More than the next generation of mobile infrastructures, beyond current 4G deployments, 5G is emerging to be no less than the nervous system of the new digital society and economy. Far beyond delivering the next increments of bandwidth speed, throughput, and latency improvements, 5G could serve as the wellspring of a systemic, techno-socio-economic transformation with deep impact for the everyday lives of humanity.
We can already identify three dimensions along which the 5G transformation is beginning to play out:
- Software is bringing us to convergence in diverse areas of technology innovation such as software-defined network (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), but also cloud computing and its evolution towards edge-fog computing, the pervasive Internet of Things (IoT), and even artificial intelligence and industrial mathematics. Using an information technology (IT) approach to design and deploy tomorrow’s communications networks looms as an utter paradigm change for the industry. In the past, it was only the incumbent operators/players with the huge resources to afford to make the investments required to pursue domination of a market; the move to software, on the other hand, figures to allow more and more players, even those of limited investment potential, to enter the marketplace. In fact, open source software and (almost) standard hardware solutions will offer the possibility to deploy very low-cost infrastructures. This commoditization will reshape the relationship and competition among varied ecosystem players and will eventually create a new value-chain. 5G will be a first expression of this systemic digital transformation.
- On top of the 5G infrastructures, will reverberate a boom of network, cloud services, and user applications, enabling a scenario of everything-as-a-service, where everything will be a means to provide and consume information and communications technologies (ICT) services and data. 5G infrastructures will assume the form of extended and distributed execution and communication environments—from fog resources (up to the smart things and terminals) to edge (e.g., network points of presence and small/medium-sized data centers), cloud computing (e.g., big data centers), and across transparent fixed-radio connectivity.
- 5G, assuming the form of extended and distributed execution and communication environments, will have an operating system that not only will allow flexible and efficient management, control, and orchestration functionality but also as a platform for implementing business roles and strategies and pursuing novel forms of competitive advantage in the marketplace. Today, this piece is under study and experimentation in several worldwide open innovation initiatives and fora. It also happens to be the most strategic. It will ensure dynamic and flexible automation of the infrastructures’ operations processes, cybersecurity, policy enforcements, and service provisioning in dynamic and complex future service scenarios.
Of course, there are significant hurdles to be overcome on the way to realizing the ambitious 5G vision: humans, machines, robots, drones, and pieces of software processes leveraging highly flexible, programmable, and almost fully automated execution and communications software architectures to jointly participate in the creation of a new digital society and economy. In crucial areas such as cybersecurity innovation, standards development for open interfaces and regulatory reform toward sustainable business models, there is substantial work to be done in order to unleash 5G’s potential and the techno-socio-economic transformation that it promises.
Such issues will be the focus of IEEE NetSoft 2017 Conference at the School of Engineering and Architecture at Italy’s University of Bologna. This will be the third annual global gathering of the flagship event convened by the IEEE Software Defined Networks (SDN) Initiative. World-leading service providers, vendors, research institutes, open source projects, and academia will explore the theme of IEEE NetSoft 2017, “Softwarization Sustaining a Hyper-Connected World: en route to 5G.”
Collaborative events such as IEEE NetSoft 2017 are key to overcoming the obstacles and realizing the historic potential of 5G. Efficient evolution across the wide range of interrelated technology areas and application spaces engulfed by 5G will require that they are understood as a collective phenomenon, from a system-of-systems vantage.