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Creating 5G solutions? Don’t go it alone

Oct 26, 20206 mins

How participating in a 5G innovation center can speed innovation and reduce risk.

5g 4g wireless wireless network devices
Credit: Vertigo3d / Getty

Many companies are struggling with how best to make use of the advanced solutions that 5G enables because deploying many of these new solutions requires significant amounts of engineering in as close to real-world situations as possible.

Gathering the tecnology and expertise to develop these solutions can benefit from  a collaborative ecosystem that includes a fast and reliable network in a controlled environment where potentially “harmful if not working properly” systems can be safely evaluated.

5G holds great promise to revolutionize processes and produce creative solutions in many industries and the public sector. Carrier services and private 5G networks, both installed and owned by the organization or provided and managed as a service from network operators, are both available.

But many companies are struggling with how best to make use of the advanced solutions that 5G enables. We’ve seen many organizations, especially in more mature companies and industries, not even consider 5G solutions at this point due to the lack of resources necessary to reinvent/update processes and implement solutions.

5G technology challenges

Deploying many of these new solutions requires significant amounts of engineering in as close to real world situations as possible. And the level of expertise required to complete a solution often is not confined to a single company but requires a collaborative ecosystem. Indeed, end user expertise in fields like healthcare, security, smart cities, transportation systems, manufacturing, to name but a few areas, needs to be coupled with equipment and software providers developing specialized sensors, robotics, vision systems, AI, AR/VR, and of course, built on high speed and low latency connectivity. The need for an available fast and reliable network to run these discoveries is critical to success, as is a controlled environment where potentially “harmful if not working properly” systems can be safely evaluated (e.g., machine tools, manufacturing lines, automated vehicles, telemedicine).

But organizations have a way to accelerate their use of 5G technology while also limiting their risk and their need for internal expertise, and thereby achieve a more rapid time to deployment.

5G testing labs

One way to accomplish this is to set up solution labs that deploy private 5G networks into a controlled environment for experimentation and discovery, and include commercial companies, academics, public sector labs and software vendors to create a full ecosystem. While this is often done at academic institutions and government labs, it is less common at commercial sites. But that seems to be changing.

An example of such a commercial collaboration between a network operator providing 5G expertise and private/public organizations is the Verizon Innovation Hubs. These hubs will be outfitted with 5G, but will also create spaces for various collaborations that can be used to create new products and solutions, as well as co-creation and sharing of ideas and expertise among the participants. And while the innovation hubs are Verizon branded and supported, they are located at customer sites.

Verizon has initially established several of these hubs, including; Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub concentrating on the healthcare needs and partnering with multiple health care providers in the area; an innovation hub with Pacific Northwest National Labs to concentrate on advanced wireless communications and its effects on infrastructure security (e.g., power grid), first responders and climate science; University of Illinois at Urbana to help with their engineering curriculum and academic studies and support many of the corporate sponsors of research especially in the agriculture industry; and the municipality of Lake Nona Florida to study the needs of smart cities and community wellness like autonomous transportation and lifetime health support.

Collaboration reduces risk

Each of these hubs represents a collaboration of not only Verizon, but of multiple groups doing experimentation on solutions built on 5G that solve unique and compelling challenges. The controlled environment provides a low risk way to develop and assess viability of solutions, and to make corrections and/or changes before going out to public deployments. I expect Verizon to create more of these innovation labs going forward, and other 5G network operators are and will do the same.

Of course, by establishing these innovation centers, Verizon expects to see an increase in the use of their 5G networks as solutions are deployed in volume. But it also means that new innovations will be created that can significantly increase business profits and longer term growth in many new and/or peripheral business ventures, while also offering a great starting point for new ventures that are incubated there. So while this arrangement certainly benefits Verizon, it is also quite beneficial to the industry in general. Frankly, this is not a new model, but rather a 5G-specific implantation of a model that has worked very well in the past and should work well here, too.

There are many compelling solutions envisioned based on availability of 5G connectivity, but not all are easily accomplished. Organizations developing 5G-based solutions for their specific needs, whether as a user community or as a product vendor, would do well to look at collaboration opportunities such as the Innovation Hubs. Go it alone programs are difficult to fully implement, especially for newer technology that hasn’t been previously proven and/or implemented.

Further, shared risk with partners means that companies can afford to take more risk for achieving greater benefits as they have less downside on an individual basis. And partners can often provide a jumpstart by offering technology components to solve portions of the overall solution that don’t need to be reinvented. Finally, a shared ecosystem of partners enables a much wider degree of expertise sharing and therefore results in more likely discoveries of significance and in a more timely fashion.

Bottom line: Innovation centers, like those established by Verizon, can go a long way towards accelerating solutions, especially those that require collaborations and/or partnerships. Having a safe area to try out new products and strategies can make all the difference between success and failure. And having an immediate ecosystem can greatly benefit by not having a solely invented-here outcome.

Any enterprise that’s looking to implement new processes and/or business models using 5G and related advanced technologies would do well to look into participating in an innovation center and all the services they offer.


Jack E. Gold is founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, LLC., an analyst firm in Northborough, Mass. With more than 45 years of experience in the computer and electronics industries, and 25 years as a tech industry analyst, he covers the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies.

Follow Jack on Twitter at @jckgld and on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Jack Gold and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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