If you are reading this blog looking for insight and opinion on autonomous vehicles, a good librarian might reply, “Have you tried the fiction section?” Suffice to say, this will be one of those rare read-outs on 5G that does not touch on anything vehicular or autonomous. Enough said.
Having recently attended many 5G events, culminating most recently with 5G World in London, and having reviewed a number of online opinions about the next ‘G,’ I have solidified various views about the various developments and positioning of 5G that are best characterized by the title of this blog.
So, in the best traditions of an award show results ceremony, let me share those views in reverse order.
In third place, the somewhat ugly. Now, this is a real pet peeve of mine and whilst not specific to 5G, they both keep coming up in a way that shows that despite there being monumental change within the IT/Networking industry, some attitudes have not changed at all. Its now 2018 and yet I still hear a mix of analysts, moderators, vendors and telco staff using the word ‘subscriber’ to describe a customer and ‘OTT’ to define the likes of Amazon and Google, etc. Both of these terms IMO are utterly dated and harp back to a time where the ‘network’ was at the center of the IT cosmos and everything gravitated around it.
The hard reality is if that was the case 20 years ago, it isn’t anymore. There has been a fundamental re-alignment of the planetary system. The audience (not subscriber) is the new ‘sun’ and the experience they receive is the new gravitational pull. Audiences are increasingly loyal to the digital experience they receive and have to be compelled, entertained and treated in a consistently refreshing and differentiated manner for them to remain so. THAT is the new norm. Similarly, that audience has the freedom to go to many places for that experience, and suggesting through terms such as OTT that the network is at the center of their universe is at best naïve, at worst commercial suicide.
The point here in relation to 5G is that the telecoms industry has the opportunity, with its imminent appearance, to put that network-centric thinking behind it and move on. Of course, the network remains a key foundational element, but it’s in how that is packaged and positioned from a user-first perspective that will shape the future success or not of this industry. Goodbye subscriber, hello audience.
In second place, the bad. Cash cows, if not loved, developed, invested in and differentiated, can easily disappear. Ask people at RIM, Kodak and Toys R Us about their experiences of having their cash cows disrupted from under them for evidence that no established business is ever sacrosanct.
So why, in respect to mobile broadband, do I constantly hear people position that element of 5G as ‘something we have always done and will continue to’ as though it is in some ways protected from market norms and therefore requires little thought or investment? Yes, 5G as a converged platform offers potentially great opportunities in business and IOT services BUT mobile broadband will remain the bread and butter for most telcos for some years to come, and the signs are not currently great with revenue and margin flat to declining. What if Google expands its Fi service, what if Amazon becomes a mobile player, what of eSIMs?
Read this blog regarding users views around mobile services from digital players for a sobering insight. When asked, some 73% of users polled would switch their mobile service to Amazon if they offered a mobile service, based on a perceived improved digital experience.
The concern is almost a belief that we have reached ‘peak innovation’ for mobile broadband services which will only fuel further revenue and margin decline. The increase in available bandwidth in 5G could well exacerbate the situation if telcos resort to a race to the bottom in terms of pushing bandwidth only or ‘all you can eat’ plans.
The example shown here of creative thinking around new opportunity areas for mobile broadband plans and services is just the beginning. The 150 points of opportunity ebook highlights the 150 monetization opportunities available each day to mobile operators that could be taken advantage of through creative plans and offerings.
It sounds incredibly cliched to state that telcos have to put the user experience first and look for ways to introduce expansive, flexible and transparent digital-first offerings, but that is the new reality. Watching my own millennial children’s ‘three zeros’ behavior (zero loyalty, zero patience, zero latency) in the way they interact online is a constant and sobering reminder of how they, and maybe the generation after them, will expect to be engaged with.
Finally, and in first place, the very good.
The very good is all about the opportunity ahead of the industry that could potentially be unlocked by 5G. Its ‘network for all reasons’ type capabilities underpinned not just by increased bandwidth and efficiencies but by key functionalities such as network slicing, end-to-end QoS treatment and significant improvements in latency and reliability should make it the pivotal ‘g’ for many years to come. When you consider major developments in AI, VR and ML that are developing along a similar timeline, the discussion becomes one of the art of the possible, not a fait accomplis.
Developments such as the ‘smart family,’ where ‘human’ and ‘thing’ plans related to a particular family or household could be grouped together under a common plan and offering, gives the audience much greater control and transparency over things such as gaming services, utility metering and ‘follow me’ bandwidth, and could revolutionise the delivery of consumer services. As ever, one step at a time though. Simply expanding digital-first offerings first in a ‘build your own plan’ type model is a great step towards something even more sophisticated and valuable in terms of its attractiveness and stickiness.
In the business world, on-demand slicing will be a really attractive way of putting service control in the hands of the user by giving them the operational freedom to set up and tear down key aspects of a plan menu direct from a digital services portal. Think of a wireless VPN where each add, move and change, security deployed, QoS class of a device and overall ‘bandwidth pool’ are configured and administered in such a manner by the end user.
In terms of ultra-high bandwidth small cells, what about the potential for geo-sensitive sponsored cell as a service, where normal 5G macro cell users can seamlessly ‘roam’ into a shopping precinct or sport stadia’s sponsored small cell as a service and have the potential to experience and utilize deep-immersive VR type services as part of the retail or sporting experience?
What each of the above have in common is they start with the user. That should be seen as the ultimate potential win for 5G, the ability to put the audience first whilst utilizing a powerful arsenal of networking technology behind the scenes.
The monetization of an increasingly digital mainstream market, not the basic connectivity market, is the new battleground for telcos and to succeed there needs some bold, radical re-thinking with the audience at the epicenter of that thinking. The example of Uber and its ‘existing market, new user experience, new app’ approach is an excellent case of that thinking at work.
A quick journey through the very good, the bad and the somewhat ugly regarding the coming of 5G. Hopefully, no subscribers were harmed, no OTTs upset and no autonomous vehicles mis-parked themselves as a result of my musings.