Orange reveals digital future with 5G innovations

Operator unveils latest in next-generation infrastructure applications and technologies, including what is said to be a first in Europe – a reflective surface intended to improve network speeds and coverage inside buildings

Orange has unveiled the fruits of the 10th edition of its Research and Innovation Exhibition, which this year revealed advances in computer vision for retail, quantum computing for cyber security and a reconfigurable intelligence surface (RIS) designed to provide a low-energy way of improving mobile signal coverage within buildings.

The Salon de la Recherche event aims to address major social and environmental issues by developing useful, responsible digital uses that improve everyone’s daily life. It also involves identifying breakthrough technologies that are competitive assets and create value for the Orange Group. It focused on three key topics for Orange’s future: the networks of the future, artificial intelligence, and data and digital to benefit society and the environment.

Orange said the RIS prototype demonstrated is intended to improve network speed and coverage without generating additional waves, and its most obvious use case is improving coverage in halls. The product highlighted by Orange was the second design iteration of the RIS product. Its predecessor was constructed in the Orange Labs in France and first released in June 2021, in a square configuration to validate operation in the horizontal plane.

The current version is larger and circular in form. Beams in vertical and horizontal can be tuned, with phase shift processing to maximise returns. At present, the RIS sees about 70% of signals reflected, with further gains expected as research and development proceeds.

The device was designed in Orange’s laboratories in Sophia-Antipolis with its partners in the framework of the European Union-funded project RISE-6G. Orange said it is the first operator in Europe to demonstrate the low power consumption technology, which it regards as very promising for sustainable 6G. Indeed, it claims the new RIS version sees energy usage decrease by a factor of 6 when compared with a traditional active relay transmitter.

The computer vision for retail demonstration aimed to show how 5G, the cloud and edge computing can provide extra value from new data. It was carried out in collaboration with retail software specialist 66degrees and Google Cloud, using real-time analysis of HD video images to automatically detect missing products on shop shelves, making it easier to restock, and using AI to change use cases.

Orange believes the combination of edge computing and 5G offers significant computing power for AI, high bandwidth, and provides a high level of data confidentiality, allowing the development of computer vision-based use cases, in the retail, smart city or industry sectors.

For the first time in France, Orange also presented encrypted video streaming over its fibre network using quantum key distribution. This system is designed to use cryptographic techniques to ensure the confidentiality of communications and to make any intrusion by a hacker immediately detectable during the key exchange process.

Having demonstrated the technological capabilities of the set-up, Orange noted that potential customers it was talking to include those in banking and defence, with the former industry likely to be first for a proof of concept.

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Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michaël Trabbia said what was on view summed up three years’ work, and part of a plan to gain more innovation for international markets and be closer to where global talent was. Trabbia cited the fintech industry in India in this regard.

“It highlights the major contributions of our research and innovation teams, as well as our industry and academic ecosystem, to the construction of a digital future that is useful to all, respecting the individual, society and the planet,” he added.

Referring to industrial and enterprise use cases, Trabbia said the job would be to bring to companies high connectivity, monetising quality of service with 5G slicing from private networks, for instance, from around 2023.

“5G will bring the agility to orchestrate all those slices dynamically in order to scale for use cases, whether it’s connectivity on a public network or it can also be private network,” he told Computer Weekly. “It’s very important for some of the factories across the industry to have a dedicated mobile private network. Then it’s about edge computing. And here we have what it takes to host edge computing capabilities.

“We are in partnering mode at this moment with a cloud provider to sell and distribute this capability, which is hosted at our premises closer to the customer. Then we can move to the services and the integration. We have the capability and we will choose a partner because we cannot do everything.

“We will be choosing some vertical – retail manufacturing, for instance – to deep dive and bring adapted services and to work with the customers to integrate and also with different providers because we are in an open world of applications. We need to work collectively to bring the use case to the customer.”

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