The advent of next-gen mobile connectivity presents opportunities that businesses should already be investigating, according to experts in the field. Here’s their guide to getting started
If the pandemic has served to prove anything in business, it’s that digitisation and connectivity are the here and now. The Covid crisis has accelerated digital adoption by seven years, according to a global survey of executives by McKinsey.
The most obvious next step in that process is the installation of the UK’s fifth-generation mobile phone network, 5G. Despite the government’s decision to veto the use of Huawei equipment, which has delayed the national roll-out, now is still the right time for businesses to prepare for it, according to many experts. But where to start?
The roll-out schedule
In mid-2019, the UK became one of the first nations to start rolling out a public 5G network, focusing initially on towns and cities. About 10% of the country’s total area has been covered so far. The government has set a target of removing all Huawei technology by the end of 2027.
Robert Franks is managing director of West Midlands 5G, which is part of the government’s test programme. He believes that, while the Huawei decision has been a setback, public 5G network coverage could reach critical mass in as little as two years’ time, although the roll-out may take far longer in rural areas.
Franks notes that 5G will be made available in a series of releases, each offering different capabilities. “Although some advanced features can be accessed today, depending on the type of benefits required, a company may prefer to wait until those further releases,” he says.
Who should oversee a firm’s 5G adoption
Any business transformation needs someone to lead it. While the CIO would normally take charge of a tech-based project, it’s important to think beyond those in charge of IT infrastructure, because adopting 5G will enable a business to develop new goods and services. So says Frederic Huet, partner at telecoms consultancy Altman Solon.
“The connectivity that 5G provides is clearly linked to product development, as well as the supply chain. Therefore, avoid silos and embrace collaboration across departments,” he advises.
Huet stresses how important it is not to think of 5G in isolation. Many opportunities lie in its combination with technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics and the internet of things.
Creating a 5G strategy
It’s vital to understand 5G’s capabilities and possible use cases before developing a detailed business strategy based on these, says Ian Bouquet-Taylor, operations director at AE Aerospace, who urges firms to “really blooming think before you start”.
His company is working with West Midlands 5G, Ericsson and BT to implement three 5G use cases aimed at increasing operational efficiency, creating new revenue streams and improving both cash flow and working capital. These projects are part of a plan to double AE Aerospace’s turnover in the next three years.
The firm had a series of conversations over two months about what 5G could enable it to do that Wi-Fi couldn’t, Bouquet-Taylor recalls.
“This is important, because we are building a private 5G network and investing in sensors, servers and other technologies, all of which is expensive for an SME,” he says. “We therefore need to know what the return on investment will be.”
Once it has a clear plan in place, a company would be well advised to use one of the government-backed 5G testbeds, says Franks. “This will provide a practical understanding of what the technology can do, and what’s involved in implementing and running it, before you have to commit large amounts of money.”
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