In the basement at 151 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis stands a modest collection of rooms that may seem sparsely furnished. But to the discerning eye, an immediate standout is the glass window-wall that allows visitors to glimpse a 5G test lab.
The lab is operated by the Indiana 5G Zone (IN5GZ), under the watchful eye of Chief Technology Officer and Managing Director Sean Hendrix. Accessible to members, the lab creates opportunities for academic projects and enterprises to test in real world conditions before deployment and develop new applications to grow B2B and B2C market opportunities. This opportunity can reap substantial returns for enterprises to differentiate themselves from their competition.
“The most common question I field is, ‘What do I do with 5G?’” Hendrix said. “The biggest impediment to massive 5G adoption is helping an industry figure out what to do with it. The lab allows them to demonstrate and show applications, identify the problem or need, and figure out which route to go.”
The IN5GZ test lab is practical by design and outfitted with five technologies including devices, spectrum, a base station, and accessibility to edge and cloud networks — two commercial and one private. The site also has a team of engineers ready to assist with testing capabilities. Business collaborations and economic development are the key drivers for the lab, which is funded in part by a grant from the Indiana Economic Development Foundation.
“Usually a company doesn’t have all five but may have one or two technologies. Coming here they get what they don’t have and fill in the blanks, working in an end-to-end fashion,” Hendrix said. What sets it apart even further is the sixth technology — zero-trust architecture. On its website, IN5GZ emphasizes its success with integrated quantum-safe encryption to ensure protection from both data exportation and potential quantum computing attacks.
“That dictates how we view our data, networking, and connectivity. The number of devices that will be connected in a 5G world increases dramatically, increasing the attack surface and creating potential creates vulnerabilities,” Hendrix said. “An example would be video feeds activated by sensors for public safety. Video uses a sensor running over a 5G network into an edge processing data and running it back — all the while running quantum resilient encryption on that video stream. We show the application but also the security of the application and making the case for 5G.”
One of the biggest projects to come out of IN5GZ was a two-way encrypted video demonstration. Machine learning programs enhance human observation and can be trained to recognize certain video images. The video acts as a sensor and can process data in a near real-time fashion. It has cellular connectivity with Edge compute. All of this is done under reliable, secured management, which is a requirement for certain customers and a market demand for others. Hendrix said this type of product would be appropriate for use in traffic signals where road activity would signal the video’s sensors, along with other public or private needs.
Plans are already in the works for more labs in Boston, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, with slightly different offerings. While on-site visits yield the expected benefits of in-person collaboration with the lab support team and all members to work with their teams in a focused environment, members don’t have to ever set foot in the lab because it can be accessed anywhere.
5G is digital transformation, but not all digital transformation is 5G
One message Hendrix wants business leaders everywhere to understand is that they shouldn’t be simply jumping aboard the 5G wagon because they think it’s the answer to digital transformation. He’s quick to point out the phrase digital transformation is often equated with 5G, but 5G is just one part of digital transformation. “We’ve seen a huge amount of interest in companies asking, ‘How do I start my digital transformation?’ This is a parallel to, ‘What do I do with 5G?’ People will say they’ve heard of both but say, ‘What do I do with that?’” “We position ourselves as practical 5G. It needs to be about solving the business problem, not adopting 5G. Amazon is a tech leader because they identify business problems and apply technology to solve them. 5G is one of many tools in a toolbox to help a company realize its digital transformation. That’s a journey of exploration.”
Hendrix pointed out test labs like his offer a place to rapidly prototype potential solutions to business problems at a low cost so they can figure out what solution works best for them.
“We can help guide them, coach them where 5G may fit in solving their business problems but also identify where it may not fit to solve their business problems. This is called practical innovation and the net result is they are de-risking a financial and time investment in their digital transformation.”
Performance Defense delivers high-tech, mission-critical solutions for aircraft and ground systems including full-lifecycle certified software and secure hardware development. It also works with a high-profile partner portfolio to bring certified 5G connectivity to mission-critical IoT markets and related connected industries. After having a project stalled during the initial stages of the pandemic, Performance Defense found renewed energy with the IN5GZ, according to President Darren L. Cummings.
Cummings said the lab has been instrumental in the development of his company’s 5G Communication Development Kit. The product allows users and practitioners to readily access “practical 5G” and accelerate their product roadmap and 5G strategy. This process will smooth speed-to-market and prevent time delays that typically occur when leading a potential client to pilot a project or product.
“Our 5G Communications Development Kit (5G-CDK) represents an 80% solution; you can think of it as a ‘common denominator minimal viable product (MVP),’” Cummings said. “In other words, we believe most customers will need the baseline features in our test platform including what we call the four Cs: computation capability, connectivity, cybersecurity, and certifiability; it’s the fourth ‘C,’ certifiability, that really differentiates us.”
The 5G Communication Development Kit itself is leading-edge technology, built from the ground up to address mission-critical (a requirement with federal agencies such as the military) and safety-critical (unmanned aerial vehicles and other avionics, as governed by certification compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration) use cases.
Cummings dialed in to the three key points the IN5GZ resources offered his product development experience:
- Latency is often the main reason for deploying workloads to the edge but moving processing and storage closer to users and “things” that are the source of data generation can also address concerns such as bandwidth, data privacy, and autonomy.
- Edge computing augments and expands the possibilities of today’s primarily centralized, hyperscale cloud model and supports the systemic evolution and deployment of the IoT and entirely new application types, enabling next generation digital business applications, a.k.a. “industry 4.0”.
- Edge servers and gateways will fill the critical role of intermediary processing node and integrator between multiple “cores” (hyperscale cloud or enterprise owned data centers) and a diverse set of people, devices, and workloads at the edge.