Relocated from my hometown of Austin to Denver and re-branded for 2019, the Light Reading Big 5G Event last week did not disappoint. There was outstanding representation from the likes of infrastructure providers Cisco Systems, Ericsson, and Huawei , as well as mobile operators Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and Telus. It’s also worth noting that it was the third conference I’ve attended recently that discussed the need for diversity in the tech industry. As a father of two daughters, I applaud the effort. My oldest daughter studies animation/computer science, while the younger one studies engineering. It’s my hope that the glass ceiling will shatter with our current generation of young adults entering the workforce. That aside, let’s dive into the event.
It’s all about the use case
I had the opportunity to speak with Chris Pearson, who leads the 5G Americas association about my overall impressions as the event wound down. Many may argue that 5G is at the apex of the hype curve, and in the tech world companies love to talk about the “speeds and feeds.” However, Pearson agreed with my assessment that 5G’s promise of lightning-fast throughput and low latency showed brightly through the use cases discussed at the event. The following were some of my key takeaways.
Ian Campbell, CTO for Cisco Systems’ service provider business unit, highlighted the monetization opportunities and disruptive service creation around 5G, such as roaming, improved stadium connectivity/back office support, and factory automation. He also spoke to “long tail” services for enterprises that are more customizable given 5G capabilities around network slicing, virtualization, cloudification, and the leverage of open APIs. Mishka Dehghan, Sprint’s executive lead for 5G services spoke of the company’s all digital “Curiosity” IoT network, smart city deployment vision aimed at improving public safety, and distance learning. Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s Chief Networking Officer, highlighted location-based services, gaming, and healthcare as areas that will benefit greatly from fixed and mobile 5G deployments. During our 1:1, I discovered she’s also a huge Game of Thrones fan. With the crazy weather in Denver ranging from 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday to snow on Thursday, it felt like the long winter had arrived!
I agree with all of these visions for the future of 5G services, but I also believe that field service will greatly benefit. Imagine the ability to equip technicians with a moderate amount of training and deploy new, foldable, lower-power form factors that can communicate back to call centers with unbuffered, real-time, high-resolution video to troubleshoot repair issues. Oil and gas, mining, telecommunications, and other industries could significantly lower their operational expenses. They could also have an opportunity to create more jobs, given the lower cost of specialty training per employee.
Huawei emerges from the U.S. sidelines
At prior regional events I’ve attended in the United States, Huawei is typically present on banners and water bottles, but seldom on the main stage. That changed at the Big 5G Event with a breakfast panel featuring Huawei CTO Paul Scanlan and Joy Tan, who leads corporate communications for the company. It was standing-room only and probably the most attended breakout session that I attended at the event. My biggest takeaway was Mr. Scanlan’s response to the concerns over Huawei’s compulsion to share subscriber data with the Chinese government. He pointed out that data ownership and management resides with carriers, not equipment providers, who are bound by privacy laws within each particular region of the world. Last month, I also attended Huawei’s global analyst summit, which included a tour of the company’s Independent Cybersecurity Lab in Shenzhen. Its director pointed to over 240 international security certifications and a multi-layered internal audit protocol for discovering “backdoors” and vetoing product launches independently of its consumer, carrier, and enterprise business units (with documented stops and product cancellations in the past). The privately held Chinese conglomerate in recent months has worked to allay the concerns of the rest of the world with not only its cybersecurity lab but also by inviting the media to tour its headquarters. These efforts could be paying off given Huawei started in the telecommunications industry over 30 years ago and in a relatively short amount of time built a $50B consumer business. This was led by impressive smartphone designs with an emphasis on professional-like camera capabilities and in parallel has created an enterprise switch and router business approaching $10B and growing at an impressive clip.
I’m often asked if I buy into the 5G hype. There is a lot of disinformation generated by the operators, especially lately with AT&T talking about the demise of Wi-Fi and its “5GE.” Still, the next generation wireless wide area networking standard is poised to be disruptive from a services perspective. I believe Verizon’s Nicki Palmer summed it up during her keynote at the Big 5G Event. She believes that within the next three years, connected devices could reach three times the world’s population. The reality is that today’s 4G LTE networks can’t scale to support that onslaught of connectivity, and 5G can. In my mind, this justifies the hype.