Verizon, John Deere Bet Big On 5G At CES 2019

By Will Townsend - January 15, 2019

I had the opportunity to attend CES 2019 in Las Vegas last week. Once relegated to consumer gadgets, the massive technology tradeshow showcased the latest in displays, computing, smart appliances, drones, and automotive technology, and much more. The event attracted close to 200,000 attendees, and 4,500 companies around the globe. I arrived at the conference in a self-driving Lyft, powered by Aptiv, Later, I was invited by John Deere to ride in a self-driving tractor. Although both of these experiences were fun, their auto-piloting capabilities will certainly benefit in the coming years from the deployment of 5G, and the improved telemetry and smart sensor connectivity it will bring. The promise of learning about additional 5G use cases was my primary reason for attending the show this year. Without further ado, I would like to share some of my insights and learnings from the event.

Verizon’s Eight Currencies 

Verizon was the most visible carrier promoting next generation 5G connectivity, amongst its competitors AT&T , Sprint, and T-Mobile . CEO Hans Vestberg hosted a keynote that was well attended—a great barometer of attendee interest in 5G. I liked Mr. Vestberg’s approach in summarizing the benefits of 5G into “Eight Currencies,” including speed and throughput, mobility, connected devices and IoT, energy efficiency and service deployment, and latency and reliability. In my opinion, the sub-5 millisecond low latency that mobile 5G will deliver is the game-changer for tactile response rates in both consumer and commercial applications.

In my fourth one-on-one with Verizon Chief Networking Officer Nicki Palmer, we discussed spectrum, propagation challenges, IoT, network densification ahead of its 5G fixed and mobile service deployments, and how the carrier is dedicated to delivering high quality of service. We also discussed the carrier’s efforts to educate the public on 5G, through a series of advertisements in the Wall Street Journal and New York TimesNYT -0.12%. I applaud these efforts, given the level of confusion around pre-standard and 3GPP ratified NR (or New Radio) and AT&T’s often confusing “5G Evolution” positioning for its own network densification. Verizon has also made considerable investments to ensure its network reliability (if interested, you can find that article here).

Healthcare, agriculture, and journalism are primed for 5G disruption  

I predict that healthcare will see massive benefits from 5G. At CES 2019, I met again with Medivis—a start-up that is utilizing augmented reality (AR) and pre-standard 5G in the operating room to improve surgery accuracy and reduce healing time. Presently, physicians read film, attempt to translate it in digital form, and manually mark up procedure areas. Medivis aims to use AR to overlay complicated medical procedure mapping onto patients in real time. The file sizes involved are enormous, and presently must be processed on computers given AR headsets can’t handle that level of computational horsepower. 5G can provide the necessary pipe and deliver the low latency required for un-tethered tactile surgical procedures.

I never thought of John Deere as a tech company, but after spending time with executives at CES 2019, I’ve changed my opinion. Deere is leading an “AgTech revolution” and connectivity is an important element of its solution. Today, rural areas are dramatically underserved by 4G LTE. With spotty coverage, communication is dependent on bursting within coverage areas. 5G fixed and mobile deployments utilizing Massive MIMO technology should dramatically improve rural connectivity, as well as the CBRS “OnGo” initiative aimed at freeing up spectrum. This should facilitate a more consistent interface to John Deere’s cloud services, which promise to deliver near real-time analytic processing tailored down to the acre. John Deere says this will help farmers improve crop yields and reduce the use of herbicides, through the automatic adjustment of farming equipment.

Crowdsourced journalism such as WikiTribune (founded by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales), blends paid journalists with volunteer fact checkers in an effort to debunk the rise of “fake news.” The New York Times presented its vision of the future of journalism at CES 2019 emphasizing that mobile 5G can elevate crowdsourcing to another level by allowing people “on the street” to share high-resolution video in near real-time as news breaks. The use of connected drones for dramatic aerial photography and video is also a compelling consideration. The extremely low latency and high data throughput of 5G will make all of this a reality in the near future.

Wrapping up

CES 2019 did not disappoint. Mobile broadband technology is quickly becoming an integral part of smart devices, complimenting the integration of Wi-Fi for certain use cases. From a consumer perspective, it’s easy to predict that low latency 5G mobile gaming will rise as a key use case and one that all of the carriers around the world can monetize to help recoup part of their multi-billion-dollar investments. However, I believe significant transformation in the commercial and enterprise markets will be facilitated by 5G both in and beyond the vertical markets demonstrated at the show. On a recent social media post, my best friend from high school replied “John Deere 5G. What’s Next?” I don’t know, but it will be fun to see what unfolds!

Will Townsend
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Will Townsend manages the networking and security practices for Moor Insights & Strategy focused on carrier infrastructure providers, carrier services, enterprise networking and security. He brings over 30 years of technology industry experience in a variety of product, marketing, channel, business development and sales roles to his advisory position.