Cloud and fog computing, software-defined networking, and network functions virtualization are fairly new networking concepts. But they are all just different facets of the "software-ization" of telecommunications infrastructure that is taking place and will contribute to the transition to 5G infrastructures in the coming decade.
This trend will speed the pace of innovation in telecommunications by automating processes, increasing flexibility and programmability through APIs, optimizing costs, reducing time-to-market, and providing better new services.
The wave of innovation, in which telecom is taking on more traits of IT infrastructures, will manifest itself with actual deployments and socio-economic benefits by 2020. More significantly, 5G will provide more than the step beyond 4G; it will become the "nervous system" of the digital society and economy -- a truly converged and massively dense telecommunications infrastructure, deeply integrating processing, storage, and networking.
But 5G will connect more than IT resources: It will be a pervasive, highly flexible, and ultra-low latency virtualized infrastructure capable of weaving together an exponential number of smart terminals, devices, machines, wearables, cars, drones, and robots with the enormous processing and storage power available in the cloud. It will also use new interfaces and efficiently combine existing and new networks to deliver services to specific users. It will determine the emergence of new ICT ecosystems with user-centric perspectives.
The number of smart terminals, machines, and devices with sensors and actuators is growing rapidly, and soon it will be possible to connect and remotely operate cars, drones, and even robots. All of these systems will allow the exploitation of remote monitoring and control capabilities through 5G radio infrastructure and enable machine intelligence to be integrated deeply into the processes of industries, agriculture, public institutions, society, and daily life. These capabilities will determine cost, optimization, and the development of new business and services opportunities.
According to the International Federation for Robotics, robots are "a major driver for global job creation," citing a study conducted by Metra Martech that credited 1 million industrial robots put in operation in 2011 with creating 3 million new jobs by 2016.
Robots, or any other self-acting machine controlled through 5G-enabled technologies, are an excellent example of the potential future ecosystem. Already today there are robots that work alongside people on manufacturing production lines. In many cases, robots are augmenting the abilities of humans -- freeing them from repetitive or dangerous tasks -- and increasing productivity for manufacturers.
Eventually, 5G will not only dovetail with computing but also with cloud robotics, offering unlimited processing power and storage space for robotic systems. For example, methods for computing intelligence and coordination could be executed in the cloud, while big data collected by the robot sensors and the related knowledge could be stored in the cloud.
Today, robots with full mobility are still a challenge, as most of them are static or connected with cables, limiting their flexibility. 5G will not only enable monitoring and control of truly mobile robots, but also the development and provision of "cognition services" or cognition-as-a-service. Robot sensors will soon collect data from the environment, which will be transferred through 5G infrastructure to the cloud, where a variety of methods and techniques will process the intelligence of the robot remotely.
The availability of APIs will allow users and third parties to develop, program, and provide additional services with robots. The next generation of 5G-enabled robots will be working alongside humans in smart cities, collaborating with them in ever more articulated ways in daily life.