Since officially separating from IBM in November last year, Kyndryl has been busy cementing some heavyweight partnerships. The alliances with Microsoft, Google, and VMware demonstrate its intention to build hybrid cloud solutions with whoever it needs to, rather than favouring the Big Blue or Red Hat. The SAP tie-up hints at a future of migrating ERP workloads to the cloud and even an eye on moving up the application stack. Last week Kyndryl announced it is working with Nokia to provide private 5G and LTE networks to enable Industry 4.0 solutions. The first customer reference for the partnership is Dow, deploying both real-world and proof-of-concept applications for worker safety and collaboration and asset tracking.
Kyndryl has a competitive networking services unit, particularly in partnership with Cisco. Its focus has been on SD-WAN, campus networks, and network management as part of broader cloud services deals. This 5G partnership with Nokia is its first serious effort to work with one of the major carrier-grade vendors using cellular technology. It creates an opportunity for Kyndryl to position itself as a provider of services that underpin IoT and edge applications, rather than only cloud, which has until now been its main strength.
Prior to the Kyndryl announcement, Nokia was already developing private 5G solutions under the moniker Digital Automation Cloud (DAC). A key customer is Volkswagen, using the network to connect robots and wireless assembly tools. Over-the-air vehicle updates are also tested over the private network. Volkswagen operates in a dedicated 3.7-3.8 GHz band, which was allocated by the Federal Network Agency in Germany. This illustrates a third option for accessing spectrum, which will become an important consideration in private 5G rollouts.
Private 5G Use Cases
Private 5G has several benefits such as low latency, long-range, support for many users per access point, and provision for devices that are mobile due to handover. It is unlikely that it will completely replace other technologies, like wireless LAN, but it is very compelling for certain use cases.
Private 5G is useful on large sites, like mines, ports, farms, and warehouses where connected machines are moving about or some devices – like perimeter security cameras – are just out of reach. Utilities, like power, gas, and water, with infrastructure that needs to be monitored over long distances, will also start looking at it as a part of their predictive maintenance and resiliency systems. Low latency will become increasingly important as we see more and more customer-facing digital services delivered on-site and autonomous robots in the production environment.
Another major benefit of private 5G compared to operating on public service is that data can remain within the organisation’s own network for as long as possible, providing more security and control.
Private 5G Gaining Popularity
There has been a lot of activity over the last year in this space, with the hyperscalers, telecom providers and network equipment vendors developing private 5G offerings.
Last year, the AWS Private 5G was announced, a managed service that includes core network hardware, small-cell radio units, SIM cards, servers, and software. The service operates over a shared spectrum, like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the US, where the initial preview will be available. CBRS is considered a lightly licenced band. This builds on AWS’s private multi-access edge compute (MEC) solution, released in conjunction with Verizon to integrate AWS Outposts with private 5G operating in licenced spectrum. A customer reference highlighted was low latency, high throughput analysis of video feeds from manufacturing robots at Corning.
Similarly, Microsoft launched a private MEC offering last year, a cloud and software stack designed for operators, systems integrators, and ISVs to deploy private 5G solutions. The system is built up of components from Azure and its acquisition of Metaswitch. AT&T is an early partner bringing a solution to the market built on Microsoft’s technology and the operator’s licenced spectrum. Microsoft highlighted use cases such as asset tracking in logistics, factory operations in manufacturing, and experiments with AI-infused video analytics to improve worker safety.
Organisations are likely to begin testing private 5G this year for Industry 4.0 applications, either at single sites in the case of factories or in select geographic areas for Utilities. Early applications will mostly focus on simple connectivity for mobile machines or remote equipment. In the longer term, however, the benefits of private 5G will become more apparent as AI applications, such as video analysis and autonomous machines become more prevalent. This will require the full ecosystem of players, including telecom providers, network vendors, cloud hyperscalers, systems integrators, and IoT providers.