Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are accelerating in terms of influence, capability, ease of use, and economic impact.

When combined with a network technology that is software-defined, cloud native, and designed for these technology realities, there is a flywheel effect that drives step-function change across technology and business. That network technology is the fifth generation (5G) networking standard for cellular mobile communications.

SAP has launched its new thought leadership journal Horizons by SAP, which brings together global tech leaders from various companies to share their perspective on the future of IT. In the coming weeks, one article from the journal will appear on the SAP News Center per week. Here, Toby Eduardo Redshaw, senior vice president of Enterprise Innovation and 5G Solutions at Verizon, explains why modular architectural thinking is essential for future success.

Verizon turned on the world’s first 5G mobile network that can be accessed with a 5G smartphone in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis in early April 2019. At Verizon, we’ve opened 5G labs in several major cities, where we’re working with innovative companies to explore the possibilities of 5G networks. As they see how emerging technologies can run on 5G using modular IT principles, these enterprises are making fascinating discoveries.

Emerging Technologies, Creative Applications

In these early cases, 5G and the intelligent edge is allowing companies to create metaplatforms that stretch across vertical uses – from front-of-house applications and back-of-house operations to customer engagement and internal productivity. Here are three examples of how 5G can deliver this impact.

  • Cognitive video or computer vision: Using a mobile phone camera and connecting to basic AI technology at the edge, retailers can scan a product shelf and identify items that are out of place or out of stock. Semiconductor manufacturers can use the technology for anomaly detection in circuit boards, using inexpensive cameras and edge devices to replace rigid, simple purpose machines.
  • High-precision visual recognition and guidance: With video input and smart devices at the edge, entertainment companies can welcome individual fans back to the stadium, direct them to the nearest food kiosk, and notify them of loyalty-based offers. Airports can recognize the common walking patterns of travelers who are lost and offer them special assistance, working to prevent a bad travel experience and lost revenue for the industry.
  • Intelligent AR: Sensors, process triggers, and AI at the intelligent edge can help hospitality companies improve service by generating pop-up messages that remind workers to take steps to meet guests’ needs or preferences. The system could remind housekeeping to leave chocolates on a hotel pillow for a customer with a sweet tooth, for example. Warehouses can use video and AR technologies to identify intersections prone to collisions by workers and machines, proactively preventing accidents.

3D Rendering in the Blink of an Eye

These examples are just the beginning. The companies we host in our labs continuously surprise us with fascinating new ideas. As the technologies become more sophisticated, we expect modular 5G solutions to become more valuable – and also more disruptive.

One computer vision and sensing firm developed an integrated software and rendering platform for real-time and captured holographic content. Using 5G and volumetric capture technologies, the company has created some early prototypes that perform motion capture of people and things.

Existing technologies use farms of servers to perform 3D rendering, which can generate seven gigabytes of data per second. This volume of data processes very slowly on traditional networks using non-5G approaches.

With 5G and other emerging technologies, the company can do the same work 200 times faster and with 10 times less cost, all with a single machine. What’s more, the ability to quickly capture and transform this data opens up new business opportunities.

For example, the firm’s leaders envision capturing tens of thousands of products sold by catalog retailers and big-box stores and converting them into 3D assets. A job that previously would have taken months can now be completed in the blink of an eye, potentially changing an important aspect of retailing. 5G has the potential to move a lot of the 2D world to 3D.

Now Available: Horizons by SAP

Horizons by SAP is a future-focused IT journal. Thought leaders from the global tech ecosystem share their thinking about how new technologies and major business trends will impact our customers’ landscapes in the fast-arriving future. The first issue, available at www.sap.com/horizons, revolves around the implications and opportunities of modular IT.

The Question of Complexity

With technologies and use cases changing so quickly, will 5G create more complexity for users? I don’t think so.

These applications will deliver simpler, better experiences to users. Real-time computing at the edge combined with emerging technologies will make experiences, processes, and engagements more predictive, proactive, preventive, personalized, peer connected, and pattern matched – what we call the “six Ps.” Complexity for the business and the customer lessens as the value of the technology increases.

Think of the possibilities. An AI-enabled app that can recognize 20,000 stock-keeping units at the local retailer is no big deal. But if that same technology can be used to create a better experience for an individual customer by recognizing behavioral patterns in real time, that’s cool.

We’re also hoping to see these technologies channeled into applications that improve lives. For example, AR tagging, immersive engagements, and pattern matching offer many opportunities to better engage students and enrich the learning experience.

A major university is developing a VR applications that helps patients relearn and pattern their motors skills after a brain injury, such as a stroke. Using VR goggles and paddles, patients work with a therapist to practice balancing a virtual bowl on a virtual tray. Digital data captured by the application shows the therapist which skills need more work and rank the benefit of therapy protocols. Thanks to the immersive experience, built-in performance loops, AI, and the inherent advantage of the VR-enabled therapy running over 5G, the application is five to 10 times better than current physical therapy approaches.

From an IT perspective, integration of various technology modules is also a nonissue. All of the use cases described here have been executed in our 5G lab, even though 5G devices are just starting to hit the market. 5G will also simplify the current nightmare of cabling and wiring environments for connectivity. The low-latency and massive bandwidth of 5G is delivered through the air, eliminating the need for cables.

Immerse yourself in modular architectural thinking and understand its value. It’s essential for your future success. If you aren’t thinking about modular IT, you are no longer thinking about modern IT.

Block by Block

As companies modularize their systems in preparation for 5G, it’s important to focus on system architecture. To develop a modular architecture that supports critical business goals, companies need to view system components as building blocks – each with a purpose and a well-planned relationship to other pieces of the IT landscape. Businesses that don’t thoughtfully assemble these building blocks will soon find themselves with IT infrastructures that are too rigid to adapt to market change. What’s more, the costs and effort of maintaining nonmodular IT resources will rise, reducing competitiveness.

In the next two to four years, the pace of change and disruption from technology will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Companies that neglect to embrace architectural thinking will be leapfrogged by competitors with greater operational agility and efficiency.

To become intelligent, responsive businesses, organizations must take action now to prepare for modular IT that runs on 5G. By building on a flexible, modular IT stack and understanding how emerging technologies can accelerate the business, firms can create processes, operating structures, and customer engagement approaches that are predictive, proactive, preventive, personalized, peer connected, and pattern matched. 5G combined with modular IT promises to deliver simpler, better experiences – the kind that help businesses grow and thrive even in the face of rapid technological change.

Toby Eduardo Redshaw is senior vice president of Enterprise Innovation and 5G Solutions at Verizon.

This article also appeared on LinkedIn.
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