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Where are we with 5G adoption?

Debbie Mayville of SAS.
(Image credit: SAS)

5G is ushering in the next era of connectivity, with the accompanying latency improvements set to facilitate new technologies like the Internet of Things. Before the pandemic, rollout was taking place in a piecemeal fashion, with the US and South Korea leading the pack. But this all changed as the virus spread across the globe, catching businesses in every industry off guard and causing many to shift priorities to cope with increased network demands.

Many will see Covid-19 as an accelerant for 5G adoption, holding the view that a faster rollout will ultimately be more beneficial to business. Conversely, others argue that companies should be focussed on improving existing services to limit any future disruption, with network resilience taking precedence over the rollout of 5G.

"Whatever the case, it’s become increasingly clear that most businesses have no inkling as to how 5G will help them improve the customer experience."

Debbie Mayville.

Whatever the case, it’s become increasingly clear that most businesses have no inkling as to how 5G will help them improve the customer experience. Nor do they know where it will be incorporated into their business strategies. It follows that identifying the key beneficiaries of 5G can be hard.

Transforming the gaming experience

It is widely agreed that 5G will reduce latency. Coupled with better virtual reality technology, this will make gaming better and easier on mobile. It looks likely that many of the early adopters of 5G will be individuals. However, this seems unlikely to be the most compelling use case in the longer term, because it remains a fairly niche activity. This lack of clarity makes it hard to think about new business lines, or new use cases. Even though there is general agreement that 5G will broaden the telco customer base considerably.

Research suggests that very few telcos know how they will actually monetise 5G or capitalise on the excitement. Many are also impeded in their thinking by legacy monetisation systems. These make it harder to think through new options or see the potential – and the costs of continuing maintenance and support of these legacy systems also make it harder to invest in new technology. There are, however, some interesting developments around the world. These may point to areas for further investigation or particularly promising options for monetisation of 5G.

Using analytics to ensure a smooth journey

Many telecom companies found it hard enough to make the transition from fixed telephony to mobile. Many, though, have made a successful move through digital transformation to a more omnichannel approach. They have used analytics to focus on customer experience and personalised customer journeys and offers. Even the more "back office" functions, such as network optimisation and fraud prevention, are ultimately supporting improved customer journeys. Good network quality, achieved through better predictive maintenance, is perhaps the most essential building block to better customer experience.

5G has huge potential to improve customer experience in both B2C and B2B markets, but enterprise adoption is expected to be the biggest driver in the long term. In combination with IoT and streaming analytics, I think we will start to see some of the biggest markets for 5G in smart cars, homes, other buildings and stadiums, and manufacturing lines.

In broad terms, we will see analytics supporting customer intelligence, connectivity and productivity, and crowd management. This will take a change in thinking. Telcos will need to look beyond communicating directly with "a customer" to thinking about ecosystems supporting many partnerships. Think about the span of use cases to support smart cities, which require partnerships across multiple constituents.

Applications of 5G

Some companies are also looking at the potential for 5G to support telemedicine, especially in remote locations where there are limited health care services. Virtual reality may offer ways to carry out surgery remotely, drawing on experts far away to support local health care practitioners. There are other promising developments in the area of logistics, for example, to track containers and other shipping. In real estate development, sensors have been used in construction to check the stability of the ground before starting to build apartment complexes, and to monitor heavy equipment.

Other 5G use cases include:

  • In agriculture, to track livestock, or predict flood risk.
  • In business, the greater speed and lower latency will facilitate remote access to services, improve remote working and enable widespread home schooling. In addition, we’ve seen large numbers of companies move their events online, and the likelihood is a significant proportion of mass gatherings will remain virtual even as we return to normality – this will likely increase the demand for 5G as businesses and individuals realise that remote working has unexpected benefits.
  • In an industrial context, the latency improvements will make communication at the edge more robust and facilitate the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things – this will enable long-range remote control of factory robots and extend the use of predictive and preventive maintenance.

Investing in the right people

Driving growth with 5G will require individuals with the skillsets required to capitalise on these opportunities. This, in turn, will involve having a holistic, automated system to streamline the process from start to finish, along with the talent needed to analyse complex analytical data. And this is not just a technology challenge but will also involve fostering an analytical culture – investing in people with considerable relationship and project management skills becomes vital.

"We'll likely see many telcos shelve low-priority items in place of 5G adoption to maintain continuity to the best possible extent."

Debbie Mayville.

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of business agility. Transformation initiatives which had previously taken a long time to push through are now being adopted to accelerate growth. Many companies are prioritising initiatives using a zero-based budgeting approach where all costs must be justified - with 5G promising lower latency and faster, more resilient networks, we'll likely see many telcos shelve low-priority items in place of 5G adoption to maintain continuity to the best possible extent.

While there is much uncertainty around the applications of 5G, that’s not to say businesses have been silent on the matter. We’ve seen some telcos working with universities to improve skills and draw on consultative support. Ultimately, reaping the rewards of 5G will require companies to lay the foundations – both technological and cultural.


Debbie Mayville is a Senior Customer Advisory Manager at SAS, an analytics company specializing in digital transformation that enables organizations to get value from their data. Since joining the company in 2009, Debbie works to provide consulting and technical direction to design solutions for the telecommunications and media industries. With a passion for innovation leading to automation, efficiency and agility, her current focus involves incorporating analytics to support the next generation of technology with 5G and the IoT.