With 5G quickly becoming a real-world presence and the Internet of Things picking up speed, we are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This exciting new age will see unprecedented levels of automation, convenience and connectivity and represents a real opportunity for Communication Service Providers (CSPs).
However, as with all opportunities, Industry 4.0 also brings new challenges. While CSPs stand at the precipice of an exciting new – and profitable – market, operations and service delivery will be more complex than ever before. Critical functions will require 100% uptime and reliability, meaning new ways of designing, building and operating networks that are heavily reliant on automation, analytics and AI.
The industrial market is far more complex than the consumer market and network availability and reliability can quickly become a matter of life or death in the cases of remote surgery or autonomous vehicles. There will be no “one-size-fits-all” approach and the communications market will fundamentally change to accommodate this, with new business models and new players performing roles we can’t even conceive of today.
Much as you wouldn’t visit a mechanic to fix a broken leg, you wouldn’t expect the network supporting a hospital to be the same as one serving autonomous vehicles. The underlying technology may be the same, but the requirements for maintaining a patient’s heartbeat, the safety of a car and the positioning of steel in a factory are very different. Speed and low latency alone aren’t the answer.
Network slicing will be the only way of managing this complexity and building networks capable of meeting the needs of every component and device. With network slicing, the layers are harmonized to create one stable, unified, digital operations model. Through slicing, operators can meet the strongest requirements when it comes to latency and reliability, opening new markets and making it possible to do more with their network.
Network slicing allows the active management of every connection in the network, so time-critical control can be guaranteed. It’s a premium proposition that commands a premium price, but it’s also an incredibly complex approach that requires investment and planning now to enable in the future.
Network slicing will only work with extreme levels of automation, prediction and the ability to continuously monitor and manage the network. It will also require that CSPs have the forethought to identify which industries and use cases to support. Today, this means cloudifying operations and investing in predictive and automation technologies. Tomorrow it means enabling new ways of doing business to suit the diverse industries and use cases CSPs support, providing bespoke, premium services to support the myriad requirements and service level agreements that cannot be addressed by a one-size-fits-all network configuration, but rather by tailored, dynamically managed slices.
Deciding which industries to support and identifying IoT use cases today will help CSPs transition seamlessly into the industrial market to join burgeoning ecosystems and claim their place at the heart of industry 4.0. It’s a very different landscape to the consumer marketplace, however, and CSPs need to invest in the technologies and processes to pave the way for the new connectivity requirements of industry 4.0 today to stay ahead of new players and interlopers seeking their own piece of the pie.
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