Software AG to make carriers go-to agents for private 5G in ‘vertical’ spectrum
Software AG wants to make carriers the go-to agents for private 5G campus networks in ‘vertical’ spectrum, and the collective face for new 5G-geared industrial change.
The Darmstadt based company, which positions itself already as the leading provider of IoT-based analytics and integration tools for the telco set, reckons mobile operators can position themselves as managed service providers even for so-called ‘vertical’ spectrum, which has come available easily and cheaply via various means in major industrial markets, including the US, Germany, the UK, France, and Japan.
It suggests management of new-style private 5G campus networks – which may or may not utilise this dedicated spectrum, set aside by national regulators for industry to accelerate 5G-enabled Industry 4.0 projects – will be outsourced in most cases, and that mobile operators are best placed to take the reins. Software AG reckons it has the under-the-hood software pyrotechnics to help them along.
The narrative in the private 5G market, to date, has not settled on a definitive role for the operator set, with a number of major industrial enterprises apparently showing a preference to work alone, with privately-licensed spectrum. Germany, the home of Industry 4.0, where the plot is thickest and developing fastest, has so far issued 74 licences to enterprises in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band. The likes of Bosch, Siemens, Lufthansa, and BMW have all piled in.
At a stretch, the jeopardy for carriers is they will be shut out of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, and the urgent revenues it will bring. The projected irony, of course, is that industrial-grade cellular, co-authored by the operator set, is one of the springboards for industrial change, and its management is a discipline they were born to. This heightened story has played out in these pages, but it is sensationalist to reduce it so easily, of course.
This is the message from Software AG, as well; that operators will play a key role, whether or not they feature in every private 5G setup. The distinctly-German (for now) concept of a ‘campus network’ makes this clear; industrialists may license their own spectrum, and even manage their own networks, but these will be required in most cases to dovetail with publicly-available LTE and 5G infrastructure, as assets go in and out of their campuses.
They will also likely crossover with ‘slices’ of publicly-licensed 5G bands, for certain industrial functions, and in many instances, particularly outside of a perceived manufacturing elite, slicing and dicing of public infrastructure will suffice, without any recourse for vertical spectrum at all. Deutsche Telekom, it might be noted, which came up with the campus concept, and which white-labels Software AG’s IoT platform for its own ends, has sized this up, already.
Software AG, which has made a business out of industrial collaboration, reckons operators should be left to do what they do best. After all, who else, really, is going to manage a cellular network, inside or outside of a factory? Not even the vendors – which make the networking gear in the first place, and are making hay with industry already, apparently – have much experience of running networks. And the car makers? Forget it, says Software AG.
Bernd Gross, chief technology officer at Software AG, picks up the story. “These car makers, for example, will acquire 5G frequencies for their factories in Germany, but that doesn’t mean they know how to run networks in them. And I’m not sure they even want to. I mean, what’s the value for an automotive company to run their own cellular infrastructure? They don’t have any experience of managing licensed cellular infrastructure.
“They know how to manage an IT system, but even those are mostly outsourced. They don’t really have the resources and expertise. Most of them will outsource their cellular networks, as well; the question is to whom? To the infrastructure vendor? What experience do they have, really, of operating networks? They need a service partner. Operators can position themselves as the service providers for this vertical spectrum… and of 5G campus networks.”
He goes on, introducing the idea that mobile operators in Europe are already setting up regional network operations centres (NOCs) to manage private LTE and 5G networks in the vicinity. He puts the reach of these NOCs at a couple of hundred kilometres; close enough they can mesh in with multi-access and on-premise edge hardware to enable real-time data management and analytics. “With 5G, we are talking 10-15 milliseconds, guaranteed.”
Gross explains: “The telcos are the experts in networking infrastructure, and that is the opportunity for them here… You can operate these [private] networks centrally; you don’t have to be on the campus. Some telcos are planning to have a NOC for five campus networks, say. That will be the key. If they roll out campus networks, and create these NOCs with a clearly defined SLA, then they have a great opportunity to serve the industrial sector.”
He adds: “They have a key role in this chain, and can ensure interoperability between local-area campus networks and wide-area 5G networks, and so on. They can go a step further, even, to manage their edge computing and application environment as well. Which is where Software AG comes in.”
We will come to that, about where Software AG comes in. But he echoes Deutsche Telekom’s point – from a couple of years back, but as relevant now – that only the mega-brands in manufacturing will go it alone, in the end. “Let’s say the top 100 in the country want to run their own networks. [They will do that] because of the cost synergies, and to simplify their IT [infrastructure] by moving everything to 5G – no cabling, no Ethernet, no Wi-Fi,” he explains.
Even so, these big facilities cannot be served so easily or expansively with privately-licensed mid-band spectrum. Sooner or later, they mutate into campus networks, anyway, crossing over with operator-controlled airwaves, whether sliced or not. And here’s the thing, as well, says Gross; it is not just about lightning-fast radios and smart core network software. As above, Industry 4.0 necessarily incorporates local edge compute infrastructure, as well.
Even 5G will not, he reasons, support real-time turnarounds on industrial data, between sensor and server, if the network ‘edge’ is the other side of the country, or else across the sea. Gross comments: “The proximity of the data centre is so important; and my observation is even smaller locations will probably go for campus networks.” Which explodes this perceived jeopardy for operators, completely.
These appear like kind words. Clearly, the industry dynamics are clearly shifting, with the liberalisation of spectrum and the opening up of radio hardware and core software. New challengers have entered the game; the kaleidoscope has been shaken and the pieces are in flux, to borrow a phrase. Managing one network for a million customers, all alike, is very different from managing even a hundred networks for a hundred customers, all very different.
The operator community, notoriously slow moving, could well mess it up. But, Gross contends, they nevertheless have a clear role in 5G networking and edge management; the question is only whether they can deliver it. Which of course explains the logic in the Software AG discourse. The company reckons it has the tools to ensure operators can transition into all-new service providers for Industry 4.0.
Gross comments: “What makes it interesting for us is the partnership with the telcos. We have existing partnerships there, and we can leverage these partnerships to be embedded into their offerings going forward.” Indeed, Software AG has a good-looking stable of telco partnerships, mostly around its Cumulocity IoT platform, which is being white-labelled by at least 20 to provide IoT device and application management.
Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, Spain-based Telefónica, Netherlands-based KPN, Austria-based A1, Japan-based NTT, Australia-based Telstra, and Saudi Arabia-based Saudi Telecom, among others, are on board. Cumulocity IoT is a ready platform with certain operators, therefore, for running microservices and industrial IoT applications on top.
But the company’s other data analytics and IT/OT integration tools, for managing distributed networking architecture, also play into this telco edge bundle in the private 5G arena. Gross lists them: its Apama event processing engine for real-time analytics, its TrendMiner platform for visualising time-series data, its Analytics Platform for drag-and-drop OT analytics, its webMethods integration server for mashing together IT and OT functions.
The company can support 140 different OT field protocols “out of the box”, he adds. “We can connect almost anything that is required on a factory floor. We have the edge and cloud piece covered, the analytics piece covered, and the device management and micro services with Cumulocity. All these technologies can be available to 5G campus challenges. That is why for us it’s an important strategy to increase awareness in that domain.”
He adds: “That’s why I am passionate about 5G, because 5G creates an additional demand for our technology, which is not so different to what we are currently doing already. 5G has become a strategic topic. Not because we want to sell 5G technology, but because we want to embed our technology in order to enable industrial 5G applications and use cases. We feel very well positioned to do that.”