NTT DOCOMO: Putting 5G at the Heart of Society 5.0
The impact that the global 5G rollout will have across every region, industry and vertical cannot be understated. 5G connectivity will deliver ultra-low latency connectivity and a generational leap in capacity, which in turn is delivering transformational innovations to enterprises, governments and the end consumer.
In Japan, where the national 5G rollout is well underway, adoption is being driven by a joint effort stemming from the public and private sectors in order to meet the exacting standards of enterprise and individual customers. “5G is about delivering ultra-low latency and higher capacity than ever before. It's also about creating meaningful change in the industry,” says Zaif Siddiqi, Executive Director and Global Head of NTT DOCOMO’s 5G & IoT Business Department.
NTT DOCOMO is positioning itself at the forefront of 5G innovation in Japan, and is currently in the process of taking the vital next step, when the kinds of proof of concept (POC) trials that demonstrated the potential of 5G give way to POCs demonstrating the technology’s commercial viability. “The POCs we have done in the past were about finding out how to launch 5G. The POCs we are doing now are finding out how to commercialise the technology in the enterprise sector, making 5G not only beneficial to our enterprise customers, but proving its potential as a tool to solve wider social issues as well,” Siddiqi elaborates.
From the Mass Market to the Enterprise
Hisakazu Tsuboya, Senior Vice President and General Manager of NTT DOCOMO’s 5G & IoT Business Department, notes that, while most of the development of the technology has so far been focused on the mass market sector, there is huge potential for 5G to have a transformative effect on the enterprise space. “5G is a very cutting edge technology. Currently, much of the focus has been on the mass market, delivering smartphone solutions to end customers, but we need to think about how best to expand in the enterprise market as well,” he says. “5G has a very big impact on the progress of companies' digital transformation.”
The roles of both Tsuboya and Siddiqi share the similar goal, of exploring and expanding NTT DOCOMO’s reach within the enterprise 5G segment. However, while Tsuboya is focused on the domestic Japanese market - where NTT DOCOMO does the majority of its business - Siddiqi is responsible for the company’s overseas ambitions, an area where he explains there is immense potential to grow and better serve NTT DOCOMO’s customers. “So far, DOCOMO has really focused on the Japanese market. We do around $43bn worth of business annually as DOCOMO, and the whole NTT Group does around $100bn. We're a significant revenue generator for the Group, but pretty much all of that money is earned in Japan, and largely in the consumer market,” Siddiqi explains. “We want to globalise our product portfolio and make it clear that our services are not only for Japan, but also for our customers overseas. This may take time but we will make it happen.”
Globalising the 5G Business
During the COVID-19 crisis, Siddiqi explains that NTT DOCOMO has already made great strides towards expanding NTT DOCOMO’s operational scope overseas, demonstrating several ways in which 5G can not only help businesses overcome the challenges of the pandemic, but fully embrace the potential of Industry 4.0. During the past year, when specialised labourers from Japan were unable to leave the country, NTT DOCOMO used 5G powered virtual reality (VR) headsets in order to support a partner in Thailand. “Using our AceReal for DOCOMO AR headsets, skilled waterproof roof painters from Japan who couldn't travel to Thailand to do a job were able to give instructions to unskilled workers on site in real-time over a 5G connection with utilisation of DOCOMO Open Innovation Cloud, an MEC platform that directly connects to NTT DOCOMO's secure and low-latency network,” he explains.
Partnerships like this, Siddiqi continues, are key to NTT DOCOMO’s efforts to integrate 5G technologies into the modern enterprise. He explains: “When you're approaching digital transformation, there's more to it than just leveraging cutting edge technologies into new customer experiences.” Unless the needs of the customer, and the underlying market forces at play, can be truly understood, “5G doesn’t mean anything,” says Siddiqi, adding that in order to find the right contexts for deployment, “Selection of the right partners is extremely important to delivering on the potential value of 5G.”
For example, NTT DOCOMO, together with EDGEMATRIX, launched a world-first edge AI platform for intelligent video analytics, enabling high resolution, high security, and real-time video using AI. Using the EDGEMATRIX platform, customers can select and purchase AI applications and download them to an edge AI box remotely. This is the best state-of-the-art solution deployed in Japanese market, and NTT DOCOMO, along with EDGEMATRIX, is working to offer it to overseas markets as well.
The 5GEC: Enterprise 5G in SEA
In order to globalise its 5G business, Siddiqi explains that NTT DOCOMO is leveraging the considerable expertise of the NTT group as a whole and of its partners. “NTT DOCOMO, and the Group as a whole, are working on memorandums of understanding with various governments and cities, which play a vital role in the promotion of new technologies,” explains Siddiqi.
Announced in February of this year, one of the key collaborative efforts between NTT DOCOMO, the rest of the NTT Group, and key partners from throughout the ICT industry, is the 5G Global Enterprise solution Consortium (5GEC). Siddiqi explains that, “The consortium’s mission is to provide overseas companies with professional consultation regarding 5G solutions, especially flexible and highly secure private 5G networks that function independently of public networks offered by local telecommunications operators by coordinating each member’s strength such as advantages in network technologies or sales and marketing networks.”
Between the consortium’s 13 member companies, Siddiqi adds that it possesses “strengths and assets in varied fields capable of implementing and providing a one-stop shop for provision of private 5G services, which can be extremely beneficial to enterprises that are considering upgrading their manufacturing facilities and executing their smart factory initiatives.”
