wasn't the computer. [00:18:00] Then in 96, you started to see the World Wide Web really start to take hold and web services start a burst of activity that make the internet, the network. And then in 2006, you see enterprises starting to go through digital transformation and it continues this actualization of the network being, comp-, the computer. Then in 2018, 5G specifications and aspirations really start to bring [00:18:30] John Gage's vision of the network becoming, uh, the computer, a reality. And when you think about this then, the mobile service providers are in a position to really touch, uh, every part of the fabric of enterprise and consumer lives.

They can provide people with a variety of [00:19:00] different network related services, that will enable either the lifestyle technologies that somebody is looking for or the enterprise technologies that somebody, uh, and enterprises looking for in order to, uh, you know, continue their own digital transformation journey.

And then the final thing I would say, um, from a mobile service provider perspective is, you know, 5G really [00:19:30] opens up this opportunity for them to, uh, stop charging their customers for a bit pipe, but charge them based upon the value of the service that they're actually delivering, uh, themselves or that they're providing over top of the 5G network and creating different ways for those services to be, uh, billed, [00:20:00] charged, uh, paid for on behalf of. So it just generates an entire new ecosystem of value that the service providers can participate in as a everything and everybody in everyone and all of their things become connected.


[0020:24] We've been talking about the enterprise, we've been talking about telecommunication side of things. Can we shift a little bit to just [00:20:30] the pandemic? I think because this has accelerated digital transformation in various industries, and I'm curious how you see it affecting 5G. Where do you see the greater impact that's occurred right now?


[00:41:57] so we, we witnessed, uh, interesting and I think quite [00:42:00] rare phenomena among some of our, um, enterprise customers, particularly those who manage networks in publicly accessible spaces like shopping malls and airports and hotels. Um, where, um, the normal, constant pace of trying to innovate and upgrade, um, took a pause. Um, of course there was a drop-off in, in visitors, um, uh, retreat of acute problems that needed to be immediately [00:42:30] solved a kind of opportunity to strategically rethink what they wanted the networks to do and who they were for, um, what their requirements were, how they were going to fit those into, um, the rest of their budgets, especially since some of those, um, venues dependent upon the visitors who were absent, um, for revenue.

And I think that, although it was something that none of them would have wished for, um, all of them really benefited from having a more thoughtful network strategy, [00:43:00] um, going forward. And I think that's going to really serve them well, as they start looking deliberately at choices to make in the context of a, a 5G and, and wifi six.


[00:26:08] And secondly, we've seen a lot of companies obv- obviously learning that their employees can work from anywhere. We've seen a much more acute focus on figuring out how to make [00:26:30] that, um, that reality of people working outside the workplace, um, more effective and establishing a common experience, regardless of what radio network you use to get access, having common access to resources and data that might've been part of the edge infrastructure, but you need to reach also, um, when you're at home. And of course also making sure that those connections are secure, um, regardless of how you get on.

So th-, these, these are all aspects of working within heterogeneous and [00:27:00] distributed networking environments that are a part of the 5G architecture. Um, but for which there is, I think, a more acute recognition of the value than there than there was bef-, when, when, when, when more people were working in the same place.


[00:28:30] Jeff, companies have to make some big adjustments. And I'm kind of curious what some of those big adjustments might be in sort of maybe, uh, speed data, security challenges. Do, do they have a lot of those things they have to be thinking about as we talk about 5G?


[00:29:00] Yeah, they really do. First and foremost, I really think it gets important for enterprise to get educated on 5G and start the evaluation of the business ac-, impacts of 5G. And those impacts can be both a positive and negative, you know, on the positive side, open up new opportunities, new markets on the negative side, [00:29:30] uh, you know, open up new markets and opportunities for their competitors. The second thing that I think that they really need to do is start, uh, building their strategy for, uh, 5G right now within their business. Um, if you wait till it's fully rolled out, you're gonna be too late and you're gonna be paint playing catch up, uh, as you start to figure out how 5G is gonna benefit you and your business.

The [00:30:00] third thing that I encourage companies to really pay attention to is that, 5G is gonna bring with it a new wave of automation and new applications of artificial intelligence. So they need to plan for that. You know, what's, what processes within their business can they automate and what processes can they apply AI to. And because they have a very fast, low latency network and be able to use that AI to react [00:30:30] more quickly to their customer's demands.

The fourth one is kinda tied to the third, and that is I'm encouraging all enterprises to really revisit and expand their thinking on their data strategy. As we start to deploy these 5G networks, um, the amount of data that can be transferred and, or the amount of data that can be created is enormous. And so I like to see enterprises really plan for that.

And, and then the final thing is budgeting for the investment. You know, this is a, a technology that's going to be extremely meaningful. [00:31:30] But there is going to be investment that's required. And so I'd, you know, I encourage enterprises to really think about the investment that they wanna put into 5G and how it ties to all of the, to the points above that I talked about data strategy, automation, AI, business impacts, education. Um, you know, holistically put it together so that they can have the best possible plan.


Stuart, if you were [00:32:00] thinking about this, in this season of The Element Podcasts, we've shared ideas about creating a more digitally inclusive and sustainable world. Do you see 5G as this force for good?


