Our journey started with a question: “What can developers do with 5G?” Several community discussions later we realized that the only way to find out was to bring tomorrow into today by giving developers early platform access to co-create, experiment, learn, and build through an open innovation ecosystem. The combination of Seattle’s early wireless industry heritage, global cloud computing leadership, and strong technical talent creates a powerful combination for the region and an invitation for the world to co-create.

Today we are announcing the launch of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, the partnerships we have built it on, and our inaugural batch of 17 companies. We are operating our program virtually until it is safe for us to bring the community together due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. The Lab is backed by Intel as a Founding Partner and T-Mobile as our Founding Host Partner. We are fortunate to partner with NASA and Avanade as well as the Pacific Northwest National Lab, University of Washington, Washington State University, Snohomish County, and the City of Bellevue under our 5G Innovation Partner Zone collaboration. These partners are committing their resources, engineering talent, massive market reach, industry connections and mentorship to help Startups dream big and scale. More than 20 additional business, technical and community partners have joined the Lab and serve as mentors and advisors.

Throughout my career colleagues and I would often use the “three-legged stool” reference to explain how three distinct technology forces converged to form new market opportunities: new possibilities. For example, the introduction of data through 3rd generation (3G) wireless networks, combined with application capable smart phones, and strong developer engagement gave way to trillions of dollars in new value creation and the launch of new market segments. Segments such as social media, the gig economy and disruptive services platforms (Uber, AirBnB, etc.) built their foundations on the backs of cellular networks, smartphones, and ambitious developers (tech entrepreneurs). 4G networks (super-charged later by 4G LTE standards) accelerated the convergence thanks to faster bandwidth, more capable phones, and the boom of new applications and services. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google (FAAMG) combined have a market capitalization of $5.21 trillion putting them ahead of Japan’s $5.15 trillion and Germany’s $3.86 trillion in annual GDP. Three converging forces leading to new market opportunities.

I believe we are already seeing new signs of a three-legged stool in future 5G networks (1) connecting to computing on the edge (2) and the rapid adoption of machine-driven artificial intelligence (3). These converging forces will give application developers connectivity to billions of new devices generating vast amounts of new data that machines will quickly make sense of and manage. Digitally transforming enterprises are betting on this convergence as their path to autonomous operations, real-time business insights, and the establishment of new use cases they’ve yet to imagine. Future 5G networks will not be looked back at as a step function of wireless standards, it will be known as an enabler. In fact, telecom networks themselves are evolving into highly virtualized cloud scale architectures necessary for enabling complex new software defined features like Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), Carrier Aggregation, and Network Slicing. We are not far from realizing the metaphor John Gage of Sun Microsystem’s coined in 1982 when suggesting the “network is the computer” that Cloudflare trademarked last year.

The race to build 5G networks

Globally there is a race for 5G supremacy. According to a recent GSMA study the move to 5G will contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 14 years. Why? Many reasons, but perhaps the most compelling is the significant uptick of internet of things (IoT) connected devices forecasted by 2025. 25 billion IoT devices forecasted in their study compared to 5.8 billion mobile subscribers (smartphones) during the same period covering 67% of our global population. The capital expenditures by telecom carriers is also forecasted by the GSMA at $1.3 trillion over the next six years. Future 5G networks are not a step forward from 4G LTE, it is a leap.

The rise of computing on the edge

Recent edge news paints a clear picture of what is ahead. Industry alliances are forming between public clouds and telecom carriers globally. Vapor announced a $90M Series C raise and a significant partnership with Cloudflare to rollout their Kinetic Edge platform across Cloudflare’s 36 US sites. Packet was acquired by Equinix. Microsoft recently purchased Affirmed Networks and Metaswtich Networks. Both Microsoft and Amazon announced their own edge services including Azure Edge Zones and AWS Wavelength paving the way for developers to deploy their applications on the edge as they do today. PE firms, tower real estate firms, edge computing startups, hyper-scalars and carriers are in a pursuit for what analysts predict to be a $667.9B market opportunity by 2026. These investments are accelerating computing on the edge because future applications powering autonomous vehicles, remote healthcare (and surgeries), XR entertainment experiences and others will demand it. Edge computing paired to ultra-low latency 5G networks is a game changer that platform providers are investing in.

AI & ML adoption at scale

Last year Gartner surveyed their Research Circle Members looking into AI/ML project based adoption. What they found was a 3+ fold increase in the average number of AI or ML projects forecasted by 2022. According to CB Insights $26.6B in venture capital has been invested in over 2,200 companies globally up from previous years. Exciting right? Yes, but it could get more interesting as edge networks plugged into 5G radios proliferates the number of devices connected and vast amounts of data collected, processed, and made use of. From an enterprise perspective I see this as digital transformation in motion. What is exciting to us is the implementation possibilities available today that allow developers to ingest massive amounts of new data using machines and AI frameworks to transform it into insights, experiences, and action. That said, we are curious about the possibilities created by bringing industry into the innovation process alongside startups. A recent article from readwrite does a great job of highlighting guidepost opportunities for AI based solutions in areas such as marketing, finance, HR, and education AI platforms.

Our way forward

Earlier I mentioned that to enable an innovation ecosystem it is important to bring tomorrow into today. Our shared mission for the Lab is to become an experimentation hub where developers (Startups) have early access to platforms (5G & edge networks) and a community of influential partners. The Lab, our community, and our program focus is designed to spur co-creating capabilities through open collaboration. We are humbled to initiate our journey with our inaugural batch of 17 impressive teams (3 of which are in stealth). They include:

Aarna Networks5G/edge app orchestration, management and automation

Evolute — Enterprise container migration, management, and optimization

Expeto.io — Platform to manage global Enterprise IoT connectivity

Iunu — Computer vision platform for greenhouse-based agriculture and tracking

Gybe — HW platform and edge service for employee connectivity

Mutable — AirBnB for servers (distributed public edge)

NLM — Optical computing materials and design

Numurus — Making robots smarter

Omnivor — Holographic real-time and on-demand video platform

OptiPulse — Optical fronthaul mesh networking

PlutoVR — Spatial communications platform

Scivista — Collaborative, virtual reality data visualization

Taqtile — AR/VR platform for frontline workers

Transparent Path — Building a more agile, efficient & predictive supply chain for food

We are not driven by hype. Experimentation, prototyping, failures, and learning's drive our curiosity. After all, the best way to predict the future is to create it. Right?

Thanks for reading.

JimB.

Head of 5G Open Innovation Lab & ecosystem builder