At times I get to talk to someone who has the ability, right in the midst of discussing THE most exciting technology developments, to push PAUSE and reflect on what it really means. I so value that capability. It’s not easy to do but it is exactly what so many of us need, even crave, when it comes to discussing digital transformation.
To make matters even more edge-of-your-seat, there are some people who I’ve been dying to interview for ages and when the moment finally arrives, it’s every bit as magical as I hoped it would be.
Now with that kind of lead in, who could I be talking about? None other than Liam Quinn, Sr. Vice President and Sr. Fellow at Dell Technologies (and holder of over 110 patents), who I recently interviewed on my show, Conversations with Dez (see below for a link to the interview). I’ve been following Liam’s work for some time, he is a frequent presenter and author (reference links below) and his team recently released an excellent forecasting report called “Realising 2030 – The Future of Connected Living” which I read and re-read until it was covered in notes.
5G Challenges and Opportunities
As Liam and I settled in to discuss some of the challenges around 5G and hyper-connectivity, I was hopeful he could demystify the hype and talk straight to the applications and implications for near-term (1, 5, or 10 years from now).
He didn’t disappoint: “5G is different in that [unlike 3G or 4G] it’s not just another smartphone. The impact of the 5G environment on enterprise and total infrastructure are going to be more impactful than another phone. It’s the tip of the bigger picture, and it’s not well understood. A lot of education needs to happen.”
Liam’s focus at Dell is about forming the company’s 5G multi-year strategy, the North Star for everyone to follow. He and his team spend a tremendous amount of time inside Dell aligning on what 5G means to their own company, as well as to telecommunication service providers, and industry segments.
“5G is a multi-year journey,” he says. “It’s not going to happen in 2019 alone or even in 2020, though you will see continuous solidification.” Liam feels strongly that a long-term perspective is essential to avoid falling into a “me-too” market position. (And speaking of long term, yes, he confirms, 6G planning is already underway.)
It was particularly interesting to hear how candidly Liam spoke of the difficulties #IoT has experienced. At first we were bolting things left and right onto the Internet and we started to break it. Then, “Industry started building a hyper-connected environment from devices to gateways to software-defined networking and storage, but they still need 5G bandwidth and latency as an enabler,” he says. “The capabilities, applications and analytics are there, have been there for 3, 4, 5 years, but will be fulfilled more with 5G than with previous networks.”
Today we are already in a state of “hyper-connectivity,” but the difference is run-time, as Liam says. We will continue to connect the links, faster and faster, over the next couple years. We’re already entering the next era, where we start to “realise 2030.”
That “dawn” extends to partnerships between humans and machines. Machines are already better at crunching large data volumes and are starting to emulate decision-making through pre-determined algorithms. Now, plug in Liam’s North Star to drive the trajectory of innovation, and what does 2030 look like? Immersive, collaborative and intelligence trends are all top of Liam’s list. “Why can’t devices become smarter and humans become conductors of the digital domains?” he says. More like partners.
Follow the “Realising 2030” link below and you’ll find a whole web portal of information and insights about what this collaboration looks like. Liam himself describes several near-term examples of what an always-connected environment should and could be doing for us.
But don’t think for a minute that Liam is busy spinning hyperbole. He’s not. “Like every technology,” he says, “5G is fraught with acronyms and terminologies that have become frustrating and mind numbing for a lot of folks. There’s an opportunity to drive clarity of what 5G means in terms of a journey, a multi-year outlook and perspective, and how it impacts industries, not just technology for technology’s sake.”
Getting that message out, in and of itself, is part of the journey to 5G. It’s the immediate thing we need to be working on. He has some other very specific examples of what Dell and others are doing, right now, to build out enterprise 5G, and where 5G applications are and will be deployed – if you’re listening to the podcast, they’re about ⅔ of the way through.
So can we live with a de-hyped transition, a blended 4G, IoT and nascent 5G world? I certainly hope so. “In 10 years’ time, talking about WiFi or 5G is all going to be hash,” he says. “Capabilities are going to blur.”
There are some very real concerns, however, around licensed vs unlicensed spectrum. “We need to drive those discussions more aggressively. Spectrum is like land. If you have land, you can do a lot of development. But if you don’t have land…..” He predicts that spectrum shortages will drive even more convergence and blurring of technology on edge devices in particular.
There are also some very exciting opportunities for less developed countries to leapfrog their innovative capabilities as they become connected. “I do think it [5G] is going to be an accelerant…it’s productivity out of the box…it can be provisioned over the air, you can deploy containers in order to have different types of workloads based on customers or employees in remote areas, and for consumers, it allows equal connectivity to the Internet like the rest of the world.”
Michael Dell was, of course, the official global ambassador for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #8 which promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. It’s part of the DNA at Dell to not just change the technology stack but to actually solve problems that make life better for humanity. Their newest goal is using technology at scale to advance health, education and economic opportunity initiatives. They hope to deliver enduring results for 1 billion people by 2030.
I do encourage you to listen to the podcast the whole way through, there are so many resonant moments where Liam is grounded and inspiring at the same time. My sincere thanks to Liam and the rest of the team at Dell for making this podcast possible.