So, Peggy, I think of course we all want our work to be a force for good. Um, but history has taught us that the good and evil are human attributes. So the answer depends [00:32:30] more on us than, than on the technology. Um, and the economic and political forces at work. Even if you think about something as mundane as, do I want to control my own, um, network? Or do I want to, um, have a service provider to do that for me?

Those forces are formidable. Um, there, there can be no denying, I think that while communication technologies have developed during our lifetime, that they've had a tremendous leveling effect, um, for the good. But they've also [00:33:00] exposed and sometimes even exacerbated deep fissures of, of inequity. So, um, 5G, isn't going to reverse either of those trends, but it is another opportunity for us to be vigilant in how we channel those forces.

And I think there is, there is hope that we can use this opportunity to disperse rather than, rather than concentrate power. Um, this does open up a lot of, um, opportunity for, for local environments, whether those are under individual or corporate control, [00:33:30] um, to deploy resources that previously were at this whole province of, of very few mobile network operators. Um, but that's far from, far from inevitable. And that, that's why I referred to it at the beginning. Um, as, as among other many, many other things, some of them technological, this is also an epic struggle for control.


Well, there's no way I could leave Stuart or Jeff without asking, What are the next, Gs?


I think the next G um, is limitless and it's up to people's imagination. And we're starting to think about and work on that right now. So one of the things [00:34:30] that we've done is we've become one of the founding members of the Next G Alliance. And the Next G Alliance is really built to, uh, examine, you know, how we can, uh, improve communications for everybody. How we can help to, uh, create, um, next generation communications network, uh, you know, dominance out [00:35:00] of North America and beyo-, even beyond that.

To start to think about the things that, you know, we can do with, uh, 5G and beyond to really, uh, benefit, uh, man and culture. Uh, there's a great quote from Claire Caminade that I love it. And she said that 5G will change how we socialize and interact with cultural experiences and [00:35:30] ways unimaginable with previous iterations of network technology.

And, and I think she's right, you know, I can imagine things like fully immersive digital tourism starting to come on, and I'm starting to actually see that. I'm seeing the opportunity for relationships to move beyond kind of the two dimensional Facebook, uh, social interaction to more timeless and limitless, uh, 3D and, and, uh, holographic experiences. [00:36:00] And, uh, you know, the next generation networks, um, are going to open up the opportunity for us to have these experiences.

And I think as a Stuart rightly points out, you know, we need to, um, really focus on how we can use these technologies to benefit mankind rather than, uh, let them be exploited in such a way with bad actors that, um, you know, bad things happen. And that's [00:36:30] our calling, is to really leverage these technologies that we have today build the technologies of the future to better all of us.


Stuart any thought on your part?


[00:36:48] On the one hand, it, it, it's both extremely difficult and nearly impossible and also very easy to answer. Uh, extremely difficult, I think because we already have our mouth so full with 5G, um, that we're gonna be chewing [00:37:00] on that for a long time. And I don't know, it's like, you know, like, like Willy Wonka's Gobstoppers. I don't know what flavors are going to emerge from that as we continue trying to do that, um, and where they're going to lead us.

On the other hand, um, the specifications for wifi 6 within the IEEE are pretty much finalized. So, um, you know, we know what it's going to do, and it's gonna do a lot of things better than either 5G or wifi 6 are today in terms of bandwidth and latency and, um, uh, determinism and, [00:37:30] um, responsiveness of networks and local control of networks.

Um, and that's definitely going to be, um, to be offered the good. But I think, I think a story that is just emerging and that we haven't really seen the full repercussions of, and we'll come out, whether that's under the umbrella still of 5G or, or what comes out there. And that is that the shared use of unlicensed spectrum, that's spectrum in which there may be some incumbents already. And so new entrants need to respect that and protect it. Um, as with the [00:38:00] 6 gigahertz band


[00:46:38] The idea of sharing unlicensed spectrum, um, goes back, um, five or six years with the attempt to use, um, LTE in the 5 gigahertz spectrum, which wifi, um, also, also uses. Um, and that generated quite a lot of, um, controversy and discord between the wifi and the, the cellular communities, [00:47:00] um, because neither of those technologies could recognize the other, the information. They just viewed each other as noise.

Um, with, as we start to look at 5G, nobody really wanted to [00:47:30] repeat the, um, the heartache of debates around, um, sharing unlicensed spectrum in the [inaudible 00:47:37].

Um, and so, um, over the course of, uh, eight or nine months, um, through a lot of deliberations in which HPE, um, was a, um, uh, played a central role. Um, we reached a compromise that would allow wifi and, and, and 5G, and in fact any the other technology that wants to use the new 6 gigahertz band, um, [00:48:00] to do it on, on a level playing field in which, um, all technologies, um, are, are recognizing each other, um, fairly, and they all defer according to the, the same rule. So I, I think I'm actually quite hopeful.


[00:51:30] Jeff and Stuart, thanks for a truly fascinating conversation today. You've given us a richer and more nuanced understanding of 5G and what it means for our digital future. Honestly, I can't wait to see what's next. Thanks for listening everyone. I'm Peggy Smedley for The Element Podcasts from HPE. Don't miss our other episodes this season on digital transformation in FinTech, the supply chain and more.


HPE Editor
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

HPE Editor
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Editor-in-chief for the HPE Advancing Life & Work blog.