The consumer-facing 5G value proposition today is fairly straightforward: faster speeds, lower latency, better reliability, enhanced security. But, as it stands, 5G isn’t being sold to consumers. Consumers are buying compatible handsets and getting 5G where it’s available. On balance, operators may be realizing operational benefits because 5G is a more efficient way to deliver bits of data over RF spectrum, but that gain is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions spent annually building the networks. While there’s talk of more nuanced consumer-facing service plans that could command a premium—a tier for mobile gamers is often mentioned but by no means in-market—consumers aren’t going to be the path to 5G ROI.
Carriers are certainly not strangers to the enterprise segment. Selling connectivity against a service level agreement is old hat for most. But a 5G network, when coupled with a distributed mobile edge computing infrastructure and particularly when considered in the context of the IoT, is poised to be much more than simply a dumb pipe. Carriers are working to tailor their offerings to the particular groups of use cases that are meaningful to verticals like healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and energy, to name a few. A manufacturing interest could use 5G to connect robotic components on its assembly lines and use single-millisecond latency, local compute, and machine learning to create a real-time automation loop wherein failures are predicted and mitigated without a second of unplanned downtime impacting operations and the bottomline. But, to do that, operators have to get a new level of insight into the manufacturing sector.
Verizon Business Group CEO Tami Erwin, speaking to Ericsson’s Åsa Tamsons during a virtual event in October, sketched out how 5G and MEC will accelerate enterprise digital transformation. “We begin to see things like factory solutions and smart cities and remote diagnostics and transformational change in remote education,” she said. “What we’re seeing from global enterprises is they need to do one of two things: they need to strengthen their competitive position and differentiate the customer experience or they need to take cost out of their businesses. And the ones that are doing it right are doing both. And they recognize the transformative power of 5G to enable that capability.”
That transformation of the enterprise comes in tandem with a transformation within Verizon, Erwin said. “We’ve recognized that we have to partner with others to accelerate some of this work. I think our role has become far more consultative in terms of being able to sit down with customers. It’s less transactional, it’s more strategic. It’s transforming my workforce to really be able to understand, and partner, and work with customers and other partners to say, ‘What is the customer’s North Star?’”
In addition to operators working to make themselves experts in specific verticals, they’re also enlisting the help out of outside experts. In the context of enterprise 5G, the term “co-creation” comes up a good deal in reference to how to best develop use cases aligned with the business outcomes desired by particular enterprise segments.
In the case of Verizon Business, it recently joined up with professional services firm Deloitte to package up 5G and MEC solutions for the retail sector; target use cases include real-time analytics for improved customer engagement, inventory efficiency, and productivity. When the last of a particular item is picked off the shelf by a shopper, for example, an in-store associate could receive an automated replenishment notification and upstream distribution centers could also be alerted to help optimize inventory allocation. SAP is also involved, providing its retail software for integration into the larger platform.
Commenting on the partnership with Deloitte and SAP, Erwin said, “We are entering a new era of technology-led disruption at the same moment every retailer is looking to accelerate digital transformation, increase productivity and improve customer experiences. We’re ready to open the doors to Verizon’s transformative 5G and mobile edge compute platform and look forward to helping our customer reimagine everything from their employee experience and supply to end-customer use cases.”
Inseego’s Steve Brown, senior vice president of enterprise sales, agreed that the sales process has changed not just because of the feature set enabled by 5G but, more broadly, due to a mobile-first mindset permeating the thinking of business and information technology decision makers.
“We see enormous desire from our customer and BT/IT channels to educate themselves from the evolution happening around 5G,” he told RCR Wireless News. When you think about the technology adoption lifecycle, we’re fairly early. For us, it’s about educating customers—spending that time helping them make the best decisions for their business.”
Inseego specializes in device-to-cloud solutions for mobile broadband and fixed wireless access, as well as software-based management solutions. Beyond its consumer broadband business, the U.S.-based company sells into a number of verticals, including the government, education, healthcare, retail, transport, utilities and manufacturing. To take the manufacturing example, Inseego provides modems for industrial IoT-type deployments in harsh environments, enterprise-grade gateways and routers, device management solutions, and tools to support private network implementations.
And to effectively pair a technology set to the needs of a customer in one of those verticals, “You have to spend time with [them],” Brown said, “do proofs of concepts, spend time learning what their business outcomes are. Your best clients take you where you want to be through joint discovery and a shared definition of success.”
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