With over 650 million subscribers and 80,000 commercial networks ready for business worldwide, 5G is the fastest growing wireless technology ever. But to keep up with customer demand and stringent performance requirements, carriers and cloud providers are rethinking how to build an infrastructure to serve it.
In this episode, Geof Wheelwright is joined by Eddie Ramirez, Vice President of Go-to-Market for Arm’s Infrastructure Business. The pair discuss the landscape of the 5G market, whether 5G is different to other standards, what changes could happen in how infrastructure gets built and the role Arm and its ecosystem is playing towards building a more connected world.
Geof Wheelwright: Welcome back to the Arm Viewpoints podcast. I am quite excited about this episode as it deals with an issue that can make a huge empowering difference to people’s lives. We call this episode “Building a More Connected World” and it’s all about how wireless 5G technology is being used to achieve this goal. My guest is Eddie Ramirez, Vice President of Go to Market for the Infrastructure Line of Business at Arm. Eddie and his team are responsible for helping partners innovate and grow through the adoption of Arm-based solutions into data centre, networking and edge markets. He also manages a team responsible for ecosystem development activities and is focused on creating a rich and vibrant ecosystem of hardware and software partners. Thanks for being here Eddie, maybe we can start by talking a bit about the basics. We hear about 5G in the news all the time but maybe you can explain a bit about what 5G is and the current landscape of the 5G market?
Eddie Ramirez: Yeah sure, Geof, thanks for having me on. You know, 5G. Everybody knows that right as the fifth-generation mobile network. But what many people don’t understand is how transformational the 5G network is going to be. Not only in terms of speeds and feeds, right, but also in terms of the new use cases that will come forth and really rely on these networks. We’ll have networks that essentially are capable of supporting a million connections per square kilometre. If you just think about that, right. It’s not just about support for, you know, urban populations like New York or San Francisco, we’re now going to be looking at smart city applications where every light post or stoplight is connected to a 5G network and the magnitude of what you can do with all that data in terms of providing features like safety, making sure that congestion on roadways can be managed, it will change people’s life, right? 5G will change your commute and many of this, you won’t even really see because there’ll be behind the scenes, right. And so when we talk about 5G, it’s important to really think about all of the IoT devices that will suddenly become connected and an important part of our lives.
Just looking at the pure speeds, people get excited when they think about 5G because it’ll effectively give you speeds up north of 20 gigabits per second and this whole concept of being able to watch your favourite Netflix platform on your phone – that’s only part of the value that people are going to be able to see. The other side of it is the latencies. You’re getting down to one millisecond latencies. This is a 10x decrease in latencies. So suddenly, your car can talk through the network and be able to get updates and even some of the autonomous features that we’re seeing in vehicles today will be much improved. Because they have this instant, low latency capability. So we’re really looking at the kind of industries that we think will get transformed here with 5G technology.
Geof Wheelwright: So with all of that, where are we with 5G? Are we at the start of widespread adoption?
Eddie Ramirez: Yeah, so 5G is actually on pace to become the fastest deployed mobile network that we’ve had to date. So there is about 660 million 5G subscriptions. That adoption is really in large part being driven by countries like China and North America where there’s really stronger demand than initially expected. Really impressive numbers, right. There’s over 85,000 networks that are offering commercial services around the world. So the operators have been very excited by you know, the rollouts and the adoption that we’re seeing today. When you think about what’s driving the adoption one of the interesting pieces here is that the smartphones have been readily available so we’re seeing that the carriers have partnered with smartphone vendors to really make some very compelling new phones available at launch. And it’s really just created a lot of excitement for consumers who are now really demanding this latest technology. And Arm CPUs have really been at the heart of smartphones for many generations driving advances in performance and compute capability. So you’ve got this dynamic where the networks are getting deployed at a rapid pace and you’ve got some really exciting smartphones that are driving interest from consumers.
Geof Wheelwright: So would you say 5G is really different than the other standards?
