The 5G hype-train has left the station. It's probably the hottest tech conversation happening right now. And it's way too premature. There's still a lack of clear understanding of exactly what 5G is or will be capable of delivering.
Major Changes to Plan for as 5G Rolls Out
5G is really exciting because it provides the reduction in latencies that we can't achieve with 4G LTE today, or 3G before that. Users will enjoy something closer to instant connectivity to the network edge. However, this will reveal any gaps within your infrastructure and gaps within your service delivery capability for employees, which naturally extends out to customers because many organizations are evolving into B-to-B-to-C organizations. The services that they deliver to businesses ultimately impact the delivery of services to their consumer customers. This presents significant challenges for enterprises, who have to start thinking about their existing infrastructure and how these latencies are currently affecting them.
This is a fundamental digital transformation that will become more intense as everything becomes digital. Understanding where your current infrastructure resides, what its currently supporting, and what the introduction of these new applications and use cases are going to do to your consumption technology, especially mobile, is crucial.
There’s been a drastic shift of dominant mobile use in the last five years. Previously, you managed pools of voice minutes, and everyone was using their cell phones mainly for voice. But now that has drastically shifted to data consumption, creating a huge rise in data consumption over the last five years as more and more applications are introduced to empower more work to be done at the edge on each mobile device.
That trend on handheld mobile devices is going to continue and it's going to increase in ways that today we consume as wireline, traditional technologies. Ultimately, it is expected that 5G will replace traditional broadband.
How much of an infrastructure change will organizations need to plan for? They’ll still need large routers and pipes. The real change isn't in the infrastructure, it’s going to be in how you're able to use technology.
Mobile is personal in a way that the other technology we've deployed in the business is not. Technology is sometimes forced onto the end user that they don’t prefer. They don't necessarily want the technology, especially in the traditional workforce, because they've gotten very used to the processes that are in place. Technology disruptors are often hard for them to adopt, because they don't use the technology in their personal lives.
Choice in mobile device has been the greatest bridge in the technology divide. The end user brought the technology to the organization already able to communicate with everybody they need to communicate with from anywhere they are. They want to use the same technology for work.
Adapting enterprise communications technology to accommodate this preference began enabling sales forces and executives. Now they enable every position, and there really isn't a position within the organization that can't be positively impacted by mobility. Between reduced equipment costs, potential reduction in carrier service programs, and expanded working hours as employees replace their commute with more work, the benefit to the enterprise should be considerable.
Expect an evolution of customer support on Social Media. Airline customers, for example, can now register complaints or service requests on Twitter that get a faster and probably more robust customer service response than those telephoned in. Even if they walk up to the agent at the gate, that agent just isn't as empowered as the technology. They don't have the instant access that the system has to be able to view what's really going on. 5G is going to enable real-time access for these employees. In five years, if you post on Twitter, it will be the gate agent in front of you that responds instead of someone sitting at a service desk at airline headquarters.
The underlying reduction in overall cost structure may be staggering as whole call centers are shuttered, customer-facing representatives are better enabled to render superior service, and customers can take on far more of the transaction process through automated systems.
In the Meantime
Think about if there was no latency between the customer and your organization, how would you react and start building your applications and your use cases on that. That's really where the potential is.
For organizations to get there they must start thinking about these use cases today. It will still likely be three or more years until 5G is introduced at scale. Some are concerned about the rising cost of 5G. It's often not that the equipment itself is expensive. It's that you must replace that equipment in such a short time period from your last equipment replacement. Your cost of ownership seems high, because you're not planning for the evolution of technology. Your best strategy is to make sure from a standards perspective that the infrastructure you're deploying over the next three or so years is easily upgradeable to 5G.
Another serious concern is inadequate management of mobile devices in use in organizations today. This gap is a serious concern because the increased enumeration of connected endpoints into your environment is a drastic increase in vulnerability that, unmanaged, creates significant risk.
Impact on Retail Operations
First, examine the experience of organizations that have had to close their doors in the last five years, many of them direct casualties of the improved technology.
Toys-R-Us made the decision 20 years ago to outsource all of their online bookings and shopping experience. The inability for them to ship and provide their own online shopping experience ultimately doomed them, because they didn't come up with an alternative strategy to incorporate new technology into their stores. When customers went into Toys R Us to purchase toys there wasn't a good mobile app to look up a product and see where it was located. There wasn't any sort of interaction with those products in the store. There was no digitally-enhanced experience as there was almost everywhere else. They became uncompetitive.
But this doesn’t spell the end of brick-and-mortar retail stores.
7-Eleven has more locations than any other franchise in the world. They've recently deployed augmented reality technology to every one of their stores and coupled that with incredible product marketing campaigns to connect their customers to the products that they're selling. They've created unique experiences by leveraging technology, which then impacts the customers and the store as well as the products that are going into those stores. It's making those products more exciting. Getting your photo taken with an augmented reality rendering of a Marvel comics hero makes every child, and their Dad, a devoted shopper.
As more information emerges about what 5G can enable, begin to plan your own investments in improving customer experiences.
Challenges to Confront Today
The first challenge for many organizations is that they don't have an accurate inventory of all the things connected to their network. Some have even deployed Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors right on public bandwidth networks. These can easily be accessed through a “back door” bypassing any of their security controls.
5G promises to drive incredible growth in the sheer number of devices under management. Even those who have been managing their installed base well are not going to be able to maintain accurate inventory the way that they're approaching it today. They’ll need to get much more proactive about identifying connected “things” and the threat they pose to the organization right now.
Anticipate a significant increase in cost for the devices themselves. Carriers will again try to find ways to reduce that impact so that they can achieve early adoption. These early adoption programs may lead to higher risk and higher costs long term, because that initial risk period, the cost of the risk incurred will be greater than if you had waited for a more secure and ultimately low-cost solution. A classic example of “make it work, make it work better, make it work cheaper.”
Expect the carriers’ deployment costs to impact rates, too, as they pass some of that along to consumers and business customers. The investments required will likely be too significant for them to cushion that impact.
For most enterprises, the best strategy is to wait past the initial rollout of 5G. Most won’t yet even have the IT infrastructure management in place to consider migrating immediately. Wait a few generations because you need to firmly define what you're doing today so you can be ready to smoothly transition to 5G.
In the meantime, engage an expert partner to help you with an assessment of where you currently are on a communications Maturity Model first. Then have them perform an identification classification exercise identifying all connected “things”, their use cases, and the carriers or vendors that are supporting those. Then identify the potential impacts of that technology as you transition.
Begin now to identify why and how you believe 5G technology should be deployed for your business, what are the use cases you want to leverage this technology for. As Simon Sinek advises, begin with why you want to adopt 5G before you focus on how you’re going to work with your expert partner to thoroughly evaluate and plan that change.