5G will usher in higher bandwidth, broader coverage and lower latency. With 5G deployments accelerating across the world, and potentially soon in India, enterprises need to ensure their cloud and edge strategy, as well as evolve their secure and nimble data centre infrastructure. This, in turn, will enable them to manage the data explosion, while evolving and benefiting from the lower latency and higher bandwidth.

Raejeanne Skillern, President, Communications, Enterprise and Cloud at Flex. In her capacity, Ms. Skillern oversees Flex’s Communications, Enterprise, and Cloud business unit, delivering industry-leading design and manufacturing solutions, integration services, and global deployment models for the world’s largest communications, cloud, datacenter, SaaS, PaaS and storage providers. She is focused on driving CEC’s strategy and leading-edge technology and connectivity solutions for datacenter, edge and communications infrastructure customers.

How do enterprises prepare for a 5G future? What does it entail right now, as well as in the years ahead? I spoke with Raejeanne Skillern at Flex to understand the current state of 5G, the 5G use cases, and, preparing for Cloud and Edge, amongst others.

State of 5G

5G global deployment and adoption has exceeded all expectations, and its growth continues to accelerate at an even faster rate than what we saw with 4G/LTE.  According to GSA, as of December 2021, 200 operators in 78 countries had launched 5G services and there were over 857 commercially available 5G devices. Various market estimates point to Asia/Pacific region dominating with nearly three-quarters of all 5G connections by 2025.

India is actively trialing 5G technologies and the 5G spectrum auctions are planned to take place later this year, having been delayed several times due to COVID-19. Once the operators have been awarded 5G spectrum, their ‘ticket to the airways’, they will commercially launch 5G services.  We eagerly anticipate this launch and expect it to take place in late 2022 or early 2023.

The 5G, AI and IoT Play

With 5G, AI neural networks can be trained with significantly more real-time data collected from a vast array of IoT devices, improving training convergence times and enhancing AI performance. And with 5G’s multi-access edge compute (MEC) capabilities, AI can be far more responsive, delivering transformational capabilities to applications such as robotics, autonomous driving and smart factories.

Compared to 4G/LTE, 5G will enhance IoT applications by enabling the connection of more than ten times the number devices, while also providing a tremendous improvement in reliability and latency. This means more devices, collecting more data in real-time, with mission critical reliability.

5G Use Cases

It’s hard to think of an industry that will not be impacted by and benefit from 5G.

Three industries we are closely watching are manufacturing, which is very close to my heart, automotive and the metaverse.

In manufacturing, 5G will enable fully connected Industry 4.0 factories that will greatly improve production efficiency, yield and safety.

In automotive, 5G enabled vehicle-to-x (V2X) connectivity will increase safety and enhance the assisted and autonomous driving experiences.

Within the metaverse, 5G will enable real-time responsiveness, immense bandwidth, and low-latency access to edge compute resources to allow for smaller, lighter and more comfortable VR headsets that deliver a truly immersive, ‘out of this world’ experience.  The metaverse will undoubtedly transform everything from education, to the workplace, to healthcare. All these experiences will be powered in large part by 5G. And as industries transform, the 5G value chain will provide trillions of dollars in output and millions of new jobs.

Preparing for the cloud and edge

Enterprises are already migrating their IT workloads to the cloud and many are adopting edge compute services for applications demanding near-real-time responsiveness. It’s not a surprise that spending on compute and storage “cloud” infrastructure is expected to account for more than half of total compute and storage infrastructure spend by 2025.

Many edge computing solutions will be governed by the cloud or delivered by cloud providers at edge locations. Enterprises should include edge as a part of their cloud strategy as a foundation for implementing next generation applications. With 5G connectivity, edge computing and the proliferation of IoT devices, enterprises will have access to infrastructure that supports higher bandwidth and efficiency without compromising on quality, network security and resilience.

Flex’s mMIMO value proposition.

Flex identified early on that mMIMO would be the cornerstone technology for 5G radios. We began investing in design and test capabilities as well as reference designs to reduce time-to-market for our customers. For example, at our 5G design center in Finland, we installed a 14,000 cubic foot over-the-air (OTA) test chamber, capable of testing and characterizing mMIMO radios up to 200 GHz. We have also developed a mMIMO reference design which can be leveraged to meet our customers’ demanding time-to-market requirements. These investments provide our customers the ability to accelerate the development of new 5G solutions and achieve faster time-to-market.

Future of datacenters in a post-covid world

Hyperscale data centers will continue to expand, both in size and geographic footprint to accommodate the continual rise in the volume, velocity and value of data. This expansion was accelerated during the pandemic as the world worked, learned, and shopped from home.  We expect this trend will continue to a large degree in the post-covid world.

Data center architectures and technologies will evolve to efficiently handle vast amounts of data. This includes growth in AI / high performance computing (HPC) clusters as well as advancements in co-packaged optics, combining switching and optical fabrics onto a single chip to interconnect the thousands of compute and storage servers.

Impact of 5G on the electronics industry

5G will be a huge catalyst for the electronics industry enabling a host of new applications and devices only possible with the high bandwidth, ultra-reliability, low latency, and massive connectivity provided by 5G. Watching 4k/8k video on-the-go, having your order delivered by a smart drone or vehicle, fully autonomous driving, and robotic assistants at home, will soon be commonplace thanks to 5G.  We expect to see a complete turnover of many of the devices and infrastructure we use today as they become 5G enabled.

Electronics manufacturing companies, especially those who operate in the Communications space, are calling out 5G as a key multi-year tailwind that will drive their growth for many years.

Fast forward

5G continues to be deployed around the world and is quickly gathering momentum with several commercial deployments and many trials underway. In addition, there is a lot of momentum in the industry behind Open RAN, which I see as complementary to 5G.  Open RAN’s goals are to open up traditionally proprietary RAN interfaces, virtualize HW/SW and enable new, nimble players, increasing innovation, accelerating progress and reducing cost. This rapid growth and evolution presents new challenges in bringing quality products to market.

Flex has invested in the design, manufacturing and fulfillment capabilities to drive 5G market growth. We are proud to serve an important role in the 5G ecosystem, with the scale and global footprint to deliver high-volume manufacturing services while providing a resilient supply chain with all the end-to-end services our customers require.

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