The Next Generation for the Enterprise… En Route to 6G?

March 11, 2024

Written by Alex Lawrence

The telecoms industry is in an interesting situation. While the consumer market has historically been a major focus for telecoms providers, there isn’t a great deal of growth to be found here in many markets. To grow, the telcos need to effectively tap into the enterprise market in ways which they haven’t done before.

While there have been some green shoots globally, could 6GWorld honestly say that problem has been cracked? Not yet, but recent conversations have highlighted some fascinating new approaches which may be steps in the right direction… and, tellingly, which take some early steps towards 6G solutions.

Quality Over Quantity

“Enterprises are looking for some level of predictability in the network – performance predictability and price predictability,” noted Donna Johnson.

“Until they get that, it’s very hard for them to say, “I’m going to build my business on cellular”.”

Johnson, Ericsson’s head of marketing for Enterprise Wireless Solutions and CMO at Cradlepoint, is focussing on questions around what ‘customer experience’ means for businesses.

“We don’t need more bandwidth, we need predictability. We need that not just from the carrier networks, but… we need that from the enterprise solutions,” she observed in conversation with 6GWorld.

“As a business or as an employee, you should be able to move between a Wi-Fi network, a public network, potentially a private 5G network, a satellite network… and know that wherever you are, that you have set of application policies, QOS policies, security policies so that you get a consistent experience across all of this.”

This is quite heartwarming to hear, as this ties in closely with one of the concepts being put forward for 6G – that, rather than being a new radio technology, it should enable a ‘network of networks’ so that services can work much more reliably and consistently across whatever access technology is available. We’re not quite there yet, Johnson admits.

“We do need to get roaming between public and private, but then I think the consistency in application policies and security policies is more a factor of the cloud than it is the carrier,” she commented.

Developing that consistency in policies may tie into the idea of network APIs as supported by the GSMA.

“If I’m an enterprise and I’m going to open a pop-up location or a new location and I say, “I’m just going to have 5G but I want predictability from that,” there’s a couple of ways to get it. One is that the network itself is just predictable and consistent and I just do best-effort connection, if the best-effort connection gives me what I need,” Johnson commented.

“The other choice is I can ask the network to give me what I need – maybe as a slice or maybe as an API – and then I’m guaranteed that level of service.

What I see is enterprises saying “I’m OK with best effort for most of my traffic, but for my Teams calls, for example, I want to be sure so I’m going to use an API or a slice to get that; or I’m just going to query the network to find out information about it and make sure that I’m ready to put my application traffic on the phone”.”

One big unknown is how this might translate into the network being accessible through APIs to the end enterprise or through the big enterprise IT suppliers. If, in the example above, Microsoft has performed the API integration for Teams, will telcos be in a strong position to monetise that significantly? Perhaps not (see this recent article for more).  

Tailored Services

Reliability was at front of mind for an entirely different company, too. JET Connectivity is a young company delivering coverage at sea for offshore wind farms.

“The most important thing for [energy companies] is safety critical communication. The actual 5G element is not the most important thing for them, it’s having reliable connectivity,” explained Izzy Taylor, Head of Business Development, Sales and Marketing.

“For us, we need 5G because we’re using the 3GPP standards for integrated access and backhaul.”

Refreshingly, the service was driven by an idea rather than a technology outcome.

“Our CEO and founder is a sailor and he wanted to find a way to provide connectivity to people that are working offshore or sailing for leisure reasons.”

The eventual answer, first deployed in 2023, was a huge floating offshore platform designed to support the building and operation of offshore wind farms and shipping in the vicinity. The solution is tailored to the clients’ needs, however.

“Instead of being the traditional thousands of people on one mast, we need long range, with a couple of hundred people using it,” Taylor explained.

“Because of the way the platforms go out, we can ping signals out to a 15-to-20-kilometre range; and everything is fibreless, it’s all solar powered.”

The actual equipment for the service itself is tiny – “About the size of a laptop,” Taylor commented. However, it offers the capability for maintenance crews, robotic or drone equipment and passers-by to connect to a mobile signal miles out to sea.

“It’s also a bit of a resilience to fibre as well,” Taylor observed. “Companies will put fibre in the turbines [to transmit operational data], but that’s in the same subsea cables as all the electrics and everything; so if a trawler goes over the cable and cuts it, they lose the data.”

While this might superficially be just an interesting industrial side note, there are some ramifications.

“We’re also looking at doing a few things around Scotland in the lochs. The terrain is just not ideal for mobile connectivity; nothing down in the loch area has any connectivity,” she commented. The mountainous terrain offers similar problems in many countries within and beyond Europe.

“The ultimate idea is to cover all the wind farms and build out the infrastructure so that we’ve got the mesh network all the way around the UK; then we can put the wind farms as the primary network users and then to anyone else, like the fishing vessels going past, they can just download an eSIM and say “I want three gigs of data as we go past in the next couple of days” and things like that.”

More generally, a weather-resistant 5G system designed to cover sparsely-populated areas using relatively few base stations seems like it should tie in well with the desire of governments across Europe and beyond to ensure consistent access to services with the future generation of networks. Using particular industries as ‘anchor tenants’ on a system that can be used by the public may offer a method to change the cost dynamics of rollouts in areas with low population.  

Coming Together

HPE, once firmly lodged in the enterprise IT world, has been making a series of big investments to also support telecoms networking, first with Aruba and more recently with private network player Athonet. Now they are working through a potential tie-up with Juniper Networks, though this is yet to be finalised.  

For a company with a very different background, what’s their position?

“The vision of 6G, which has been developing that vision of a multi-RAT network of networks… makes a lot of sense because it addresses problems that we see the customers have and that we’ve seen in the past when we were deploying private 5G,” said Andrew Border, head of Product for HPE’s Telco Solutions Group.

This is a clear pain point according to head of Private 5G Karim El Maliki.

“An airport that already got a Wi-Fi network, when we installed private 5G they treated them separately because they’re completely different islands,” he observed.

“You have the silos where you have private 5G, your Wi-Fi network and you got your wired network. The IT teams that need to manage this and make this accessible to the users even within a given company may be different, right?”

While all the pieces are not yet together, it is clear that there is a desire to mask the complexity of managing multiple access technologies and present it in a simplified and unified way.

“Aspirationally, what we’d like to see is one screen where there’s private 5G, there’s Wi-Fi and what we do in wireline; but then, the big question is what do you do with the public networks?”

This is – at last, in this article – something where AI takes centre stage as a means to attack the silos which different kinds of networks operate in.

“If we look at this thing much more horizontally and we break down those silos, then we can have all the insights that they can provide, whether that’s from a classic network management, fault finding or remediation point of view or actually doing much more,” El Maliki said.

Border nodded. “I think the theme of breaking down the silos is the theme that we’re seeing throughout. So not only breaking down the silos within the network, but also between technologies and between the different applications. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be a mix of Wi-Fi, probably 5G and fixed, you’ve got to deliver the whole thing… and all visible through one pane of glass.”

Image courtesy of Placidplace

Recent Posts

Guest Post: Navigating the IoT security landscape

Guest Post: Navigating the IoT security landscape

By Iain Davidson, senior product manager, Wireless Logic According to IDC, spend on the internet of things (IoT) could reach almost $345 billion by 2027. The fastest adoption will be in applications such as irrigation and fleet management, with prominent use cases in...

Key Value Indicators – Making Good Business

Key Value Indicators – Making Good Business

One of the most original and most overlooked features of 6G is the involvement of Key Value Indicators [KVIs] in its development. However, KVIs may hold the key to revamping the fortunes of the telecoms industry. Key Value Indicators were introduced as a concept into...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This