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Accelerating enterprise 5G: the new B2B ecosystem

Darius Singh

Principal Consultant, STL Partners

Accelerating enterprise 5G:
The new B2B ecosystem

Research we’ve undertaken at STL Partners indicates that while there’s certainly a buzz around 5G, understanding of its real potential among enterprises is early in its evolution. Now is the time to capitalize on 5G availability and opportunities to gain a competitive and operational edge.

Until now, perhaps one of the biggest challenges for enterpriseshas been the availability ofindustry-specificuse cases for 5G.For instance, while the use of autonomous drones in five years might be an exciting vision for a logistics company, the roadmap for getting to that point is less clear. Today, there are significant opportunitiesfor telecoms operators and digital partners to help enterprises on that journey.

More than speed

Through our research, we know that perceptions of 5G have been largely shaped by consumer messaging – chiefly the significant increases in network speeds. Yet, 5G is about much more than its high speeds: it’s an important catalyst for innovation and business transformation.

5G promises enterprises ubiquity across whole sites, regions, and countries, also bringing the flexibility (scalability and elasticity) for running temporary and popup workloads. In manufacturing, for example, with a 5G mobile and SIM, enterprises can more easily swap machines in and out – removing a major systems integration headache and making machine-as-a-service suddenly a more viable business model.

A new tapestry

Of course, enterprises aren’t greenfield sites; there may be questions about how much 5G should replace 4G or WiFi (and generally, fixed connectivity is currently the primary connectivity technology). That’s certainly a consideration – which is why enterprises need advice and support to develop the right 5G roadmap and show how 5G will interplay with other connectivity solutions.

Though in the short term, there may be single use cases or point solutions that are performant on 4G and existing WiFi (excluding WiFi 6), when we aggregate across a number of Industry 4.0 use cases deployed over time (with increasing reliance on high-performance, low-latency, high-capacity networks), 5G can much better address a portfolio of use cases at once. This evaluation requires a specific skill set: to assess which technology is best, how they fit together, and how to mature this ‘tapestry’ of networks and communications.

Private 5G networks

5G will clearly expand the global market in mobile use by enterprises; and one of its main features is that more and more businesses will have their own mobile private 5G networks. We’re also seeing a lot more co-location of private 5G with on-premise edge servers, providing additional compute capacity (potentially for third party, low-latency applications) over private infrastructure.

At the same time, companies might not want to manage their own hardware on-site and will look to the advantages of network slicing for their own dedicated slice of a mobile virtual network. Transparency of pricing and innovation in the pricing model by telecoms service providers will be crucial so that enterprise customers get all the flexibility of the 5G promise without significant increases in the total cost of ownership.

Application enablement platforms

Beyond connectivity, the arrival of 5G brings telecoms operators opportunities to offer their customers more value. As higher volumes of data are generated, enterprise customers will look to cloud-based application enablement platforms for managing, sharing, and exchanging all this data for business value.

More than just growing data repositories, these platforms can be key to helping 5G customers to generate and leverage insights from data at scale and in real time. Data privacy, trust, and compliance will be critical and must be built into application enablement platforms by design.

New coordination era

We’re likely to see a move away from the traditional linear value chain towards a more open, flexible ecosystem. As a result, we’re entering a new coordination era in which partners collaborate and co-innovate to leverage an understanding of their customers’ requirements and environment to deliver new 5G-enabled ambitions together.

In this way, telecoms operators can take on a more strategic, advisory, platform-enabled role. This is not just about the network: it’s about having access to the skills and capabilities to drive business advantage for the applications the 5G supports.

Proving and scaling value

In the meantime, many enterprises are still searching for the ‘killer app’ that justifies their investment. This can seem challenging given that the major returns on investment come with multiple use cases, scaling and business transformation. Yet the opportunities are there.

Closer collaboration between enterprises and their partners will enable a more holistic view to become 5G ready. Success is about working in collaboration with customers, as well as digital and integration partners, to develop and scale value-driven proofs of concept. This market is still nascent, but with benefits-driven investment and partnerships, the potential is vast, both for enterprises and for the customers they serve.

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