Eddie Ramirez: Yeah, it definitely is. What 5G was trying to achieve which is, you know, 100x increase in traffic capacity, 100x increase in network efficiency, and 10x increase in connection density. To achieve those huge jumps you really needed to relook at the technology and some of those key technologies that are driving these kinds of increases in performance and capability are things like the radio technology, massive MIMO and really complex antenna arrays are now getting utilized in these networks. You’re seeing particularly that the way that the infrastructure is designed to be able to handle this increase in traffic capacity, the networks are being redesigned, quite significantly, not only from the hardware itself but also the software itself. And what’s especially interesting for us is that you’re now seeing a lot of these networks starting to really look at AI and ML and adding those capabilities into their plans for network deployment. And so that brings even more interesting kind of use cases.
Some of those real interesting use cases that have sprung up are companies like Antwerp, who have been working with Orange in the UK, to actually figure out how to reduce the turnaround time for a lot of the cargo ships that are out today. When you think about this, you know, today we everybody’s suffering from what people feel, you know, here of a supply constraints, right. And so, you know, we’re looking at companies that are now utilizing 5G technology to help make the loading and unloading of these cargo ships and containers much more efficient. So the industry as a whole is really looking to see how to make 5G networks that are economically viable, and also sustainable throughout the world. So these are thoughts that are being looked at the very forefront of the network deployments, which makes it quite interesting, in terms of the challenges that 5G is trying to solve that other previous generations maybe didn’t have to confront.
Geof Wheelwright: So let’s drill down now and the infrastructure. What changes should we see in how infrastructure gets built?
Eddie Ramirez: Well, first, you’ll see a radical change in the design of the core components of the network. 3G and 4G networks were really defined by this close coupling of hardware and software. So operators, they often partnered with one key vendor for an end to end infrastructure. We’re seeing now more modularity and the key components and an increase importance in the role of cloud native software. With 5G, the radio has a much more complex job, the compute capabilities will go up radically. So the industry has had to really reimagine the traditional cellular base station. Now you’re looking at networks where multiple radio units are talking to a distributed unit or a DU. And then you have centralised units that service multiple DUs before that data gets into the core network. So instead of all these components residing at the base of a cell tower, you’re seeing rollouts and deployments where some of these DUs and CUs are increasingly being deployed at different locations in the edge. And effectively, in some cases, these units could actually reside in the cloud. When you think about this way of leveraging the cloud infrastructure for your 5G network. It really brings new players into the market, cloud operators like AWS have partnered with folks like DISH Networks, where they’re now becoming a critical piece of their network. And this all happens because again, the software that traditionally runs in the cloud, and the way that they deploy software using virtualization technology is using container-based applications. These are now all starting to be able to run even on the 5G infrastructure itself. And so that’s really creating really interesting partnerships in the industry. And we’ll see again, that really changed the landscape of these networks. We’re also really excited with the potential for private networks to get deployed. Private networks are pretty interesting because there’s been a lot of bandwidth that’s been made available to folks who want to deploy their own network within their factory environment within their corporate campus. And if you think about companies that would want to connect 1000s of IoT devices, like say sensors in a manufacturing environment, or even say a lot of sensors that would reside in a normal hospital, now you can actually be able to service all that with your own private 5G network and your own equipment that you can have to really be able to provide these low latency interconnects. So we’re just seeing real changes in the way that infrastructure is deployed and really excited by the innovation that we’re seeing in this space.
Geof Wheelwright: So how does this impact the wireless industry? How are they preparing to address these changes?
Eddie Ramirez: One of the major focus points is really around power consumption. We talk about these increases in performance and capacity of 5G networks. Well it also is going to come at a cost, right. And some of that cost is around power consumption. I saw a report out by Nokia that determines that electricity consumed somewhere between 12 to 15%, of the operating budget of a network. And other reports are saying that 5G will introduce 2x to 3x increase in power just to service as a 5G rollout. So that’s really significant right to the bottom line of operators. And it then makes it much more important for these networks to be able to be designed from the ground up to be as power efficient as possible. And that’s one of the areas where we at Arm are very focused. We have a very power efficient architecture that we feel could have a lot of benefits within 5G infrastructure and taking some of these very active network elements that are very energy power hungry, like the baseband units, or the radio heads or the distributed units, being able to run them on new energy efficient designs, being able to add ML capability to help dynamically monitor the energy that’s being consumed. These are the things that we’re looking at as an industry that will permeate throughout the infrastructure deployments. And these are the pain points that the operators are seeing as well, because it really impacts the bottom line TCO, as they’re trying to deliver the economic benefits for these new rollouts.
