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A wireless industry veteran recounts how an early and big bet is paying off as this revolutionary technology takes off.
With the first 5G networks soon to launch, excitement about this next generation of connectivity is mounting. Software is getting developed, hardware is being tested, and carriers are preparing their strategies for the first deployments, due to occur later this year.
Three years ago, the future of 5G was much less certain. Still, in 2015, Keysight’s CEO Ron Nersesian declared that winning in 5G was a strategic priority for the company. We pursued that goal by investing early. As a technology enablement company that makes electronic design and test solutions, we stay one step ahead of our customers, scanning the horizon for what’s next and then investing in key technology waves with conviction.
It comes down to a business philosophy—do you wait for standards to be ready and all technical and business challenges worked out or are you willing to make tradeoffs and create a dynamic and configurable service that will be ready when your customers are. Our DNA as a company is to choose the latter approach—and to do so at scale.
The adoption of 5G comes with significant challenges. But as we now see an entire economy developing around 5G, and with the growing number of countries that are pursuing policies to enable local 5G ecosystems, it’s clear that this is going to be a huge driver of future GDP. A recent report by IHS Economics and IHS Technology predicts that 5G will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output and support 22 million jobs in 2034. Some have compared the potential impact of 5G to that of the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, and the Internet.
Because we made our bets early and carved out a clear role for ourselves, we are confident that 5G will be a growth driver for Keysight as well.
A Step Change
The name 5G implies that it is simply the next generation of connectivity—4G on steroids. Indeed, that’s how much of the wireless industry first viewed 5G. But that just scratches the surface of this technology’s power.
The new networking standard is much more than an enabler of faster smartphones—although that will certainly be the earliest impact. The convergence of 5G’s higher speeds and lower latency with greater computing power and technology innovation will enable advances in augmented and virtual reality, connected and autonomous vehicles, industrial connectivity, and the smart home. A wide array of industries will be able to take advantage of the massive pipes and architectural changes that will enable truly ubiquitous computing.
Without a doubt, there are technology challenges to be overcome. For example, significant infrastructure changes will be required to deliver the lightning-fast data speeds required to enable these changes. The good news is that many of these challenges are actively being addressed and will be solved.
Out of the Garage and Up the Stack
Our goal has been to create 5G test insights, software, measurement, and visibility solutions to empower our customers to quickly transform themselves using 5G. To do that, we needed to own the complete technology stack. If you look at our business today, our solutions are built on a combination of hardware, software and people.
Keysight has been in business for more than 75 years, since Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded the electronic measurement company that would launch Silicon Valley. (We were part of Agilent Technologies when the electronic test and measurement business was spun off from HP in 1999, and then were ourselves spun off from Agilent, as Keysight Technologies, in 2014.) But like many businesses, our value has evolved from hardware over the years. High-performing hardware is still necessary, but not sufficient. The value and intelligence of 5G sits higher in the stack.
To offer our customers scale and speed, we had to become more than just a product company; we had to offer a complete software-centric solution. To do that, we made some strategic acquisitions, including data technology companies Ixia and Anite. We recruited software engineers with experience in building these solutions. By bringing in fresh talent and leveraging more agile practices, we’re evolving the business, keeping pace with the future of the industry, and enabling our customers’ cutting-edge technologies.
Innovating at the Speed of 5G
With interest in 5G growing in recent months, standardization has become increasingly important. If you look at the history of innovation, standardization is the enabler of scale. We’ve been heavily involved in the development of 5G standards, but we also had to begin engineering our capabilities long before standards were set – and we continue to do so. We must solve our customers’ problems and be ready for them when they need us.
The acceleration of 5G developments has taken the industry by surprise. We made our big bet on 5G because we anticipated that interest would grow, but not necessarily as fast as it has. We have several customers who are already vying for competitive advantage in this space. We have 37 publicly announced collaborations with everyone from chip set companies and device makers to service providers and network component manufacturers. The solution we’ve created allows us to contribute across the entire 5G ecosystem. We also actively participate in promoting research with consortiums and universities and work closely with startups that are creating new solutions in this space.
For many companies, their future existence depends upon 5G success. The stakes are high. However, this market is large enough to support a wide range of stakeholders working together. Whether we’re competing or collaborating with another organization depends on the day. With early 5G trials happening around the world, all the players recognize that we must come together to perfect this technology, even as each of us maintains our own area of competitive advantage. There’s a competitive reality and we can’t get away from that, but our ability to get our products ready for 5G will require collaboration and cooperation.
As 5G implementations begin later this year, there will be a flurry of activity, with our customers revving up their technologies. It’s an incredibly busy time, but an incredibly exciting one, as we witness the industry compete with itself to innovate ever faster. Our goal is to continue to stay ahead of the curve, working at the frontlines of this transformation to make the 5G vision a reality.