Reimagine what’s possible with 5G
Plans are afoot from the UK’s largest mobile operators, writes Kevin Hasley, the head of product at RootMetrics by IHS Markit, and all are determined to be able to make early claims about 5G performance and superiority within their consumer marketing and advertising campaigns. However, common wisdom suggests that the earliest adoption of 5G will be by British businesses, not consumers.
So what will the early use cases of 5G be by UK plc, and how can the telecoms industry best prepare the private sector for this transformation?
In a nutshell, 5G will offer dramatically faster speeds (up to 100 times), lower latency, and better reliability and network capacity. Basically, everything will work better for any business activity conducted across mobile.
But as important and transformational as those general improvements will be, 5G will enable five key shifts to businesses’ operations that they can begin planning for now to gain an edge on the competition:
- IoT at scale
Delivering the Internet of Things (IoT) at scale and making applications viable for British businesses relies on flexible network delivery, rapid speeds, low latency and near faultless reliability. Ultra-reliable, low latency communications (URLLC) are the bedrock for deploying massive numbers of devices for businesses. That might be across a construction site to track the condition of materials, across a large farm to test soil moisture, or in a massive engineering facility to gauge and optimise machinery performance. Whatever the specific application, businesses will soon be able to apply devices that can sense and affect change in an automated, real-time manner.
Of course, the network offers the ability to perform the analysis and automation, but businesses will still need to invest in the hardware sensors/devices, software applications and cloud computing resources to perform analysis and management. That requires a great deal of planning and expertise, and telecom industry players may well have a substantial role here as consultants.
- Remote working that works
According to a recent survey from Owl Labs, nearly 80% of British workers admitted they have a hard time staying engaged when joining meetings remotely. 5G will revolutionise teleconferencing. No more dropped calls, missed conversations or frozen video. However, even more than seamless video chat — a major improvement on the status quo in itself — the step change for remote worker engagement is the immersive workspaces made possible by VR and AR. 5G will allow VR and AR experiences to be delivered mobile first, without the need for a standalone console or a bulky headset and a tangle of wires. If the form factor can be developed appropriately, the high speeds and low latency of 5G can create an engaging virtual world for meetings, wherever the participants happen to be.
For businesses, this means they should think carefully about their remote working policy with an eye to the future. Soon it will be possible to get all of the benefits without many of the downsides.
- Lower overhead
While there will likely be increased capex as organisations roll out many more devices and sensors as the IoT takes hold, businesses will approach this with a keen eye to ROI and will also be able to make overhead savings elsewhere. Enhanced remote working through VR and improved connectivity will also enable companies to reduce their physical footprints and real-estate costs. But 5G will also enable truly smart buildings by a network of distributed sensors that can monitor occupancy, temperature and lighting. Desk space can thus be optimised, and energy costs reduced.
With these developments in mind over the next five years, businesses should consider them strongly when negotiating long-term tenancy agreements so that they can ensure they are able to optimise space. Business leaders in the position of signing leases should determine if new office spaces are set up for smart building infrastructure across 5G networks.
- Bespoke networks
The telecom service delivery model has not changed for eons, but 5G will potentially alter it dramatically. Due to the network slicing capabilities that accompany 5G, operators will likely be able to carve off private 5G networks for clientele within specific verticals or with very specific needs. The networks offered could be optimised for particular needs, such as banks with a similar footprint and operating model or media companies with similar content upload and sharing requirements. Never before has connectivity been more closely designed to meet customers’ detailed needs.
For businesses, this opens up a world of opportunity to best align operations with their communications network. However, it also creates a greater deal of complexity within buying decisions. Businesses will need to develop more sophisticated mechanisms for validating their telecom purchasing decisions, and operators will need to work on new proof points for educating and informing their customers about their unique selling proposition.
- 5G mindset
Perhaps the biggest change that businesses need to undertake, however, is more about mindset than technical or structural considerations. After close to a decade of operating a business with current network capabilities as defining parameters as to what is possible with mobile, executives and employees alike are conditioned to accept certain limitations.
It might be something as simple as team members not accepting calls during their commute due to a low expectation of call quality on the train, or something more complex like not analysing live telematics data from fleet vehicles because of poor connectivity.
As we saw during the transition from 3G to 4G between 2010 and 2012, it took a considerable amount of time for businesses to fully leverage the network upgrade. 5G will be vastly more transformational. Those that can remove limiting thinking from their plans for technology investment will outperform rivals. This creates an opportunity for the telecom industry to act as a guide.