We get it. You've been deluged with the advertisements on television and social media from the major wireless carriers touting their 5G roll out, with hyperbolic comparisons touting that ‘their network’ is more available and robust than the competition. Mobile phone manufacturers are pushing the availability of their devices on 5G and how life changing it will be. Articles abound from all the business forums on IoT and 5G, and what a seismic shift it will be. 5G is also propelling this notion of Industry 4.0, and how it will accelerate that process.
All this promise is, well, promising. But in the real world of managing a business, growing revenue, and streamlining operations – what does it all mean for your Digital Strategy and Transformation? How does it change the relationship between you and your telecom suppliers? How will it change the nature of your customer relationships? And how do we execute on the promise of 5G/IoT without wasting millions and stepping on land mines?
First things first.
5G needs to be part of your Digital Strategy (some of you are thinking ‘duh’ – but hear me out). There is a difference between developing and executing a flexible strategic plan, versus throwing tech at problems. We often see the latter being thought of as a plan, when it’s really a recipe for stepping on land mines. This is especially true when new technologies are on the cusp of transforming business, an approach that simply tries to solve problems by applying the latest and greatest might mollify the rest of the C-Suite temporarily but does not transform the business. Certainly, that can work in the right applications and environments, but companies that take a holistic and strategic approach will have more long-term success achieving their goals. In this regard, 5G should be an integral part of your digital strategy. You can’t afford to wait until critical mass before dipping your toe into 5G.
Whatever your business, if you are not already considering the highly granular communications channel to connect everything you make or own that could be impacted with the application of AI, real time analytics and empirical data – you need to start today.
Considerations and Misconceptions
Hesitant to become an early adopter? I’m still waiting for the 5G signal to light up on my phone, but I’m ok waiting for it….let the other guy figure it out first! That’s ok for consumers, but business leaders can’t afford to think that way in the Digital Age. Like any technology that’s still relatively new, there are going to be hiccups and missteps along the way. Even the experts deploying these networks are running into unforeseen issues as demonstrated by the interference issue in and around airports regarding air traffic. AT&T and Verizon both agreed with the FCC to delay deployments in those areas until they could figure out the workaround.
Said another way, the biggest misconception of all right now, is that 5G is ready for prime time. Despite all the sales and marketing, we are in the very early days. So, for business leaders, there are some considerations as you map 5G into your Digital Strategy:
- 5G Standards. Standards are still developing. If you invested heavily in Betamax over VHS decades ago, you probably bet wrong. IoT alone has many standards of interoperability, and as usage increases, that will likely grow.
- Security. As 5G deployments increase, so too does the ‘threat surface’ of your company’s infrastructure becomes more exposed. Thousands of devices connected real time to the internet? Yikes.
- Cost and Infrastructure. The carriers in North America are currently pressured/forced to stay away from ZTE and Huawei, both of which offer some of the most cost-effective equipment. There are other potential drawbacks with them which have been well publicized, but the bottom line is North American carriers must use more expensive infrastructure. This already potentially puts cost pressure on carriers and their customers downstream as compared to global players using the cheaper gear.
- Micro Technology. IoT promises that everything will eventually be connected to the internet, and while we can already connect a lot of ‘things’ – there is a lot more tech that will need to be invented, tested, fail, then re-invented again.
Both consumer and business adoption must accelerate and reach some critical mass before risk declines and investments are more secure. While 5G smartphone sales are exponentially higher than they’ve ever been, actual consumer usage lags (for now). Companies and industry will have to take some early risk to drive more industry, innovation, and drive the commoditization of products to enable mainstream usage.
Like the telephone – the first one was great, but until there was a second, not much you could do with it. Once you had a few, it became exciting. When there were millions, humankind was transformed.
You can be both an early adopter and risk averse. Based on Client experience, here are some steps to take with your suppliers that will help you sidestep the mine fields:
- Choose the right suppliers. As it stands, most companies don’t take the needed care to fully vet suppliers at every renewal period, instead, choosing the least path of resistance. But you are venturing into new territory, its critical to run a full comparison of vendors to ensure you are getting exactly what you need, when you need it, and on terms that work for you.
- Partner with your suppliers. Once you are confident you have the right partners, share your roadmap under NDA, and get them onboard to help you achieve your goals. This not only engages them on a new level, but helps set expectations and helps define success for both.
- Partner with mobile operators and your IoT enablers. Push them to help you understand ‘what’s next’. They work with all manner of customers who are doing cool and unique things. Pressure them to share that information where possible so you can take the best ideas of what is working and avoid what isn’t.
- Strategic Flexibility. Given all the change we know is happening and will happen, and the rapidly evolving standards, you must be flexible. Not just you personally, but flexibility must be infused into the entire organization, so they are ready to turn on a dime and keep moving.
5G hold transformative promise both for consumers and the businesses that serve them. As the ‘people behind the curtain’, we must walk the line of boldness (early adoption) and risk mitigation. Fortunately, that’s an achievable goal so long as we go in with ‘eyes wide open’ with an understanding the landscape, have a strategic, yet flexible plan, and are open to working with partners on a level that may be unfamiliar. Contact me or anyone here at NET(net) should you have questions on your strategy, 5G in general, or your carrier agreements.
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