The first hands in the 5G game have been laid down on the table. Some service providers have focussed on wowing the consumer with online gigs and glitzy launches, while others have concentrated on showing connectivity speed and coverage.
The first conclusion I can draw about 5G is that in today’s consumer market, no killer app will drive adoption like there was with 4G. Arguably social media would not have become the phenomenon it is today without the network being able to offer good experience for all the selfies, videos, and GIFs that are exchanged each day.
Although I won’t pontificate about what may happen in the consumer market, I’m asked about the opportunity for 5G in the business-to-business (B2B) market. The consumer market relies on the delivery of handsets, and many consumers aren’t likely to pay more for a 5G package. Therefore, could B2B services offer some relief in an increasingly cost-sensitive market? I suspect yes. 5G will provide higher bandwidth and a better quality of experience, which can be leveraged to use 5G as the primary connection to the network services.
Simple use cases such as rapid site set up, the provisioning of a new site in minutes, not days using 5G, and a connection. Bandwidth boost using 5G to bring up additional capacity if the fixed line is overloaded, and lastly, back up using 5G to replace the fixed circuit should it fail. All of these are extremely powerful solutions when combined with techniques such as SDWAN. This means that customers can get up and running quickly and efficiently, and service providers can start billing sooner.
In the manufacturing and mining industry, safety can be improved from the higher bandwidth and high-quality real-time video on autonomous vehicles and drones from 5G.
Today, trials based on both 4G and 5G technology appear to offer great promise. The combination of the enhanced bandwidth offered by 5G with HD cameras, robotic and drone technology can transform the maintenance of remote and complex factories, which can improve safety, reduce cost, and lower maintenance time.
Connected cars are here today, but we are only at the start of that journey. The telemetry generated by a car is useful not only to the manufacturer but also to the transportation infrastructure provider. For example, braking patterns and windscreen wiper-use can be an early indication of problems on the roads.
The promise of 5G slicing may offer the manufacturer a more cost-effective solution to deliver global connectivity with a significantly reduced operational overhead. 5G signals will operate at higher frequencies. The trade-off is that many new buildings are environmentally friendly with coatings on the glass to keep out sunlight but also signals. Steel and a requirement for denser radio networks all contribute to making indoor coverage, something we all take for granted.
5G is not exclusively about new radio; it’s also about heterogeneous networking, so we can address the indoor coverage with WiFi6. Fast roaming between access points, traffic prioritization, and better integration with devices all combine to deliver the same indoor experience.
Of course, the potential of these services will very much affect the top line of any service provider. However, simply adding to the top line without consideration of the bottom line may not shift the balance significantly. Back in January, Cisco announced ‘The Internet for the Future,’ a suite of hardware and software designed from the bottom up to help optimize the operational cost of the network that underpins the service provider infrastructure. Part of this solution is Silicon One, the industry’s first silicon chip to break 10Tbps with a single ASIC to deliver the performance and efficiencies to support the delivery of a cost-effective infrastructure and meet the challenges our service provider customers are experiencing
Looking at all these developments, you can see that the balance of revenue can and will shift towards business services where service providers can leverage better margins and remain relevant.
As the service providers drop the mic on their initial announcements and the dust settles, the hard work really starts. 5G holds great promise for consumers and society at large, but by focusing on the value in the B2B market, service providers can unlock some of that promise for themselves.