• United States
by Marc Ferranti

Bell Labs: Nokia’s Future X 5G networking can help boost business productivity

News Analysis
Nov 08, 20186 mins
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterInternet

Cloud-assisted driving, remote surgery, touch-sensitive VR, along with a jump in industrial productivity, are coming and have one thing in common: the continuing evolution of network infrastructure toward 5G.

nokia industrial experience
Credit: Nokia

Cloud-assisted driving, remote surgery, touch-sensitive VR, and most important for the global economy, a massive jump in industrial productivity, are all on the way and have one thing in common: the continuing evolution of network infrastructure toward 5G.

That’s the vision presented by Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs, acquired by Nokia as part of its 2015, $16.6 purchase of Alcatel-Lucent. Weldon, also chief technology officer (CTO) for Nokia, presided over a sneak peek this week at what Bell Labs is cooking up to support Nokia’s initiative to reach beyond its traditional telecom turf and offer applications and infrastructure for enterprises and manufacturers.

Key to Nokia’s push into industry verticals is its Future X network architecture, which visitors to Bell Labs’ main campus in suburban New Jersey will get to put into action in real time, configuring a live network and experiencing emulations of applications like drone transportation, robotic manufacturing assembly, and VR-based remote control of automated factory facilities.

Up to now, internet applications have not resulted in increased productivity for industry, Weldon said.

“Most network evolutions have been driven by consumer trends; mobile broadband has been the driver and certainly consumers have what economists call increased utility, which means your life is somewhat more convenient, but convenience does not equal productivity,” Weldon said.

The evolution of network infrastructure toward 5G has the potential of creating $11 trillion in productivity gains, said Weldon, citing figures from McKinsey. “The stimulus is 5G because it has attributes that are much better than LTE .” While 5G is expected to be 20 times faster than 4G, depending on whose estimates you’re looking at, that’s just part of the story.

“5G is not just 4G plus one, it really is a re-imagining of how we conceive, manage and orchestrate networks,” Weldon said. “Bell Labs is delivering a lot of innovation in data-streaming, analytics at hyperscale, real-time schedulers, and dynamic radio adaptation, all around the concept of a low-latency, highly reliable network.”

“The Future X lab is actually the build of an end-to-end network solution that supports massive-scale network slicing, adaptability and self-control – integration and self-optimization under AI control,” Weldon said.

nokia operations center Nokia

The Service and Slice Operations Center at Nokia Bell Labs.

Bell Labs’ Future X network showcase facilities include a Service and Slice Operations Center, where a live network can be redesigned on the fly using a touch sensitive control panel, allowing different virtual network configurations to run on top of different physical infrastructure layers. Potential Nokia customers will get to see what effect, for example, replacing an LTE infrastructure with 5G will have on their manufacturing applications

A virtual infrastructure and industrial experience room lets visitors stand in front of an iMax-type display showing a factory-floor simulation and control robotic equipment using motion and touch-sensitive VR applications.

An integration, test and evaluation lab lets visitors observe the real-life consequences of changing network components to see how precise the movements of a robotic arm, for example, can become.

All of this is geared toward Nokia initiatives aimed at industry verticals and enterprises.

While enterprises in areas like finance, communications and tech have digitalized and made productivity gains since the advent of the internet, companies in industry verticals like railways, utilities, mining and agriculture have only started to do so. These companies contribute about 70 percent of global productivity, so the potential gains to production value worldwide when they upgrade their networks and computing infrastructure will be enormous, Weldon said.

nokia bell labs Marc Ferranti/IDG

Bell Labs researchers can configure networks on the fly, in real time, using a drag-and-drop control interface.

Network infrastructure is key to unlocking that potential.

“The network is the foundational fabric. It’s as important as the computing fabric, the cloud fabric, the AI clusters, and it might be the most important because it’s the most limiting,” Weldon said. “The network is the most constrained part of the problem because it’s actually the hardest to build because it’s an extended physical thing you have to put in.”

The Future X network architecture was first introduced in 2015 but since then has been extended to industry verticals. “We said that networks must evolve in a 5G world to be much more scalable, dynamic and economical, but we missed, if anything, the fact that the driver would be industrials.”

When bad weather approaches, for example, sensors on railway and utility lines can signal back to predictive-maintenance systems that will let maintenance crews know when and where rail switches are likely to freeze over or trees may fall over power lines. Automated farm equipment driven by remote control will be steered more precisely than humans could. If these scenarios can make the processes involved even just 5 percent to 10 percent more efficient, it will add billions of dollars in value to the related industries, he said.

The Bell Labs Future X for Industries architecture includes distinct technology layers designed to meet key industrial networking requirement, according to Nokia. They include:

  • The business-applications layer, including applications such as predictive maintenance, workforce efficiency and safety and asset optimization. Nokia offerings in this area includes its IMPACT IoT platform as well as machine-learning software from SpaceTime Insight, which it acquired earlier this year.
  • The digital-platforms layer, which supports industrial automation and machine-learning analytics, also offered by IMPACT and SpaceTime Insights.
  • A multi-cloud layer, delivering delivering proximity and elasticity of compute to meet performance requirement of business applications. Nokia products in this area include the AirFrame Open Edge serve, Nuage virtual network services and CloudBand software.
  • A high-performance networking layer for ultrareliable connectivity. Nokia has a lot of strength in this aspect of the network architecture, with products across wireless networking (5G, LTE, microwave, etc.), fixed access (optical fiber, passive optical LAN), IP routers and optical networking including its WaveLite optical network equipment.

Nokia goes beyond telecom

To accelerate its push beyond the telecom industry, Nokia recently announced a new Enterprise Business Group. On Thursday, Nokia announced a partnership with India-based outsourcing giant Infosys to support digital transformation of industry verticals and enterprises.

While 5G infrastructure projects have up to now only been piloted, rollouts of production system are expected next year. Meanwhile, the company has been picking up steam in the industrial sector by winning private LTE contract awards to build smart manufacturing services.

Also on Thursday, for example, the company announced it would join with China Unicom to create a private LTE network at the BMW Briliance Automotive plant in China’s Liaoning province, using Nokia’s vMEC (virtualized multi-access edge computing) technology.

This comes in the wake of last month’s announcement of a deal to build the first private LTE deployment in Brazil for grid automation, designed to allow for fast power restoration in the event of outages and to improve power delivery in Atibaia and parts of the state of Sao Paulo.

The equipment used in the LTE rollouts is all upgradeable to 5G, Nokia officials said.