‘5G has arrived, and the time to act is now’ - Daniel Valle, Chief Technologist at WWT

(Image credit: WWT)

 As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This is a fitting mantra for enterprises as we enter the 5G era. Failing to do the groundwork as 5G becomes a mass-market proposition would leave a business unable to capitalise on the multitude of opportunities it unlocks. 5G has arrived, and the time to act is now. If 5G is going to disrupt your industry, you need to be prepared.

The improved connectivity, faster speeds, lower latency, and enhanced capacity, reliability and flexibility are all crucial to driving business benefits across a huge range of sectors. 

The 5G value chain

According to Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G could be supporting up to $12.3 trillion (£9.3 trillion) worth of goods and services in industries like retail, healthcare, education, transportation, entertainment and many more. The 5G value chain has the potential to create up to $3.5 trillion (£2.65 trillion) in revenue in 2035, supporting 22 million jobs and driving global GDP growth by $3 trillion (£2.27 trillion) cumulatively from 2020 to 2035.  

In five to six years people will take 5G for granted, much like we do the internet today as it becomes an essential part of our business and personal lives. Companies that invest in this paradigm shift now will be best positioned to take advantage of the new 5G economy. 

The businesses that missed the boat with the last great enterprise innovation, the cloud, are even now still scrambling to keep up. A failure to prepare infrastructure, teams and technologies for 5G will have a similar impact as early adopters assume market-leading positions and 5G-first organisations start to disrupt the established order. While 5G’s applications (think autonomous cars, true AI, connected cities etc.) either aren’t ready for mass adoption or simply haven’t been thought of yet, the platform is there meaning that enterprise supply chains and infrastructure need to be prepared.

The 5G future 

The transformative potential of 5G has triggered a tidal wave of investment from businesses and service providers alike, with manufacturers and utility providers also ideally poised to benefit from its deployment.

For example, a 5G sensor-equipped factory could experience dramatically improved manufacturing flexibility, productivity, maintenance costs, power usage and plant security. 5G networks can connect up to 1 million IoT sensors per square kilometre, and with its inherent low latency, the network can provide machine operators with real- or near-time data that can be leveraged to streamline operations.

This data could also be used for predictive maintenance to help prevent equipment failures before they occur. Broken machines interrupting production could become a thing of the past, representing significant savings for manufacturers. Furthermore, the use of the network itself could be optimised; a factory could provision extra network slices, on demand, to support peaks in production volume.

Alongside manufacturing, another sector that will benefit from the reliability, security, ultra-low latency and massive bandwidth of 5G is the connected and autonomous vehicle space. The inherent reliability of 5G networks is a necessity to high profile applications like connected cars. The fewer dropped connections there are, the safer the technology – a demand that will be made by both the public and the regulators if a driverless future is to be realised.

Safety is also enhanced by the fact that 5G-enabled vehicles will be able to communicate securely and almost instantly with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other vehicles, as well as the road network infrastructure. It is of paramount importance that manufactures receive vast amounts of clean, in-depth data to support autonomous drives.

Data, and the transportation of it, is at the core of the autonomous car industry. How that data gets transported – and who gets to control that data exchange will be key questions for the industry. With

data likely to flow across borders these questions could become even more complicated, how will this data be governed? It is in this space that investment in edge computing will become important – as it allows car manufacturers to process the data as close to the source as possible.

As well as preventing crashes, this information exchange will help to ease congestion and reduce pollution. Given that the adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles promises to save at least 3,900 lives and avoid 47,000 serious accidents, it’s clear that 5G will be transformative here.

It’s not just the car industry itself that will be disrupted by 5G and autonomous vehicles. The sea-change brought about by this innovation will have wide-reaching implications across industries. This chain of disruption could affect insurance firms, for example, if driverless cars are involved in fewer accidents. If cars simply stop crashing, their business models, indeed their industry, will be significantly disrupted as premiums plummet. Or to look at it another way, if a car crashes without a driver who is liable?

But this is just one potential example. Businesses in multiple industries will need to think similarly about possible disruption to their business models due to the 5G-related changes. A careful examination of their entire supply chain will be required to establish where their risks, liabilities and opportunities lie.

Seeding the ground now 

There are already 5G networks live across the globe, but their mass-market deployment will be a gradual process. For the time being, existing 5G networks will need to operate alongside 4G infrastructure and other mobile technology. In the future, 5G networks will need to become smarter, more flexible and tailored to the specific needs of a variety of different industries.

During this roll-out, it’s essential that any business make time to consider how 5G will impact its workforce and business operations.

This will mean asking questions like: how might new IT projects interact with or benefit from 5G? When these projects go live, will they be able to move seamlessly over to 5G? Should the scope or objective of a project be adjusted with 5G in mind? What new models for remote working could be enabled by 5G? What supporting services are required to make these models a reality?

Allocate a 5G lead 

With the volume of planning that needs to be done, businesses should look to allocate a team member to lead the 5G project. The employee in question will need to have good understanding of the business’ existing objectives and in-flight projects, and a strong grasp of how 5G could mould its products and services. They’ll then need to establish how best to capitalise on 5G and lead in its adoption – reporting back to the senior team each step of the way.

Businesses will also need to invest in training to ensure they are prepared for 5G. Upskilling current workers and training new staff will be crucial when it comes to talent retention and maintaining skilled workforces. Staff with industry heritage that sit alongside the next generation of skills will be key for enterprises. With the surface of 5G only just scratched, creativity will be essential to dreaming up the new and innovative use cases that will set businesses apart in a 5G world. The race isn’t limited to the supply chain and technology – getting the skills will be paramount too. Businesses must invest in all three areas to ensure success.

Away from internal matters, businesses also need to look externally and strike new, or deeper, relationships with their telecom providers. It’s obviously essential the provider in question is able to supply 5G now, or has an acceptable timeframe for rollout, but it’s also important that they can offer consultation on what benefits and business models 5G could unlock. Rather than service providers, the networks should become trusted advisors, there to guide businesses through the rapidly evolving 5G landscape.

There is no doubt that 5G has the power to transform the face of many industries across the globe. Now it’s essential for businesses to appreciate the impact 5G will have and the monumental changes that it is destined to bring about.

In the context of 5G, the quote “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” could hardly be more pertinent – ultimately, it will define the winners and losers in the new 5G economy.

Daniel Valle

As Chief Technologist for the EMEA Service Providers group in WWT, Valle leads a group of highly qualified experts in the Network and Multi-Cloud Virtualisation field for WWT key partner OEMs and customers. WWT Advisory Services team, leveraging its Advanced Technology Center (ATC), help EMEA Service Providers, using innovation, best-in-class technology and services to create unique solutions to their end customers, driving profitability and reducing technology implementation risks.