5G is significantly different from previous generations of mobile technology. With 4G and its predecessors, operators aimed to quickly reach a high percentage of the population and largely displace the technology that had gone before it. It seems much more likely that standalone 5G will exist alongside 4G and will be aimed at enterprises and institutions. It will be guided in particular by opportunities to shape emerging, highly digital “smart” environments. The recently announced Gatwick Airport initiative is an example of this trend.
Gatwick is London’s second airport, servicing a million or so passengers every week and managing aircrew, ground crew and millions of assets in constant motion around a tightly confined space 24 hours a day. Business processes, from check in to loading and boarding, are complex and time-critical.
A key contributor to the five-year strategic re-invention program that will make Gatwick more efficient and competitive is Vodafone’s deployment of 5G and fiber. Tracking assets such as trucks, trolleys, luggage and airline catering as well as passengers will help the airport optimize logistics, improve the customer experience and reduce operational costs.
There are B2C and B2B opportunities in this rollout of full 5G, too. For example, high-capacity, low-latency wireless will let airports like Gatwick offer high-volume streaming, VR and gaming to passengers with time to kill. And the many small businesses and franchises that occupy the site, offering everything from catering to retail electronics, are likely to welcome — and pay for — the opportunities offered by 5G communications. 5G is a critical component in this initiative, bringing a convergent network capability that can adjust for a broad range of fixed and mobile applications, and scale to meet constant fluctuations and variations in demand.
Big transformative projects of the kind that we see at Gatwick will offer telcos huge opportunities to leverage their investment in 5G. The clear and immediate opportunity will be massive connectivity of devices, franchise businesses and subscribers in transit, driving substantial revenue from a high density of users and traffic. 5G will be critical here, particularly in its ability to slice and control the available network according to the demands of different use cases and applications. Adjusting capacity and latency characteristics to meet the demands of VR gaming, real-time trolley tracking or general consumer access are just some of these examples.
However, it’s clear that in such environments, connectivity will not be a static thing; it will be a sophisticated proposition that will leverage 5G’s flexible capabilities. The BSS that sits behind it will have to be similarly adaptable, measuring not just bits and bytes, but chargeable elements such as delivered QoS measured against agreed SLAs.
Connectivity is just the start. As part of these major transformations, telcos can exploit the critical role played by 5G to rise much further up the value chain and offer services ranging from asset management to analytics and application management. We’re likely to see many operators pushing into adjacent services such as site security, smart ticketing and customer/passenger logistics. Others will invest more deeply in their enterprise relationships to develop close partnership models and vertical-specific propositions that have the potential to deliver rich and sustainable revenues.
None of this will be easy, but 5G creates an opportunity for telcos to move out of their comfort zone and become more closely aligned and collaborative with enterprises that are changing the way we live and work. Investment in new kinds of expertise will almost certainly be needed, as will a willingness to adapt telco business and operating models, not least to deploy systems and processes that will do more than measure SIMs and traffic.
Gatwick is a customer and an environment that offers telecoms a rich diversity of monetization opportunities that will justify the 5G rollout. It’s not hard to see similar opportunities emerging elsewhere. Major railway stations and ports, universities, hospitals, high-density business areas, city centers, sports stadiums and more are similarly driven to find operating efficiencies while offering a better — and highly monetizable — experience to millions of consumers.
5G has the potential to transform today’s commercial and industrial arenas into fertile environments for digital commerce. It also has the potential to open new roles and revenue opportunities for forward-looking telcos. This time, can they step up and seize the glittering prizes on offer?