2.8 – Unleashing Ingenuity and Efficiency with 5G

In this episode, we discuss the implications of advances in 5G, corporate responsibility in the face of these changes, and the impact on the continued democratization of technology access across the globe.
All The Next Horizon Podcasts

In this episode:

  • Overview of what to expect from 5G (01:05)
  • How properties of compute will be applied to cellular networks (02:28)
  • What are SCATA systems and what do they have to do with dams? (03:27)
  • The “wonder cycle” of a new technology (05:06)
  • The notion of chemistry-as-a-service (05:53)
  • Democratizing access to technology via 5G networks (06:37)
  • The concept of network slicing (07:48)
  • Ensuring dedicated capacity for first responders via FirstNet (08:42)
  • How companies are taking responsibility for technological implications of 5G (10:50)
  • Network disaggregation in 5G architectures (11:45)
  • How long does it actually take to activate a cell site? (13:10)
  • The tidal wave of efficiencies with 5G (13:47)
  • 5G and the construction industry (14:42)
  • Could 5G have an impact on insurance premiums? (16:04)

Generally, we know that 5G represents the fifth generation of cellular technology bringing forth enhanced mobile broadband networks and even faster speeds than 4G. However, that’s certainly not all.

Let’s think about the primary innovations we’ll see from 5G in the form of a stool, meaning it will be propped up by three specific things. The first is, yes, those faster speeds; this we know. But, it’s those second and third legs of the stool that really make it a cool stool [rhymes rule].

5G will also bring about ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (leg two), as well as massive machine-type communications (leg three). These three incredible technological advancements are what will ultimately prop up 5G, and they represent a massive enterprise-level transformation.

This week, join host Kelly Lynch as she speaks with recurring guest Vish Nandlall as they try their best to dissect exactly what all of this means in the context of both business and everyday life. The conversation dives into a discussion of implications of advancements in technology (mostly positive!), corporate responsibility in the face of these changes, and their impact on the continued democratization of access to technology across the globe.

“Anything that wants to be connected is going to be connected.”

— Vish Nandlall, Vice President of Technology Strategy & Ecosystems, Dell Technologies

Guest List

  • Kelly Lynch is the host and producer of The Next Horizon podcast as part of the Technology Thought Leadership Team at Dell Technologies.
  • Vish Nandlall is the Vice President of Technology Strategy and Ecosystems at Dell Technologies and is responsible for developing strategies to sustain technology leadership across new and emerging areas.

Kelly Lynch: Well, hey there, it’s your old pal Kelly again. I’m not sure if you’re pumped or bummed to hear my voice, but I hope it’s the former as I’m here to stay. Jon Hyde did such a phenomenal job hosting the Next Horizon, podcast, and I only hope I’m able to continue that it is my goal to work towards truly demystifying these emerging technologies for you and for me, quite honestly, as well as bringing to life even more real world examples of these technologies at play. So come on, let’s get to learning. So today, we are joined again by the lovely Vish Nandlall. He is the vice president of technology strategy and ecosystems in the office of the CTO here at Dell Technologies. Today, we’re talking about 5G. Vish, I know this topic is of particular interest to you. So as a baseline, could you just give us an overview of 5G technology in your own words?

Vish Nandlall: Sure. Great to talk to you again, Kelly. 5G represents the fifth generation of cellular communications. So about once a decade, we have a renewal of the cellular technology. We are just coming off of something called 4G. We’re moving into 5G. The splendid thing about 5G is that it’s supposed to bring us all sorts of new opportunities that really stretch out beyond just being a network. The headline is always something called enhanced mobile broadband. It’s what you would expect from 5G. It’s we’re going to have faster speeds up to a gigabit to maybe 10 gigabits per second. But that to me is the red herring of 5G. The cool stuff that’s really sitting in wait are something called ultra-reliable low latency communications, and the other one’s called massive machine type communications. And you should think of this as really the two other legs of the stool that are going to prop up 5G, right in the middle of the enterprise transformation that Dell has been the center of over the course of the past decade or so.

Vish Nandlall: These two new capabilities are bringing really opportunities for us to create a system much like what we’ve always had in compute, where compute today is multitenant and I can access it as a service. We’re bringing those properties to this massive cellular network, where now instead of it just being some general purpose, I’m going to have my movies stream to my laptop, it’s now going to be able to pick up things like SCADA and control systems that are operating sensitive processes within for instance the factory floor. Or it’s going to be able to tether a whole sea of sensors that are providing telemetry from an agricultural site. It’s these new types of capabilities that are going to finally land us in a place where anything that wants to be connected is going to be connected.

Kelly Lynch: Now, I don’t personally know what SCADA and control systems are, which I probably should, but could you explain those to me so just that I have a full understanding of what we’re talking about, or at least a more clear understanding?