The decision to target the Thai market initially makes sense for NTT DOCOMO, due to the long-standing relations between Thailand and Japan which, Siddiqi explains, provides not only the potential governmental support for the project, but a broad customer base. “There are more than 5,000 Japanese enterprise customers that currently operate in Thailand, so the amount of manufacturing and processing infrastructure that's present in the market makes it very attractive,” he explains. “Japan and Thailand have over 130 years of friendship, which means that companies from Japan and Thailand are very accustomed to working together, and the affinity between the Japanese and Thai governments definitely contributes to this state of affairs.”
The consortium’s target for the coming fiscal year is to launch several successful POCs with companies operating in Thailand. Then, once those are successful, Siddiqi expects those POCs to develop into opportunities for commercialisation. Once that has been achieved, he adds that “we want to develop out into other countries in the region, as well as other continents further down the line.”
Contributing to Society 5.0
At home, NTT DOCOMO benefits from an established mass market customer base, a cutting edge 5G and 4G LTE network, and long-standing relationships with a diverse network of partners. “We have 3,600 partners in Japan, who we are working with to develop new 5G solutions,” says Tsuboya, adding that NTT DOCOMO has done numerous 5G trials in Japan - including one with Japan’s bullet train, the Shinkansen, and another with leading construction company, Komatsu. “We have a very close relationship with Komatsu,” says Tsuboya, explaining that the 5G trial with the firm exploited the benefits of 5G in order to support the remote controlling of heavy machinery from a distance of up to 800 kilometers, a powerful solution to an increasingly common pain point in an industry where Tsuboya notes that “the market faces a severe shortage of skilled laborers. With LANDLOG, for example, NTT DOCOMO provides an open platform to create new values and solve issues related to the construction industry.”
Using 5G as the connective tissue between other transformative technologies is a key application for the technology. Tsuboya explains that, “coupling technologies of AI, IoT, XR and cloud with the network will yield data that we never expected before for new monetisation.” By unifying all the technologies that exist within 5G’s orbit, using a comprehensive 5G network, the possibilities start to become the stuff of science fiction.
“By leveraging our network and the technologies that are available throughout the NTT Group and our partners, we bring 5G together with backend infrastructure, AI engine, XR capabilities and cloud services,” Siddiqi explains. “It’s a very complex undertaking but, if we can unite all these technologies successfully, you have everything you need to create a smart city. For example, NTT DOCOMO is working with Oracle on backend database servers that are highly interoperable with 5G architecture. The backend infrastructure is vital to enable fast and flexible deployments of the 5G mobile network,” says Siddiqi.
Siddiqi gestures to the window behind him, through which the last rays of evening sunlight are being replaced by the neon and LED constellation of downtown Tokyo. Less than a quarter mile from his office, Tokyo Tower glows against the darkening sky. “The city behind me was built immediately after World War Two. The technology that was used to build it is 40-50 years old now,” he says. “What we have to do now is be ready for a new era of infrastructure. And that's where the NTT Group's technology becomes extremely important to solving the question of how a smart city in this new era operates.”
Backed by the Japanese Government, Society 5.0 is an initiative that focuses on the unification of digital and physical space, and 5G is the essential stepping stone between them. “Society 5.0 is about achieving a high degree of convergence between the physical world and cyberspace. The way to achieve that convergence is to use a 5G network in between the two,” Siddiqi explains.
Tsuboya adds that, “Innovation has its value when social issues are resolved, and new values are created. For example, with the help of universities and hospitals, DOCOMO is working to provide ultra-low-latency connectivity to run mission critical telemedicine applications. We aim to allow patients that are unable to transport themselves to be served by mobile hospitals equipped with state-of-art equipment that will be connected to a 5G network that allows patients to be diagnosed in real-time by medical experts located remotely.”
In Society 5.0, vast amounts of information gathered by sensors in physical space is then accumulated in cyberspace. The data is then analysed by AI, and the results are fed back to humans in physical space in various forms, contrary to the past, when humans were the ones doing the analysis. In Society 5.0, people, things, and systems are all interconnected in cyberspace and optimal results obtained by AI exceeding the capabilities of humans are fed back to physical space to support better decision making and understanding of our world. “This process brings new value to industry and society in ways not previously possible,” Hisakazu says.
The Road Ahead
Both Tsuboya and Siddiqi have an exciting, challenging journey ahead of them. At home in Japan, NTT DOCOMO’s 5G rollout continues, and finding the ways in which the technology can solve enterprise problems, and advance digital transformations throughout the country, is key to making sure NTT DOCOMO plays a central role in creating Society 5.0. Overseas, they face the challenge of building something new, in markets where overall connectivity and development are less mature, and yet customers still expect flawless service. “The Japanese market is extremely demanding, and Japanese customers expect that same level of service to be provided overseas, which can be challenging,” says Siddiqi. Nevertheless, he is optimistic about NTT DOCOMO’s future as a globalised business. “We have set very ambitious targets for our solution business. We are aiming to have the solution segment hit revenues of $1.2bn in 2021 and to grow still further over the next few years. To achieve those big numbers, we are going to need to work closely with our customers, help them understand the benefits of 5G and what the technology means for their industry.”