As 5G prepares for commercial launch, more work is necessary on the use cases that will justify the steep investment required. George Malim, the managing editor of VanillaPlus, interviews Patrick López, a board member of 5TONIC, an open lab initiated by Telefónica and IMDEA Networks Institute with a vision to create an open research and innovation ecosystem laboratory in which industry and academia come together to boost 5G technology and business innovation, to find out where the most fertile areas for development exist.
George Malim: What is 5TONIC, why has it been established and what are its goals?
Patrick López: 5TONIC is a lab, an open lab, for research and innovation and the idea behind it came about because our industry hasn’t been especially good at developing the technology for specific use cases and segments of the population. For instance, 3G [development] was about push-to-talk because at the time, in the US, the mobile operator Nextel had amazing revenue per user from push-to-talk over wireless. That’s how we ended up with push-to-talk but everyone missed that Nextel’s revenues weren’t because of push-to-talk, they were because of its demographic. Its overwhelming customer base was SMEs, with many in the construction industry, who were using push-to-talk. Other demographics were not so interested in push-to-talk.
Similarly, with 4G, the technology was pushed by the industry in order to enable voice over LTE (VoLTE) but users don’t care if voice is IP or circuit-switched – voice is voice. We missed that 4G would be mostly about video and it took years to get that to work properly.
Therefore, with 5G we’re looking at what users want. We’re looking to understand from a 5G perspective what needs to be done to satisfy specific needs. In that sense, very purposefully, the group here has been trying to identify specific industries with needs that are not satisfied today that can be satisfied by 5G.
It’s about finding the cases that will justify 5G on one hand but also about understanding if there are any gaps that need to be filled to meet requirements. We have assembled a consortium of multi-disciplinary companies composed of universities, research organisations, telecoms operators and vendors from the whole spectrum of telecoms. Capabilities run from chipsets to radio to integration and we feel we have, at a high level, all the actors that can create a new 5G experience. We then prototype and try to learn what can be done technically and what is the value of the use cases economically to organisations.
GM: You’ve recently been awarded key roles in the €50m, European Union 5G programme. What is your involvement?
PL: This group started as a collaborative effort and funding a lab to develop pre-5G technology in order to be able to solve some of the problems of different industries. In the process of that, 5tonic has become recognised as one of the leading open labs in the EU and been involved in a number of 5G projects. We’re involved in several parts of the EU Horizon 2020 programme including: 5G EVE (European Validation platform for Extensive trials) which aims to create the foundations for the roll-out of end-to-end 5G neworks in Europe, 5G-VINNI (5G Verticals INNovation Infrastructure) which looks to accelerate the uptake of 5G in Europe by providing an end-to-end (E2E) facility that validates the performance of new 5G technologies by operating trials of advanced vertical sector services, and 5GGENESIS (5th Generation End-to-end Network, Experimentation, System Integration, and Showcasing) which will create an integrated end-to-end 5G facility where 5G network key performance indicators (KPIs) for various 5G use cases can be validated and brought together with a view towards their integration in one united full-stack, end-to-end 5G platform.
GM: You already have a cross-section of companies from the 5G community as members. Will you be seeking new participants in 5tonic?
PL: It’s an open lab so, although we’re not actively seeking new members and there’s no recruitment process, we’re very happy to welcome any company in the 5G ecosystem that wants to come in and collaborate – provided they meet the criteria set out in our charter. Manageability, in terms of the number of companies involved, hasn’t been an issue for us yet.
GM: What are the motivations of the members for engaging and collaborating in 5tonic?
PL: I think that, to be open, it’s about profitability. 5G isn’t going to be successful if we collectively, massively invest without understanding where the money is going to come from. There’s an inkling that the bulk of the revenue isn’t going to come from consumers. Customers are broadly happy with the services they get now so enterprises and industries are key to make 5G a reality.
We’re looking at two main areas: large industrial segments that are most likely to benefit from 5G including Industry 4.0, automation and robotics and with segments that are relevant in local markets. For example, in Spain tourism is more relevant to the country’s GDP so it’s logical that we work to investigate how 5G can better tourism clients’ experiences.