The next generation of mobile networks will be fast, very fast. But 5G is about much more than high-speed data traffic. It’s also about tailoring connectivity to individual users and bringing real-time data analytics much closer to managers, professionals and anyone else who needs to make immediate decisions.
Those were some of the key takeaways from an enthralling panel discussion about 5G at Rakuten Optimism in San Francisco, which featured executives from three of Rakuten Mobile’s key technology partners – Cisco, Intel and Altiostar.
“For us, 5G is way more than 4G plus one,” Caroline Chan, VP & GM, 5G Infrastructure Division, Network Platform Group at Intel, told attendees. Illustrating the way 5G will help people make better informed decisions, Chan outlined how “the [U.S.] National Hockey League is putting sensors in all the skates and coatings of athletes, getting 4,000 data points per second – way more than they used to do.” With computing resources positioned at the edge of the network, all that new data can be analyzed immediately so that the coaching staff can monitor their players’ performance and health. Where regulations permit, the real-time performance data could also be monetized through sports betting and sports games, Chan added, while noting that 5G will make it easier to provide fans with a choice of camera angles and commentators.
Giving mobile networks a new edge
Another key feature of 5G is the responsiveness of the network. Chairing the panel, Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin said that Rakuten’s data centers and mobile edge computing are enabling its groundbreaking new 4G network to achieve a best case latency (the time it takes for an application to respond to the user) of just 19 milliseconds* – a fraction of that of most other 4G networks. A blink of an eye takes at least 100 milliseconds. “We are delivering 5G latency in a 4G architecture: This is a massive breakthrough,” Amin said, stressing the importance of moving applications and the necessary computing power to the edge of the network, where it is much closer to the end-user. “Without edge computing, 5G will never live up to its promise,” he cautioned.
The shift of cloud computing resources to the edge of the network was a recurring theme of the panel discussion. Colin Kincaid, VP & CTO Service Provider, Cisco, referred to how Rakuten is deploying a “highly distributed data center” across Japan, effectively bringing super-responsive services to customers. Taking up a similar theme, Ashraf Dahod, President & CEO of Altiostar, stressed that a highly-responsive network can generate much greater value for customers: “The longer you wait, the less useful the data is,” he noted.
Slicing up connectivity for customers
Dahod also highlighted the importance of network slicing – the concept of dedicating a slice of connectivity to a specific application or user. This key feature of 5G technology will help to make Rakuten’s mobile network in Japan incredibly adaptable, serving the different needs of many different users simultaneously. “You take the same pipe and make it behave differently, depending on who the user is and what the user is doing,” Dahod said. “Businesses and consumers are able to select what they want from the network, what kind of behavior they want and then, obviously, they are willing to pay for that.” This adaptability is enabled by the use of virtualization, which means specific functions are no longer dependent on specific pieces of hardware.
“Virtualization allows you to create these custom slices on the fly,” Dahod explained. “By deploying virtualization at the edge… by putting all the intelligence at the edge, you are getting far greater control on the behavior of the radio.” As well as being more flexible, this approach should significantly lower operating costs and allow new services to be deployed far faster than was the case in the past.
In the enterprise market, network slicing could be a game-changer. It could enable companies to combine the benefits of private networks, such as high-levels of customization and security, with the benefits of the public cellphone network, such as extensive coverage and economies of scale. During the panel discussion, Colin Kincaid of Cisco noted that 5G will enable enterprises to provide their staff, their partners and customers with a unified experience and unified security across both their private and public networks.
Opening up about security
As 5G connectivity brings many more devices, machines and vehicles online, security is going to be ever critical, Dahod said. As well as employing robust security, Rakuten’s mobile network has been designed to provide full visibility across all components of the network. This level of visibility together with security automation means Rakuten can detect security threats immediately. Security “has to be designed from day one… and a secure network can only be achieved with complete visibility,” Dahod concluded.
With the 5G era fast approaching, the panelists were unified in their optimism for a brighter, more connected future — a future they are together building the framework for today.
*Actual latency may vary depending on usage environment and traffic status.
For more about Rakuten Optimism, visit here.