Service provider interest in justifying 5G investment through its potential to open new revenue streams from the enterprise segment is growing ever greater. 5G service launch dates are getting closer, and the urgency is mounting. Yet, is 5G on the radar of the typical CIO of a large business, let alone the person in charge of technology at a smaller business? No. Instead, most enterprise ICT decision-makers are justifiably focused on more material priorities: Securing and leveraging organizational and customer data; managing hybrid cloud architectures; compliance; improving customer engagement; digitizing the workspace; and overall transformation. Many are also considering the potential of the IoT to improve their operations or change their business models, or determining if and how AI may create new opportunities.
Does this mean that service provider investment in 5G, from an enterprise segment perspective, is destined to lead to underwhelming returns? Perhaps, but this need not be the case. While service providers are in hot pursuit of compelling business cases for 5G, they may be right under their noses – if only service providers would shun glamor, celebrate the mundane, and focus squarely on the impact 5G will have on workaday business applications.
As Ovum noted in its report MWC 2018: IoT Trends, vendors and many operators are heavily pushing 5G-enabled business use cases centered on low-latency, high processing power applications, often incorporating elements of AI, including autonomous vehicles, precision industrial applications, and use cases requiring real-time 'twinning' of people or objects to enable anything from remote robotic surgery to dangerous environment first-responder situations. However, some of these applications are fanciful: Surgery enabled over a mobile PSTN? First responders? 5G network slicing is enticing, but nationwide coverage, along with effective in-building coverage, is a very long-way off. Even if 5G does enable such critical applications in the medium term, these are not functions which are generic to business. For meaningful uptake across all B2B segments, 5G will need to enhance core business functions common to a large majority of firms, small or large.
The search for 5G enterprise use cases should instead start with how 5G will help the average business achieve existing IT priorities. With the promise of low-latency edge computing, could 5G services help firms large and small support a more dispersed, yet engaged workforce? Might 5G complement future WAN services? Might it democratize analytics by enabling the secure and legally compliant processing of customer, operational, or machine data faster and closer to the point of need? How a service provider monetizes this potential, if at all, remains in question. However, the first step should be a recognition that there is money in the everyday. Robotic surgery which dispenses with a fixed WAN in favor of relying on 5G? No, thanks. Empowering a stretched field service force with more compelling tools? Yes, please.
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