Telcos and network vendors have been serving up a rich menu of remarkably similar hypothetical enterprise 5G use cases for some time. While analysts may feel as if we are in an echo chamber, the industry is rightly anxious to prove that 5G will be transformative for enterprises, and that service providers will play an important, money-making role in this transformation. But when is it time to move from theory to practice? When will the rubber hit the road? When will we move from discussions of use cases to actual product roadmaps?
The answer is now.
Service providers are beginning to build product roadmaps for industry services based on 5G technologies. Early out of the starting blocks is Verizon, which briefed Ovum last week on its plans. These offer some clues about which services are likely to move from proof of concept (POC) and validation phases to commercial launch first. So, what did we learn?
First, 5G is not standalone. Verizon is quick to underline that 5G is more of a catalyst than a "big bang"; it is a digital enabler, and one which enhances the operator's existing capabilities rather than standing apart from them. 5G is first and foremost part of its "real-time enterprise" strategy, along with other connectivity, security, Internet of Things (IoT), and communication services.
Second, there are some horizontal (cross-industry) services made possible by 5G which will enhance Verizon's overarching software-defined network strategy. Expect network slicing to be commercially available next year, as well as support for multi-access edge compute (MEC) for edge application processing. These will enable the operator to offer, either itself or through partners, standard and customized edge application services.
Third, 5G comes alive in its industry-specific applications, with partners being essential. But as with IoT, even service providers with the resources and wherewithal of Verizon have to pick and choose. Verizon has prioritized manufacturing, retail, and healthcare, with a focus on intelligent supply chain. Focusing on three is ambitious, but manufacturing, in Ovum's view, seems the most advanced. In this sector, Verizon is developing solutions for predictive maintenance, robotic control, 3D printing, remote equipment configuration, intelligent video, augmented reality, assembly inspection, and massive IoT tracking. Verizon readily and rightly acknowledges that many of these will be realized through its partner ecosystem, with the operator itself in the role of service integrator.
Fourth, private LTE and 5G will be important. Other operators have yet to state this quite as forthrightly, perhaps because telcos have a mixed track record of addressing on-campus networking requirements; their natural realm is site-to-site. This will have to change if service providers are to reap all the potential rewards of 5G, but such change requires investment in campus networking expertise and local partners able to provision and maintain on-site equipment.
So, where are we with enterprise 5G? The answer is that we are much less than one year away from significant industry-specific B2B services going live for real, paying customers. The time for theoretical use cases is quickly giving way to the time for product roadmaps.
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