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Exploring connectivity of the future for business

Alyson Edmunds is Head of Digital Innovation for the Business Channel at O2 and is working on 5G and IoT projects with customers. We asked her to share her insight on how she sees connectivity changing over the next three years:

Given the rapid change in working patterns, connectivity has proven to be the life blood of businesses and we’re experiencing that more than ever with the huge change in working patterns we’re currently experiencing.

At O2 we are customer led and mobile first, so every day we are focused on delivering the mobile solutions that meet your business needs. We’re regularly asked to predict the evolution of connectivity especially at these uncertain times, and today we’ll look into our crystal ball and share our foresight with you.

Looking forward to 2023 how will connectivity have changed? Given the situation we find ourselves in today the pace of change will undoubtably accelerate. The 5G handset will have become the device of choice for many of us.

In fact, a recent Cisco report has claimed that there will be more interactions of 5G devices in the UK than there are people living in Canada… a whopping 41.9 million total connections across Britain! That’s also three times greater than the entire populations of Wales, Scotland and Ireland combined. This may be a bold prediction, but it’s also a reminder that 5G isn’t just a device upgrade – it’s a whole new vision for connectivity.

5G is expected to deliver data speeds ten times faster than that of 4G, enabling unlimited experiences, and with the delivery of the highly anticipated 5G Standalone next year, entirely new business models.

One in particular is Industry 4.0: Collaborative robotics will require the low latency that Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) can deliver. MEC will support aggregation and distribution of sensors and data, as well as facilitating computer vision artificial intelligence (AI) applications for health & safety and risk reduction.

At a recent visit to Imperial College London, we discussed the use of collaborative robotics in healthcare. During an operation a trained doctor remains in hospital with their patient, while a highly-skilled and experienced surgeon performs the operation remotely. This makes smart and effective use of surgeons with specialised skills nationwide, and will help to ease the burden on our NHS.

Recently, the first laparoscopy surgical procedure—in which a fiber optic instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall—was performed at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre in Moscow using 5G. The procedure, which involved the use of a laparoscope and 4K camera connected to the 5G network, resulted in the successful removal of a cancerous tumour.

In addition to MEC, other key enablers for Industry 4.0 will be public and private in-building solutions. These will use ‘network slicing’ for mission critical communications or tasks. This will make it possible for businesses to reserve and guarantee bandwidth; providing the ability to scale instantly to meet network demand for specific applications.

In three years’ time other 5G use cases will also materialise:

– Unlimited experiences (video) 

A picture says a thousand words, and given the number of people currently working and studying from home using collaboration tools such as MS TEAMS, Webex and Zoom video will become the communication method of choice for remote employees.

By 2023 this will move up a gear with seamless ultra-high definition (UHD, 4K, 8K and beyond) videoconferencing with High Dynamic Range (HDR) delivering colour rich and crystal clear display, taking us far beyond the mobile experiences we enjoy today.

– Virtual presence

We can also look forward to virtual presence calling with the feeling of ‘real’ interactions from the ability to see the micro facial expressions in real time. Thanks to haptic feedback to the HD binaural 3D audio, we’ll truly feel like we are sat next to the person we are talking to and interacting with virtually. Will the office of the future ever look the same?

– Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC )

Mobile networks alone won’t provide the truly ubiquitous coverage for businesses to rely on. This will be solved by creating a ‘network of networks’ to hand off between 5G / wifi / satellite and in-building solutions, giving the always on/ always connected environment we will need for business critical solutions.

This together with MEC will enable important decisions to be made in real-time. For example, computer vision could be used to monitor people flow in airports and stations, making those real-time decisions to manage flow and remotely open doors, keeping people safe and on the move. For more information, check out our 5G whitepaper.

 

If we’re talking about our journey to 2023 then we have to talk about IoT. As we move into a world of ‘everything connected’, it’s predicted that billions of physical devices and ‘things’ will be connected worldwide to the internet. They’ll collect and share data, from asset and machinery tracking to building automation or healthcare.

We’re now accustomed to the image of emptier supermarket shelves, but in the future IoT and AI will work in conjunction with smart shelves video analytics to deliver an end to end connected supply chain. This simple example shows the roadmap for IoT connectivity has never been more important.

In 2020, O2 will be the first UK operator to roll out LTE-M. This is a low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) IoT technology where hundreds of devices can connect in one cell, allowing businesses to share not so small amounts of data, up to 1mbps, between devices. This will save on battery life, enabling these important devices to operate for up to 10 years in the field.

Additionally, LTE-M uses licenced 4G spectrum and has carrier grade security built into the network by design.  It is hoped that we will have nationwide coverage of LTE-M by the end of 2020 and together with eSIM this will be the backbone of IoT connectivity for many years.

Moving along the timeline, massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) will increase that number of connected devices in one cell to 1000s by 2023, all thanks to 5G. We’ll have the capability to support the expected millions of connected devices per square kilometre, enabling our smart city infrastructure, connected intelligent transport systems and asset location of the future.

So, there’s a lot to look forward to. We’ll all have high expectations for great connectivity, and that should be the case for everyone – including rural communities. The government made a significant announcement in March 2020 confirming that they will back the ‘‘Shared Rural Network’ agreement, a collaboration between all four UK network operators.

As a result, 1,800 square miles of the hardest to reach parts of our country will get 4G for the first time, reducing the number of ‘not spots’. Again, by 2023, we expect this to have made a massive difference to many people in these rural areas, opening up many new business opportunities and experiences.

There’s an enormously exciting future ahead of us for connectivity, and we can’t wait to see these changes come about over the next few years. It starts today and we’d love to have a conversation about how our connectivity solutions could help deliver your vision for the future. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter.



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