5G represents a huge leap forward for enterprise applications, enterprise users, and consumers, a quantum shift to the world of data and computing as significant as the shift from analog to 4G.

The major focus in 5G is business and IoT. Previous Gs were all about improving telecom – which makes this shift a real move from “dial tone” to “data tone.” 5G is also far more about the network than it is about the radio technology, since so much of 5G will be transported courtesy of existing technologies.

The mobile core platform then becomes an equation – networking = business expansion – with new policies, improved and expanded automation, and the ability to simultaneously support people and things.

One of the manifestations of these changes is the coming age of microservices. Wikipedia defines microservices as “a software development technique, a variant of the service-oriented architecture … that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. In a microservices architecture, services are fine-grained and the protocols are lightweight. The benefit of decomposing an application into different smaller services is that it improves modularity and makes the application easier to understand, develop, test, and more resilient to architecture erosion.1

A distributed architecture

Specifically what is it in 5G that makes this possible? Well, behind the technology and the virtualized and distributed architecture of 5G is the notion of Control/User Plane Separation, or CUPS. This is something that simply has not been done before.

With the previous Gs, the control and user plane traveled as one on the same channel, which limited the ability to virtualize services and break them apart via different methods. Now these services can be delivered via varying API sets; for example, with all the high speed, low latency and broad coverage that 5G promises. The radio technology remains important, but the real action is in how the network is transforming to support that technology.

CUPS makes possible a distributed architecture, which in turn allows enterprise users to do many things they couldn’t do before, such as provide redirected applications and enhanced services to their customers and partners. Whereas once the network stood apart from the enterprise, now it can give the enterprise unprecedented levels of access and control, along with the separation of services that we know as microservices.

5G reaches into the enterprise and offers them bits and pieces of network – network slices – from which the enterprise can create and manage its own microservices.

Power and responsibility

These advancements give enterprises great power in terms of being able to use the network to reduce costs while at the same time expanding their abilities to generate revenue and profit. But it also means that enterprises will to have to think long and hard about organizational changes and a restructuring of how they do business.

It could require, for instance, a dev ops practice and a more disciplined way of creating the products they sell to customers. The changes that come with microservices will be as much about the adoption of a new business culture and a decentralization of responsibility as they are about the creation of connections.

Yes, the enterprise will be able to offer a vast array of more discrete services to their customers and partners, but they also have to figure out a way to accommodate how these services are being delivered.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your company’s products have a physical component that your marketing department wants to demonstrate to potential customers. It could be the lush feel of a certain new fabric. With a 5G microservice, you might leverage haptics – the ability to actually feel, in real time, remotely – to allow potential customers to “touch” that innovative fabric.

Another possibility for a microservice is for an enterprise to virtualize its ERP system with its supply chain partners. Through the use of ledger technologies, the entire concept of “float” could be eliminated, with the speed of business moving from net 30 days to net 30 seconds. A major step like this would require a whole lot of careful planning, but it would be possible.

It’s all about access

What this comes down to is that the provider’s network core will become accessible to enterprise users. An organization can attach to and use the transport mechanisms of the network with virtually unlimited flexibility. Combine that with the advantages of open source APIs and it’s like drinking from a fire hose (but in a good way) of possibilities.

We individuals once had a very limited ability to put apps on our mobile handset, back in those pre-iPhone days, yet now we can choose from hundreds of thousands of them to find whatever we want. In the same way, the 5G world and its microservices will make almost anything possible.