11 November 2014

Towards 5G: the Nervous System of Digital Society

Cloud and Fog Computing, Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) are just different facets of this same evolutionary trend which is called IT-sation or Softwarisation of infrastructures. No way to look at them separately. And this trend will change dramatically the nature of telecommunications infrastructures by automating Operations processes (thus reducing costs), by increasing flexibility and programmability (e.g., through APIs). At the end of the day (which is a few years), it will create a point of discontinuity.

This new wave of innovation will be brought to concrete exploitations and socio-economic impact through the 5G infrastructure by 2020. In fact, 5G will be more than a next step beyond 4G, it will become the “Nervous System” of the Digital Society and Economy, a truly converged and massively dense telecommunications infrastructure, deeply integrating IT (e.g., processing and storage systems) with Network resources. In other words, 5G will become the pervasive, highly flexible and ultra-low latency virtualized infrastructure capable of hooking the sheer number of smart terminals, devices, machines, things, cars, drones and robots…with the enormous processing and storage power available in the Cloud.

As a matter of fact, the number of smart terminals, machines, things (with sensors and actuators) attached to current networks is growing rapidly, and soon it will be possible to connect and operated cars, drones and even robots. All these systems will literally become like 5G future “advanced terminals”, allowing the exploitation of remote monitoring and control capabilities through the 5G radio infrastructure: this will enable the so-called «machine intelligence» (e.g., computerization, automation, robotics, Artificial Intelligence) to enter deeply into  the processes of industries, agriculture, public institutions, society and eventually into our lives, as Users. Overall this will determine costs optimizations  and the development of new business and services opportunities.

Connectivity will bring on line so many devices that the sheer number of connected points will exceed the thresholds on manageability using today’s paradigm. It will be connectivity but also processing and storing data, more like a nervous system, dynamically changing around stability points minimizing energy consumption.

This will change the rules of the game, in terms of business and economic sustainability and regulatory frameworks. From a technical point of view, it will revolutionize our ideas of networks and future service ecosystems.

5G-controlled robots (or drones, or any other self-acting machine) is an excellent example of potential future ecosystem. Already today there are robots to work alongside people on a few manufacturing production lines. In  many cases robots are augmenting the abilities of humans — freeing them to do repetitively or dangerous tasks – and increasing productivity for manufacturers. Nevertheless today robot full mobility is still a challenge, being most of said machines static or connected with cables, limiting the flexibility. 5G will allow not only monitoring and controlling truly mobile robots, but also it will allow the development and provision of “cognition services” (Cognition-as-a-Service). Robot sensors could collect data from the environments which will be transferred thought the 5G to Cloud Computing facilities where a variety of methods and techniques will execute the remotely the “intelligence” of the robot, whose decisions will be transferred to the robot local actuations. 

Moreover availability of APIs will allow Users and Third Parties to develop, program and provide any related services with Robots. So, the next generation of 5G-enabled robots will work alongside humans also in Smart Cities, collaborating with them in far more articulated ways in the daily life.