With 5G telecom networks poised to roll out across parts of the developed world, information technology services giant Infosys is cranking up its innovation ecosystem to serve both ends of the spectrum -- telecom operators and enterprise customers.
The Bengaluru-based technology firm is working across multiple fronts at its various labs or R&D units for specific technologies. Use cases from the IoT (internet of things) lab or the immersive experience lab or the medical care lab, which may benefit from the low latency 5G promises, for instance, are being tracked and monitored at the 5G lab, Nitesh Bansal, senior vice president and global head of engineering services, Infosys, told TechCircle.
"In the next 18-24 months, we should start seeing the first set of the most practical use cases of 5G coming up. People will build on top of it, come up with new use cases to extract value out of it. For us, we need to act now. There is the consumer side (enterprises) and network operators. Both these players are our customers. Our effort is to make the 5G rollout easier, faster, software-defined, agile and savvy for operators for rollout," he said.
Infosys created a strategy and investment plan 18 months ago to develop tools, products and platforms for the 5G ecosystem, Bansal said. The company, which works with all the major network operators from around the world, has partnerships with all ecosystem players at its 5G labs. These include chip manufacturers, antenna manufacturers, operators and consumers.
“We brought the ecosystem together and we are building solutions that will help (telecom) operators to roll out the technology in a low-cost and efficient manner. Similarly, does the enterprise know what they are going to consume or how they are going to consume? Tomorrow, if AT&T knocks on Toyota's doors and tells them that I am going to replace your network to 5G, Toyota will wonder why. There will be a mismatch of understanding," Bansal said.
For telecom operators, who are expected to invest billions of dollars to set up the infrastructure, Infosys has built tools that it claims will make 5G rollouts easier, faster, software-defined, agile and savvy. Unlike the previous generation networks, 5G networks will be a whole lot more software-defined.
Infosys’ offering includes a full-stack software architecture, working with network foundations that set global standards, the open-source community to build that software layer for the operator to work on cutting across networks. The company is deploying AI (artificial intelligence) to test and provide network assurance, backed by its experience of working with the operators for over two decades.
"Our tools will ensure a smart network. Once the design architecture is ready, you need to roll it out. We will do geospatial mapping, understanding the radio cloud density of a place to layout the antenna network, how do you cover a city, what density do you need," Bansal said.
"All these tools have been already developed in preparation for the implementation, which is turning on everything that is ready. To prepare the network architecture, to get the software products and platforms in a place where they can use it for piloting small initiatives to see the scalability and the workings of that," he added.
While enterprises will have to shell out more for the extra bandwidth, the pricing for a 5G line is not expected to be at a significant premium to what they paid for an LTE network. Also, 5G and digitisation can have a differential timeline, Bansal said. 5G transforms the network providers capabilities and low latency for critical and connected operations and doesn't need the whole factory to be digitised.
"It is not that suddenly a new expenditure bucket gets created. There will be a substitution effect. If you start doing factory IoT in 5G, you will stop spending that money on something else, like maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO)," he said.
Meanwhile, India is still some time away from deploying 5G as the country's service providers are under stress after the 4G rollout. However, potential enterprise customers are ready to leapfrog into a fourth industrial revolution phase while skipping stages in between, Bansal believes.
"A lot of what was enabled by establishing distribution channels - the established supply chain in the industrialised world, which never got done in India because we have deep rural areas to access and not a great road and railway infrastructure. So these things that were an earlier bottleneck, that is going away with technology," he said, adding that these will help domestic enterprises to adopt 5G as soon as it is available.
However, globally, the rate of adoption is expected to depend on how operators can innovate in selling 5G. The return on investment is a bit hazy for both operators as well as enterprises, Bansal said.
"Operators must innovate and charge for the extra use cases their enterprise customers build on top of 5G rather than the bandwidth for the rollout to be a success," Bansal said.