UPDATED 09:00 EDT / AUGUST 12 2021

EMERGING TECH

IBM and Verizon announce first testbed for 5G-enabled industry apps

IBM Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. are making progress on a partnership announced last year that will see them create 5G-enabled “internet of things” technologies for the industrial sector.

The companies announced the launch today of a 5G Industry 4.0 Testbed at IBM’s Industry Solution Lab in Coppell, Texas, that customers will be able to use to develop and test new industry 4.0 applications.

The joint solution has taken a while to come to fruition. Announced in July 2020, it combines Verizon’s low-latency, 5G-based multi-access edge computing architecture with the Verizon ThingSpace IoT platform. IBM, meanwhile, contributes its Watson artificial intelligence tools, cloud-based data analytics services and Maximo asset monitoring software that’s used to notify factory operators when maintenance is needed on machinery.

Combined, those tool will be part of a comprehensive 5G IoT platform that’s able to monitor asset health, detect, diagnose and fix any problems that might occur and deliver real-time analytics, the companies explained.

In addition, IBM and Verizon will combine 5G with edge computing to create a “cognitive automation” artificial intelligence framework. This platform will be able to understand natural language and enable autonomous decision making in scenarios that demand it. For example, it could automatically generate an information technology staff support ticket if database capacity is overtaxed.

It has taken a while for IBM and Verizon to iron out the kinks, but they say the platform is now up and running at the new testbed. There, customers will be able to develop and test how Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service, which has already rolled out in some U.S. cities. It can be combined with hybrid cloud, edge and AI technologies to create a new breed of intelligent apps for next-generation use cases such as robotics, guided vehicles, manufacturing process automation, visual quality inspection and so on.

“The lab will provide hands-on experience for enterprises as they seek ways to leverage the new 5G capabilities ‐ reduced latency, increased bandwidth, network slicing and edge ‐ by trialing new use cases and highly automated deployment and management approaches,” Steve Canepa, global general manager and managing director of IBM Communications Sector, wrote in a blog post.

Analyst Charles King of Pund-IT Inc. said the testbed will allow customers to experiment with what are still very unfamiliar technologies and explore potential use cases and business applications. The key thing though is the integration of Watson and other IBM analytics tools, which King said can help to spot potential problems and suggest improvements, thereby improving the odds of success quite considerably.

“This announcement is coming at a perfect time for IBM and Verizon,” King added. “We’re still in early days with 5G, especially as regards IoT and other industrial applications. But with the Biden infrastructure bill nearing passage, government funding for 5G projects could could create new opportunities for both companies.”

Constellation Research Inc. analyst Holger Mueller told SiliconANGLE that 5G has enormous potential to enable transformative use cases in the enterprise, and it’s smart for IBM and Verizon to go with this tried and tested approach. “The proven approach is to showcase and then try the technology in demonstration and validation labs, and this is the route that IBM and Verizon are taking to bring next-generation apps to the real world,” he said.

IBM said customers will be able to test new ideas in a pre-commercial, standalone 5G and MEC environment, with access to technical resources and expertise provided by it and Verizon. The company said there will be three initial priority focus areas at the lab, including asset monitoring and optimization, field worker productivity and safety, and visual quality inspection.

“Our goal is to accelerate tangible business impact for our customers through reduced time to value,” Canepa said. “And this is more vital than ever, as telcos ‐ and the customers they serve ‐ are increasingly seeking new and proven ways to explore and harness the value of 5G and the power of ‘connectivity + compute.’”

Image: Vanitjan/Freepik

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