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As enterprises continue to adopt the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and AI to analyze processes and data from their equipment, the need for high-speed, low-latency wireless connections are rapidly growing. Companies are already seeing benefits from deploying private 5G networks to enable their solutions, especially in the manufacturing, healthcare, and retail sectors.

The potential of 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) has evolved substantially. As they are fully ready to enable the next-generation of digital operations, it is important to highlight some recent successful deployments that provide high speeds and ultra-low latency.

These findings have been included in the latest Digital Operations Signals report. Where our previous industry trends report, IoT Signals, gave insight for audiences into IoT, we thought it was important for this latest report to go beyond IoT and into the world of digital operations. The report now encompasses the business outcomes that organizations are pursuing to unlock the next level of improvements in efficiency, agility, and sustainability in their physical operations utilizing AI, machine learning, digital twins, 5G, and more.

As 5G connections and mobile edge computing continue to advance, so does the demand for its adoption. Interestingly, the Digital Operations Signals report found that cloud radio access networks (C-RAN), private Wi-Fi networks, and MEC technologies are not just continuing to develop, but they are also likely to converge. This means we could see more unified on-site network architectures with faster, more powerful computing.

What can 5G infrastructure deliver?

Traditionally, local connectivity in business sites—such as hospitals, clinics, warehouses, and factories—was provided by Ethernet and Wi-Fi. While Wi-Fi is still in common use for enterprise on-premises connections, it doesn’t always offer the bandwidth, latency, security, and reliability needed for demanding IoT solutions, particularly for rugged operational environments. The wider availability of 5G connectivity is spurring growth in new edge solutions and an increasing number of IoT device connections. It is now possible to have higher throughput and latency as low as 100 milliseconds or less for a device to respond to a hosting server’s request.

But the adoption of 5G is more than just a network upgrade. Instead, it’s ushering in a new category of network-intelligent applications that can solve problems that were once out of reach. With 5G, you can deploy edge applications based on cloud-native distributed architecture for solutions that demand low latency and dedicated quality of service. By using 5G and leveraging APIs to interact with networks, these applications can deliver high-performing, optimized experiences.

How is 5G being used by enterprises today?

In factory settings, for example, AI requires low latency to improve control processes and robotic systems, recognize objects through advanced computer vision, and effectively manage warehouse and supply chain operations. In this scenario, 5G and MEC can help power computer vision-assisted product packing and gather near-real-time data on any mistakes. This opens the potential to improve on-site quality assurance for logistics and supply chain companies and reduce processing times.

In healthcare, 5G connections support AI’s use in medical diagnoses, health monitoring, predictive maintenance and monitoring of medical systems, and telemedicine applications. In retail operations, low-latency connections allow AI to help with real-time inventory management, in-store video traffic, and in-store real-time offers.

The 5G architecture consists of three different network tiers—low band, midband, and millimeter wave (mmWave) high band—that offer different advantages and disadvantages in coverage distances and speed. Additionally, key 5G services specialize in providing different features:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB): By defining a minimum level of data transfer rate, eMBB can provide ultra-high wireless bandwidth capabilities, handling virtual reality, computer vision, and large-scale video streaming.
  • Massive machine-type communications (mMTC): Designed for industrial scenarios and other environments requiring numerous devices to be connected to each other, mMTC could be used with IoT solutions or large spaces with a variety of devices that would need to communicate together.
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC): This is designed for use cases that require extremely low latency and high reliability. This would benefit situations where responsiveness is critical, such as public safety and emergency response uses, remote healthcare, industrial automation, smart energy grids, and controlling autonomous vehicles.

Using these services to achieve high speeds and performance, however, requires businesses to upgrade network technology and update their older wireless and edge architectures. To help overcome these challenges, enterprises are turning to the right combination of hardware, software, and cloud services that can optimize 5G at the edge.

How are Microsoft and Intel empowering 5G solutions?

Microsoft and Intel understand the many challenges that enterprises face. By working with telecom hyper scalers, independent solution providers, and other partners, we are providing 5G infrastructure and network services that are easily adaptable for use cases in many sectors. Azure private multi-access edge compute (MEC) helps operators and system integrators simplify the delivery of ultra-low-latency solutions over 4G and 5G netwworks. By reducing integration complexity, enterprises can innovate new solutions and generate new revenue streams.

Intel has designed a range of hardware to power 5G edge network activities and improve content transmission and processing. By providing foundational technology to run 5G, they are working to help standardize and simplify its use and create more unified edge applications and services. By helping customers securely and efficiently deploy 5G across industries, they can reap the benefits of 5G without complicated or extended timelines.

Learn more about 5G at the edge

For the manufacturing industry, 5G can bring compute power closer to challenges that need to be solved. While 5G adoption is still in its early stages in many industries, Microsoft and Intel are advancing the evolution and growing deployment of 5G and supporting the development of new solutions and use cases with their hardware, software, and services.

For additional insights on the current trends and recent findings, check out the Digital Operations Signals report.

We also have smart factory use cases available, and you can download the business use case and technical use case for more information on the value drivers, total cost of ownership, and technical design. Enterprises interested in any of the solutions listed above can contact our partners via Azure Marketplace, or contact the Azure private MEC team.

Finally, to learn more about how Microsoft is helping organizations adopt 5G with connected applications, sign up for news and updates delivered to your inbox.

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