In this interview series with Digital Transformation Officers (DTOs) at Wind River, we shed light on their perspectives as they help customers navigate a changing business landscape.
Michael Entner is the Digital Transformation Officer for the technology, media, and telecommunications market segments at Wind River. He has worked with top-tier companies, including Cognizant, PwC, and Verizon. He is focused on engaging with companies to leverage new technologies and the intelligent edge.
Q: What are some capabilities that intelligence systems are bringing to your customer base in the next three years that you see as opportunities for radical transformation?
Michael Entner (ME): Telcos are just starting to leverage both artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) at the intelligent edge. When I ask customers which technology deployments would accelerate their business or where they want to make significant investments, the answers are almost universally AI and ML. When you have devices at the edge, they're intercepting data all the time. There's an opportunity to use that data to take action very quickly instead of going back to the cloud. From video analytics at a manufacturing facility to gamers and self-driving cars, the combination of AI and ML at the edge will transform how we think of connectivity over the next few years.
For many of those same organizations, though, it comes back to the cost of the investment and the ongoing management and maintenance. For example, 80% of manufacturers expect to deploy at least some 5G technology at the edge, but they’re unsure how to afford it and keep it working. If you spreadsheet out the investment in new hardware and software and in-house management, things get expensive very quickly. So, what do these companies really want? They don’t want to own the hardware and they don’t want to actually manage it on a daily basis; they want to consume 5G as a service. And that is a really interesting direction for telcos that we’re going to see in the coming year.
Q: What steps are telcos taking right now? And can we as consumers expect to see those transformation in our daily lives?
ME: Right now, the biggest focus telcos have is rolling out 5G. We may get to 50% coverage by 2025 in the United States. That number is even lower in the rest of the world, somewhere around 20%. That means any application that leverages 5G has to be able to fall back to 4G until 5G gets closer to 100% coverage.
The economics of rolling out 5G just aren’t there yet. Consumers aren't willing to pay more for 5G. They’re more concerned about battery life or camera specs or the latest features on their phone. 5G is really just an industry play right now, so carriers are pivoting to specific 5G use cases, like robots in manufacturing or AI in medical applications. In the coming year, you’ll also see a lot of 5G offerings from vendors doing what they call “in building” coverage where they extend their public network into a building or a facility. This saves that owner from having to set up and maintain their own separate network.
For consumers, the changes will be mostly in how they interact with organizations that use 5G. For example, if someone wants a custom cover for a cell phone, to make the purchase, they “speak” with AI that controls manufacturing and shipping orders and three days later, that custom cover shows up in their mailbox. Or your doctor might leave a little robot at your house to check your temperature or distribute your medicine. Some very cool stuff is coming.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges along the way?
ME: Telcos need to deliver on the promise of 5G. The most important thing Wind River can do is work with our customers to transition them to 5G, which then sets them up for subsequent cellular generations like 6G and 7G.
Moving to 5G has significant cost in the form of forklift upgrades to equipment and software. That’s where Wind River can help ease the burden. For example, Wind River has partnered with Verizon to create a virtualized RAN that uses standard off-the-shelf components rather than pricey, specialized hardware. That lowers the cost and makes the RAN easier to maintain over time, which are key wins for any telco.
One very interesting challenge is competition from non-telcos. Private companies who can come in and set up a private 5G network very quickly and cheaply will force down profit margins for telcos and that becomes yet another factor in trying to ensure profitability and sustaining the business. Here again, Wind River provides a strong opportunity for telcos to partner, design, and build private 5G networks using standard hardware and Wind River Studio. Faster setup and easier management will give telcos the advantages they need to compete with non-telco companies in the private 5G space.
Interested in hearing more from Michael? You can contact him via email (email@example.com) or through LinkedIn to follow up on topics mentioned in this article or to see how Wind River can help transform your telco operations.