The Edge

Get Ready for the 5G Retail Robots!

5G meets the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing in the fresh produce aisle, as AT&T tests robots intended to make operations at grocery stores run more smoothly.

AT&T is testing retail robots with Badger Technologies at one of operator's foundries in Plano, Texas.

Badger's robots identify items that are out-of-stock, mispriced or misplaced, as well as in-store hazards. This, however, requires data-heavy processes that can tax in-store WiFi networks.

So, Badger is working with AT&T to see if 5G can improve efficiency.

Badger's Grocery Robot
Source: Badger Technologies
Source: Badger Technologies

"The AT&T Foundry is testing 5G (millimeter wave) connectivity with Badger Technologies' robots in a multi-access edge computing (MEC) environment," explains Philip Hartfield, GM of retail industry marketing at AT&T.

"The goal is to demonstrate how 5G using millimeter wave spectrum and edge computing could provide Badger Technologies and retailers with the lower latency and high throughput required to process and share vast amounts of data while running concurrently with other in-store network applications," Hartfield says.

"AT&T Foundry projects are designed to be quick, so customers can bring new technologies and capabilities to market faster," says Hartfield. "That said, timelines vary depending on each customer's needs and technological requirements."

Testing will likely continue beyond commercial deployments for these robots, Hartfield added.

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Not that AT&T can actually say when commercial deployments will be available. "As we complete the testing at the AT&T Foundry, they will evaluate the timing for commercial availability," Hartfield says.

Why this matters
So far, AT&T has used 39GHz mmWave for its 5G excursions. It has covered parts of 21 US cities with access to gigabit-speed mobile downloads.

To date, the operator has taken a business-focused approach to 5G, only selling devices to enterprise users and developers who are testing the technology in industrial and factory settings.

This move shows where AT&T is heading in terms of 5G use cases: Industry verticals are regarded as prime opportunities for operators to develop revenue-generating use cases that make use of enhanced mobile broadband speeds and 5G-related infrastructure advances such as edge computing.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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