So those are some of the things that are really impacting the wireless industry today. And then I would add one more point. I mentioned earlier that previous networks had a really close coupling of hardware and software and so most of the operators relied on one or two vendors for the entire end to end solution. That’s changing as well. As you’re getting more modularity and the designs of these network elements, you’re now seeing the industry come together through consortiums like O-RAN, to be able to set standards so that different vendors equipment will interrupt together. And this is going to be a big change in how networks are traditionally deployed. Because now you can envision an operator, not just relying on one or two vendors, but having as possibly as many as 15 different vendors that they’re relying on to deploy and manage their networks. And it also brings in makes it easier for say new entrants to come in, specialise on a particular network element, really offer a value there and be able to eventually grow their portfolio. So we think that the future is really ripe for innovation, it’s ripe for new entrants to come into this space. And again, that’s all being made possible by the fact that the industry is coming together and standardising the interfaces to these components within organizations like O-RAN.
Geof Wheelwright: So what role does Arm play in bringing these pieces together?
Eddie Ramirez: Many of the industry views Arm as a technology enabler. Arm compute is what really helps add intelligence into these networks. But for us, we’ve had to really expand in working with a broader ecosystem of partners, right? When I talk about the fact that we’re seeing more entrants, more suppliers into the market, when I talk about the fact that the networks are evolving, and now you’re having more modularity. And there’s this whole innovation that’s going on within the software stack. Really, for us at Arm it’s to make sure that we can partner with a broad ecosystem to be able to bring those innovations to life. And so we do that, obviously by offering our Arm Neoverse platform where developers can develop around and be able to have high performance energy efficient hardware. But we’re also doing that within the software ecosystem to make sure that software runs and is optimised for the Arm architecture. One of the key initiatives we felt was important for us to kick off to demonstrate leadership and especially in the innovation of wireless infrastructure was around bringing and creating a forum for all of these ecosystem partners to work together. And so this is why this year we announced an initiative around a 5G Innovation Lab. This is a lab where we’re creating solutions with our partners, to really be able to demonstrate that these new compelling use cases can actually run effectively, power efficiently, and even bring TCO benefits to operators. So, we’re really excited, we have over 14 partners already lined up many more coming in terms of getting access into the 5G solutions lab. And so we’re excited by what will potentially be able to showcase in the year to come.
Geof Wheelwright: So, any closing thoughts and takeaways for the podcast? Where will we see the impact for a more connected world?
Eddie Ramirez: Well, one of the biggest areas that we’re hoping we make, you know, a significant improvement is really around trying to close the gaps in the digital divide. When we talk about 5G networks, and you know what that has meant to most people? You think about cell phones now for many people are such a critical technology in your daily life, right? It’s one of the few technologies that you probably have in your pocket in the morning, you wake up and you keep it close to your bed when you go to sleep, right? It’s really powerful. Now, how do we bring that power to a lot of the world that still doesn’t have reliable network connectivity. And in some of those cases, it’s going to be even more critical, right? If you look at countries like in Africa, they process a lot of their day to day purchases through their cell phones, right? So it’s not just an entertainment device. It’s your wallet to the world. It’s the way you communicate, it’s the way you make payments. And so for us, we’ve been working in a lot of efforts that are focused on bringing the cost of these advanced networks down, and being able to deploy them more rapidly throughout some of the underserved technology communities. So there are projects like Project Magma, which we’ve taken a big position in helping advance some of the open source software efforts that will ultimately lead to lower cost in deploying 5G and other cellular technologies throughout the world today. So we’re really excited by how technology can help close the digital divide. And from an Arm perspective, excited about how we can contribute to that, whether it’s open source projects, whether it’s bringing down the cost of the equipment, we’re really hoping that we can help roughly the 1 billion people who don’t even have access to a cellular device and a cellular network today.
Geof Wheelwright: That is truly inspiring, particularly what you said about closing the digital divide. Thanks again for giving us those valuable insights about 5G. I learned a lot and I learned it fast like 5G, and I’m sure our listeners did too. We look forward to bringing you more conversation in the next episode of Arm viewpoints. Thanks again for listening today.