“What is the 5G killer app?”
That’s perhaps the question I get more than any other in my job.
With 3G it was messaging and web browsing.
With 4G, it was video and location services.
But with 5G, my answer is “too many to list”.
There will be no single category that defines the value of 5G. Instead, I think there will be a number of new features that will be of great value to consumers and businesses. And often when you read about 5G, it tends to skew either smartphones or big corporations. Sure – they will benefit from 5G and we are already seeing that today. But also small and medium-sized companies. From cars to video games and healthcare to augmented reality, manufacturing and more, 5G has the potential to enable a range of “killer apps or services” for almost everyone.
To deliver on that promise, 5G was developed and is now being deployed in a very different way than previous generations of cellular networks. In short, we are bringing our network services much closer to our users.
If you can reduce the geographic distance between the user and the online service or the data they are accessing, the response time, or “latency” times, will accelerate. This makes existing applications feel much smoother. And new possibilities are emerging for state-of-the-art mobile applications that were previously not possible.
Imagine a connected car or one day even a fully autonomous car on a 5G network where the 5G standalone network core is in the same city or region. This reduced latency means cameras, radar and other sensors on this car can scan the surroundings and send the data over a localized network for analysis and action in near real time. In order for this to work smoothly, the cloud services that carry out this analysis must of course also be in the same region. And modern software-defined network services are required to streamline all of this data movement.
This is exactly the model we are building based on these three key elements:
- Local standalone network cores
- On-premises public cloud or private data center computing resources
- Software-defined networking capabilities and virtualized networking functions
We call these localized 5G network features “peripheries,” and today we have 10 of them operational across the US, with a goal of reaching an even dozen by the end of 2022. Many more will follow in 2023 and beyond.
Our discrete network cores and software-defined networking functions are located in network data centers near cross-connect facilities that have fast connections to nearby cloud facilities operated by the “hyperscaler” cloud providers.
These fringes, powered by standalone regional 5G network cores, will open up a range of new opportunities that simply aren’t possible with 4G. And much like startups that have played an integral role in creating new experiences and services due to 4G, we believe that local, convenient access to our 5G network will be a fundamental building block for tomorrow’s inventors. Of course we’ve worked a lot with startups over the years and we’re excited to see what this 5G approach can do for them.
For example, we will be able to deliver new managed services over our 5G network for customers who need customized functionality for specific use cases and applications. Similar to a virtual private network and in line with the principles of the open internet, this ensures that users have the network resources they need for mission-critical applications. This will help, for example, to support autonomous vehicles (which need low-latency connections) alongside children in the back seat streaming videos (which has less need for fast response time).
This is similar to how we manage and support the FirstNet network for first responders, providing them with tailored connectivity to respond to disaster situations and other public emergencies. Applying the experience of operating FirstNet over the past few years has given us a unique perspective on how to bring similar capabilities to our commercial network.
As we build and enable more edge zones, we will explore different options for making them accessible to developers, either through hyperscalers’ app stores and other interfaces, or through software development kits (SDKs).
Much more is to come in this area in the coming months and years.
It’s an exciting time for us. We are almost everywhere at the dawn of a new age of killer apps.