About this time last year, I had a little fun writing a blog. In it, Santa Claus wrote his 5G wish list to me.
Santa wanted his toy production and delivery systems to undergo a complete digital transformation. He was looking for ideas on building a smart factory for making toys, using connected robots on assembly lines, enabling mass connectivity for IoT tracking – and of course overall faster speeds.
Well, it’s a year later and 5G is a commercial reality. I’m not at liberty at this time to tell you whether we were able to outfit Santa’s factory with 5G, but it is a great time to look back at 2019 and see what progress has been made with 5G in business.
It’s been no secret that AT&T’s approach to 5G was via a business-first strategy. Even though we were the first carrier to complete a 5G browsing session on a commercial device, we were clear to consumers that our nationwide network would not be in place until the first half of 2020. So what did we do? We installed ultra-fast 5G+ using millimeter wave spectrum for select business customers. And we did this because we knew that it would be businesses and innovators that would create new, incredible 5G use cases that would ultimately then serve all of us as consumers.
We announced more than a dozen entities - manufacturers, retailers, universities and sports and entertainment firms – that have signed agreements to trial next generation services. They worked hand-in-hand with our experts in those fields to develop specific use cases that would not be possible or as feasible using existing wireless technology.
In some cases, we were able to install 5G+ coverage and show results during 2019. Other projects are longer term and will come to life in the coming months. One thing is clear: We saw businesses develop some game-changing use cases that give a taste of the innovation we can expect in the years to come.
Here are 5 trends that stick out to me.
We were right - 5G+ is fast. REALLY fast. Usually the first thing you hear about 5G is its ultra-fast speeds. And it’s true. AT&T has recorded a peak speed in excess of 2 gigabits per second on 5G+ using millimeter wave spectrum. If that kind of speed could be sustained, it’d be equivalent to downloading a 2-hour HD movie in 20 seconds.
It’s not all about speed. There’s an old quote that about football that says “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” You could make the same analogy about 5G. Speed gets headlines, but lower latency and mass connectivity are just as important in transforming businesses. That goes hand-in-hand with our next trend:
Edge Compute is a key component to success. We knew early on that 5G and Edge Compute would be an unbeatable combination. That’s why we included Edge Compute as part of our overall 5G for Business Strategy last January, along with Mobile 5G and Fixed Wireless.
There are different forms of edge computing, but to understand the basic concept - just think about how you currently use the internet. You type an address in your browser and the content appears. But that content is usually stored on servers hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles from you. It usually loads pretty quickly, but you can cut down that response time if you move the data closer – either to a network cloud in your city or even to a server in your building.
That’s big deal if you’re trying to use autonomous vehicles – whether on a public street or even in a factory. Or if you’re a manufacturer who is using video as a sensor to conduct quality control on a production line. That lower latency is key to creating new efficiencies.
My favorite example of this is from our AT&T Business Summit where we had the first live hologram call (yes HOLOGRAM) and conversation between two people, separated by 20 miles. The future is in sight.
The Phygital world is now the real world. I’ve written before about the phygital world, where the physical and digital combine to create completely new experiences. Now we’re seeing it grow exponentially as businesses understand how it will revolutionize everything from training to entertainment.
Here’s an example: We worked with the Dallas Cowboys to create a fan experience called “Pose with the Pros.” You walk up to a large touchscreen, choose 5 Cowboys players and then strike a pose with the players as they huddle around you on the screen. The screen snaps a picture of you and sends it to your phone. Here’s the weird thing. The least realistic looking person in the picture is you. The Cowboys players, captured in high definition, 3D “volumetric” video are sharp, lifelike images. It’s mind-blowing.
Creativity is the Key – This is a key lesson that we learned from the beginning of the smartphone era. When smartphones were launched and high speed mobile networks came to life, developers started unleashing their creativity to revolutionize many facets of our lives. They took advantage of all of the new toys at their disposal – great new cameras built into phones, GPS technology, aggregated and anonymized data, payment systems, Bluetooth. Out of that grew everything from rideshare systems to pet sitting services to dating apps to food delivery services. The Gig Economy was born.
Now, new toys are available, including VR and AR, artificial intelligence and edge computing. I can’t wait to see what innovations are on the horizon.
Speaking of toys, it’s time for my annual trip to the mall to see the jolly old elf. We’ve got business to discuss.