Does private 5G have a device problem?
Verizon and PwC talk private 5G myths and realities
LAS VEGAS—Look at any of our private 4G/5G coverage, or the work from our companion site Enterprise IoT Insights, and there’s a clear refrain. Selling private cellular into enterprise verticals is about hiding technological complexity and focusing on delivering business outcomes that save an enterprise money, allow an enterprise to make more money, or, ideally, both. And that is happening albeit with material variation by geography and sector.
There’s potentially a timing problem as evidenced by conversations this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. From a carrier perspective, it would appear the networks are ready to go, and are going; but to fully deliver on the promise of connecting the internet of things with high throughput, low latency and high reliability cellular links, the devices aren’t quite as ready as the networks.
“We’ve got to see the ecosystem evolve along with us,” Verizon’s Srini Kalapala, senior Vice President and chief product development officer, told me. He said 5G networks were initially about high throughput. The next step is around latency and reliability. “We need to see the seeding of more and different kinds of devices…We do see it catching up.”
Elsewhere in the Wynn Las Vegas, PwC Partner and Connected Solutions/IoT Leader Rob Mesirow walked me through a villa filled with a variety of industrial sensors the firm’s customers are using today at scale to realize targeted outcomes ranging from environmental monitoring and access control to worker safety and predictive maintenance. And the vast majority of them didn’t have much to do with 5G.
He explained that PwC’s IoT solution development process hinges on three key capabilities: scalability, reliability and affordability. “We use whatever form of transport that best fits the solutions we’ve architected for our client. We want to make sure you connect millions of devices, not tens of devices.”
So what about private 5G? “We’re still looking for the right use cases,” he said. “And we’re still not quite there for P5G.” Based on the demos, what is there is NB-IoT, HaLow, and other LPWAN tech. “I’m not saying 5G is a cure looking for a disease,” he said, “but we’re still definitely thinking about the use cases.”
Back to the device disconnect: “If I’m thinking about wide-area 5G or P5G, just getting chipsets is just not a possibility. Even if we were getting really aggressive about architecting solutions, the supply chain is just not there yet. My hope is that everything will start to catch up…[But] if P5G isn’t the right solution, we could come in and say we can cut your price by 80% with LPWAN.”
Verizon has identified private 5G as a key driver of new service revenue, and is working with a a bevy of customers and other partners to make it happen. Kalapala said he’s seeing “increased adoption…[and] interest in early use cases. Computer vision tends to be the use case.”
Give it time, he said, again noting the initial cut of 5G was about throughput and the next step is latency. “To me, that’s when 5G is going to fully arrive. I’m seeing many cases where I feel, down the road, they’ll fully rely on 5G. There’s a combination of innovator’s dilemma and that the infrastructure has to be built…You’ve got to build it and see how it evolves.”
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