By Honoré LaBourdette, vice president, Telco, Media & Entertainment, Red Hat
Looking back at 5G roadmaps over the last few years, the vertical market opportunities were identified as a key driver for communications service providers (CSPs) looking to market and monetise the technology. We are now seeing growing awareness and demand from enterprises for solutions that combine 5G’s low latency and rapid data speeds with advances in cloud networks, IoT sensors and smart city infrastructures. They recognise that the ability to analyse data closer to where it is generated means that actions can be taken in a more timely, responsive way, helping streamline operations, support new use cases and minimise time spent in the field gathering information.
Improving business decision-making in this way means companies can drive revenues, save costs and reduce waste. This has the potential to transform organizations and industries as well as societies and the lives of individuals.
If the enterprise business challenge is how to make better decisions in a timely manner, the telco service provider’s business challenge is connecting data sources, enterprises and their customers wherever they are, in the format needed, at the right price point, with high reliability, and with as much added value as possible. Here are some top areas for consideration for CSPs to make enterprise 5G a success.
Use cases require specialised solutions
Some of the early industries looking to capitalise on the ability to accelerate on-site decision making are heavy industry, agriculture and smart cities. Large multinationals are looking to capture this opportunity, trials and live deployments are in progress around the world. Use cases include automating the process of watering and harvesting crops based on the conditions of the soil and other real-time data, and the process of regulating the feeding of farm animals, using 5G connectivity and smart infrastructure. In the case of mining exploration, CSPs are helping businesses identify drill sites remotely, without having to send teams into the field. Meanwhile, building design in a post-Covid-19 world may incorporate virus early warning systems triggered by sensors in air conditioning systems that rely on private 5G networks.
Each use case will have specific requirements and an organisation needs to be able to rely on tech vendors to understand its business and industry. No one provider will be able to supply all the right knowledge or all the parts of the solution; all need to work together to form ecosystems that connect across industry boundaries so they deliver personalised and complete packages to fit each vertical and use case.
Ecosystem is everything
Through partnerships with OEMs, cloud providers, systems integrators, and software providers, CSPs can be a central part of the value chain. Whether the enterprise approaches the telco company or another supplier in the ecosystem to procure the solution, a managed services architecture provides the framework to help CSPs deliver integrated 5G networks. Some enterprises may choose to build their own networks, but many will want to be relieved of the burden of running infrastructure so they can focus on their core business. It’s up to the various partners to collaborate closely and ensure customers can consume ecosystem offers easily.
Be open to diverse routes to market
There is a world of possible business models. At the basic level CSPs can leverage their vast radio access networks that are already handling voice and data traffic to offer connectivity for private enterprise networks, and are working to deliver a 5G (and 4G) proposition that is reliable and competitively priced. They should maintain a focus on building in the flexibility to keep adding more value.
Cloud business models that have been championed by hyperscalers are likely to become more prevalent as enterprises seek to reduce investment risk and gain agility. For the CSP this means deciding how they might partner with hyperscalers, identifying how they can offer similar models, and setting up multiple channels to market.
When looking at this opportunity, CSPs need to keep in mind the most valuable asset they have is their customer database. In order to protect the customer information they own, they need to closely consider the implications on their future of decisions they make now around the technology they use to build new services and the commercial agreements they enter into.
Pay attention to cloud technologies
Clearly, cloud capabilities will be key to helping everyone in the value chain to scale and extend their reach, providing a broader and more flexible set of solutions to enterprises. Having on-demand infrastructure enables a business to move to a DevOps model where they can build, test and release applications far more quickly than they could in the past. Supporting this means CSPs need to understand and empower the application developer community. Developers won’t always be in a position to choose where their apps are going to be deployed, so the ability to deploy anywhere consistently becomes really important.
This can be achieved through partnering with cloud-native platform providers to expose capabilities that make application management easy, like Kubernetes for container orchestration, security tools for compliance and remediation, or Quarkus for speeding up deployment. Crucially, enabling developers to consume and participate in open source can help them take advantage of the latest innovations in areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Ultimately, much remains unknown about how connectivity and private 5G will evolve. What's important is for CSPs to deploy 5G and edge infrastructure that is flexible to meet changing market dynamics and to work together with the whole ecosystem to adapt to customer demands with innovative solutions and business models. And they must always consider the importance of customer data in their long-term strategies and how they control and secure this while forging partnerships.