Vish Nandlall: A SCADA systems are supervisory control systems that would, for instance, monitor a relay to see if it’s on or off, and then it reports that to an application, so that if, for instance, the thing that is monitoring that’s on and off are the flood gates of a dam, I could send an emergency alert to the local first responders to say that the village is going to be flooded. So a SCATA system is really any type of system that follows that type of pattern.

Kelly Lynch: Got it. Okay. So you mentioned sensors on dams to alert city officials that we need to do something about whatever it is the sensor is going off for. It seems like there’s a lot of these new applications that advancements in 5G technology are going to enable. So which seems to be the most exciting or interesting for you, Vish?

Vish Nandlall: Well, that’s a dangerous question to ask a technologist. Clearly, there are the ones that most people would use that I’m obviously fascinated in, things like streaming and gaming applications or cloud gaming applications, augmented reality, virtual reality. But the thing that really fascinates me about 5G is that we’re seeing a technology inflection. And Carlota Perez talks a lot about this notion of the installation deployment phase that happens across the technology revolution. You can think of it as when you lay down the railroads, and then when the western United States got developed because of that. There’s always this wonder cycle that occurs once a new technology is introduced. And to me, I like to think about what could that wonder cycle look like?

Vish Nandlall: One of the things that has shown promise is that in a world of ubiquitous connectivity, I can start thinking about things in the real world being delivered as a service, much like how when Amazon first deployed Amazon Web Services back in 2006, they created just a fault line of before and after in terms of how startups were created. Startups now have access to abundant compute and can effectively turn up and turn down on a dime, which venture capitalists love. How can you bring that same type of disruption to other industries? And the one that is obviously kind of really gaining a lot of my attention are things like chemistry as a service. You can think of for instance someone proposing a particular molecule, that molecule being given to an AI, that AI tasking a set of robots to prepare a reaction to test and produce that particular molecule. Then you get the results read out to you, all without having to have the massive capacity of a DuPont or of a Pfizer. Now we’re bringing the ability to unleash ingenuity for solving things like, for instance, COVID.

Kelly Lynch: The whole wonder cycle notion is completely fascinating to me. And it kind of sounds like what you’re excited about maybe is that it’s democratizing access to certain technologies in a certain way because of the ultra-low latency and fast speeds and all of that, bringing these technologies, putting certain capabilities in the hands of people or smaller businesses that maybe wouldn’t have had access to these types of things in the past. Is that a fair statement?

Vish Nandlall: That’s exactly it. Think of a traditional enterprise. They have a local area network that’s running all of their IT services. It might have firewalls and IDS systems, they’ve got servers connected, they’ve got users connected into that network infrastructure. And there’s some poor IT admin and network ops person who’s running all of that. Then sometimes it breaks down, sometimes it works well. What we’re trying to do with 5G is to actually cede a lot of the management of that into a managed cellular infrastructure that still provides the level of customization that you, as a network operator in an enterprise, would enjoy. And this is something that has been called network slicing. And it refers to this whole concept of multitenancy in the network. You’re offering this network now as a service back into the enterprise. And that enterprise can customize it in order to tweak performance and make the cost and efficiency trade-offs that they need to run the day-to-day of their operations.

Kelly Lynch: Okay, so what you’re saying is that there will maybe be this new ability to determine which applications should have prioritization or preference over another application. And if I’m understanding network slicing or splicing, excuse me, wrong, you may need to correct me, but I’m very curious your thoughts on how we make sure there’s enough regulation to determine or ensure that, for example, an ambulance that needs to send data back to a hospital after someone’s gotten into an accident gets precedence on these 5 networks over someone maybe who’s playing a video game.

Vish Nandlall: That’s a great question. Because what we’re presenting is to the point that you are making a new application abstraction. Typically, what we really only considered was the compute, can I have a certain kind of virtual machine was so much memory, so much persistence capacity, so much speed and performance. Now I get to specify the kind of network I want that virtual machine to sit in. And that becomes quite fascinating because typically I would have only been able to govern that within the four walls of a data center. Now I can actually govern that outside of the data center in the wide area network, across my campus. And there is where the exciting piece comes in.

Vish Nandlall: Now, what you’re talking about is extremely important. It’s how do we ensure that there’s dedicated capacity available for first responders? And luckily, we’ve thought of that. There’s different things like wireless priority services. But probably more to your question, there has been some provision for what’s called FirstNet in the United States. And FirstNet is meant to be a priority service specifically delivered to first responders. And it’s operated nationally, and it’s overlaid on top of existing cellular providers network. And it’s using this capability of network slicing so that if an emergency occurs, the right capacity is allocated to the places where the emergency is so that firefighters can get situational awareness of where a fire’s breaking out, or I’m able to get the comms that I need to be able to coordinate communications in the event of being able to find a missing person. All of these types of capabilities have been contemplated in the context of what we’ve called FirstNet.

