Ericsson talks 5G: the network for business
You would be forgiven for thinking that the dust has only just settled on the emergence of 4G into the mobile world. However, no sooner are we getting used to talking about 4G instead of 3G than the arrival of mobile connectivity’s next generation – 5G.
In short and somewhat oversimplified terms, this is 4G being ramped up to industrial capacity.
“It is very exciting,” Dr Håkan Andersson, Head of 5G Product Strategy at Ericsson, tells me. “What we are seeing now in conjunction with the timing of 5G is interest from a lot of industries who want to use connectivity in their processes. Whether it be manufacturing, transport or mining, industries are all looking into how they can use connectivity to drive efficiency.
“At the same time mobile broadband has a very high penetration and operators are looking for additional revenue streams. 5G, I would say, rather simply, is moving or taking mobile broadband into the industrial sphere.”
Ericsson has been a key driver of 5G deployment across Europe, working closely with the likes of the European Commission to identify and approach its opportunities and challenges. Its expertise will no doubt be invaluable when it comes to developing a unified European approach.
“We still need to understand much much more, as this will be different to mobile broadband,” adds Jonas Näslund, Head of Strategy at Ericsson’s Business Radio division. “We need to understand exactly what the industries need, and so far they have been very eager to explore the benefits and work with us.”
Ericsson has identified five use case areas for 5G. The first is ‘Broadband Experience. Everywhere, Anytime’, aimed at generic mobile users in crowded spaces like public transport and at events where connectivity often suffers. Another use case is media streaming, targeting consumers who demand and pay for TV on the go.
Third is smart vehicles, transport and infrastructure, involving connected vehicles, connected roads and connected public transport stops all communicating with one another. 5G could help permit a situation where an electric bus tells an electric highway that is in need of charging, at the same time feeding a bus stop information of its exact whereabouts to keep passengers up to date.
Filling a gap between the Internet of Things (IoT) and humans is another use case, whether it be connecting smart houses to phones or keeping customers informed of where their deliveries are. In terms of industry, the final use case comes in the critical control of remote devices, from smart grids to heavy machinery.
“This is where the challenge lies, making a network than can handle all of these use cases,” explains Näslund. “For example, we are working with New Boliden, a Swedish mining company, on how we can leverage 5G to allow them to remotely control underground trucks used to transport ore. This would greatly improve productivity and safety.”
Perhaps the greatest advantage 5G represents to businesses is flexibility in terms of scaling, maintenance and tailoring to specific needs.
“The fact 5G can in effect represent a whole network just through software, without the need for hardware systems makes it a flexible choice for these different use cases, and one which is much more cost effective than the old fashioned approach,” Andersson explains.
“However, we are seeing LTE Radio Access Networks, which were part of the technical revolution with 2G and 3G, as being part of a 5G solution. We are not simply throwing LTE away. We are adding new technology that has been ripening after the introduction of LTE. 5G spans so much further than a radio interface, but with this we can make networks purely by software.”
Ericsson is partnering with businesses in a number of industries, from health and automotive to utilities and commodities.
Näslund adds: “We are also improving our IoT capabilities and machine to machine communications with these new 5G-LTE networks. Before, IoT functions may have been carried on a separate network, using new hardware and interfaces. “But then we asked ‘why can we not multiplex these narrowband devices into the LTE with software?’ This was the first step in the new way of thinking and I’m pleased that Ericsson took the lead on this and got the industry to change.”
A 5G network also has the potential to save industries large amounts of energy and money. Ericsson’s target is to increase data traffic by a factor of 1,000 while at the same time reducing energy consumption by 50 percent.
Andresson explains how the company is pushing the concept of a lean carrier. The basic principle is to minimise any transmissions not directly related to the delivery of user data, effectively presenting an on demand service used only when needed. Ericsson Lean Carrier works by reducing the interference caused by reference signalling across the LTE network.
“Another element which helps us to reduce energy consumption is antenna technologies,” Andersson reveals. “With traditional cells you have 120 degree antenna and you transmit the information on that sector regardless of where the user is. With the new technology you can point the energy to exactly where the user is.
“If you take a flashlight that spreads like a floodlight it lights up a lot of area that the person is not standing in. If you focus the flashlight into a narrow beam you can use a lot less energy and still light up the point you need. This is the same with antenna technology.”
5G can also incorporate old legacy networks and systems into sustainable network, thus again reducing energy consumption and potentially saving organisations money.
6G? Timescales of 5G
When trying to map the evolution of 2G through to 5G, it is difficult to pin down when or if one morphed into the next. Andresson estimated that 5G had been in the pipeline since around 2012 or 2013, following Ericsson’s vision for connected devices.
“We set out our vision for 50 billion connected devices and it soon became apparent that 4G alone would not be able to cope with this level of connectivity,” he explains. “Machine-machine connections number at around 300 million, but this will increase massively, more than anything else. But this is more the result of what we are doing and not the starting point for 5G - we have to ask how we build a network that can handle these connected devices.”
“We started with 3G and said this would be the last generation and we were wrong. With 5G we are conscious that we shouldn’t make anything that limits adding any functionality further down the line. A 10 year cycle thought process might not cut it anymore.”
And what about 6G, has this been touted at all? “There was a Justin Bieber advert on SuperBowl that talked about 6G, so who knows, maybe he is the 6G champion,” Näslund says.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”