Kelly Lynch: That makes me very happy to hear. I honestly didn’t know that something like that existed. But it’s good to know that companies like Dell Technologies are thinking about possible implications of these technologies, especially as they continue to evolve exponentially over time. I think about the positive outcomes of emerging technologies and how they seem so vast and so wonderful. But I also think it’s important to temper that with the thought or notion of, okay, we have a responsibility somewhat in the development of these technologies to also think through what are some negative implications and how do we mitigate those, or make sure that we’re doing our due diligence as a proprietor of these technologies to make sure that they’re used in the right ways and not taken advantage of negatively. And I don’t even know if there’s a question in there, but what are your thoughts on that responsibility as a proprietor of these technologies?

Vish Nandlall: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. And one of the interesting things that’s really quite under the hood of 5G is that there is an architectural disruption that occurred, which actually in many ways ushered in the entry of Dell into the 5G space. And it’s this notion of network disaggregation. In prior incarnations of cellular generations, a lot of the equipment was built on proprietary purpose-built infrastructure. And there was a lot of arcana that was required in terms of operating this infrastructure. It dates back to processes and operation models that are anchored in the ’80s and in the ’90s. Obviously, we’ve evolved to cloud aligned based technologies with 5G, which again is something that’s in the wheelhouse of Dell. When you think of the way we’ve disaggregated things, we’ve made it so that I can distribute functions across the network. And this level of network distribution is giving us the ability to optimize for cost, for efficiency, for priority, to many of the things that you spoke about earlier. And it’s the dividend of using server-based platforms versus application specific infrastructure that’s allowing us to get that flexibility and to construct architectures that are meeting the needs of each of the different constituencies within the cellular world.

Vish Nandlall: These are the kinds of new tools that are being brought to the 5G game that allow us to very quickly turn up a network. In the past, you had to take maybe up to 72 hours to activate a particular cell site. It required a tremendous amount of engineering competence to do it. In this new world that’s cloud align where things become more distributed and I can remotely access things, activation might take up to 10 minutes. So that ability to kind of rapidly deploy now networks, that ability to kind of create cost savings in terms of how many sites I need to be able to manage, how many can I consolidate and create pooling efficiencies at, all of these things are just bringing this tidal wave of efficiency into 5G that we just haven’t seen before in prior generations.

Vish Nandlall: And so what does that mean? Well, when you lower the cost of a technology, you increase access. And when you increase access, more and more people are able to start to participate in the dividends that broadband can bring, not just in a city, but in rural locations and in very kind of lowly populated locations. So this is, this is something that’s quite fascinating, quite interesting, and quite exciting about 5G.

Kelly Lynch: Yes, yes, yes. Okay, that to me is the coolest part about this 5G evolution, bringing speed and access to those who may not otherwise have had it. I do have one more question for you before you go, because it’s always helpful for me to think about these technologies, especially the ones that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. It’s helpful for me to think about them in the context of the real world. So earlier, before we started recording, you and I had talked about the fact that you have some construction happening at your house. So I don’t know if there is any correlation, but in your mind, is there something that you could foresee changing in the future as it pertains to the construction world, either at an individual’s home or a commercial site as a result of the new wave of 5G?

Vish Nandlall: That’s a great question. One that actually is very relevant to the construction industry today. One of the big problems when you have a large construction site, you’ve got Caterpillars and you’ve got all sorts of construction equipment that’s very costly, and there’s tremendous insurance premiums that are required either on behalf of the landowner or the construction company that’s coming in. You can imagine if that equipment is left overnight, it’s a vulnerable. Clearly, an individual’s residence isn’t as secure as a commercial construction site where there might be fenced in properties. And so the ability to maybe tag that and do asset management of where your equipment is at a given moment, and to be able to track where it is, if it’s moved or if it’s stolen for that matter, what that can deliver is not just obviously some level of assurance to the construction agency that their stuff isn’t going to suddenly vanish overnight. But it also creates a massive re-stabilization of the insurance industry. So in terms of now how many construction crews are able to pay off the premiums that are required to be able to enter into the construction industry, lower the costs, again, making the labor force and the ability for small enterprises to form more equitable for everybody.

Kelly Lynch: And again, we come back to more equitable. Oh, I love it. If 5G means that the world will be a more equitable place, even in some small ways, I’m a happy camper. So it all sounds great to me. Vish, thank you so much for being here. Honestly, it’s always awesome to talk to you and get your perspective on these things. You teach me a lot every time we chat, so I appreciate it. And I look forward to hopefully talking your ear off again in the future.

Vish Nandlall: Great. Well, thanks a lot, Kelly.

Kelly Lynch: And thank you for joining me today. I hope you enjoyed the podcast this week. And I also hope you’ll join me again in a couple of weeks for some more conversations. If I had to guess, I would say they’ll probably be around the future of emerging technologies, maybe the impacts they may have on our lives, things like that, what we can look forward to over the next horizon, etc. But until then, I’m Kelly Lynch, and again, this is The Next Horizon.

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