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A practitioners’ guide to accelerate 5G for business in 2020

2020 is a formational year when it comes to 5G for Enterprises. Leading players across multiple industries were at the ready to engage in finalizing strategies and transitioning into strategy execution. However, the COVID-19 virus outbreak suddenly halted the options for face-to-face engagements to discuss technical, operational and business capabilities. To support you we have compiled material on nine strategic actions you can address, no matter where you’re currently working from. These actions designed for 5G professionals in marketing, sales or sales engineering seeking compelling new ways to engage with business customers.


A practitioners’ guide to 5G 

While it is easy to agree on what 5G will bring in 2025, today’s current industry environment has made it increasingly difficult to develop succinct tactics and plans for the next 6-12 months.

Now the impending task for 5G practitioners to answer is, “What can we do to advance 5G for business customers in 2020”.

In this article, we will take you through a set of questions and actions that stand out for companies with ambitions to gain first-mover advantages with 5G. Questions and actions where clarity is vital for a speedy execution once we have ridden out the storm.


Disrupt by shrinking your business lead-times

Business embraces 5G for different reasons than consumers. If we look at historical patterns, we see a consistent theme that mobile network generations shrink distances and barriers for businesses, and make connecting people in drastically different locations as easy as the touch of a button. By shrinking the business world to new levels, we can unlock values on both the cost and the revenue side.

5G has the potential to take the world faster and further than any previous network generation due to new network capabilities. An excellent conversation topic is, therefore, “How can you leverage 5G to shrink distances, lead-times and response times to unlock disruptive business improvements?”

This is a conversation you can add value to by explaining:

  • How the first four mobile generations brought the world closer.
  • The new capability sets introduced by 5G, and how it contributes to shrinking the world.
  • How your business customers’ current challenges can be matched with the capabilities of 5G to further shrink their world.

The goal for this first conversation is to establish a mutual understanding of why 5G is a great way to shrink the business world for specific problems. This understanding will ultimately provide clarity on which imperatives you can address in 2020 for implementation in 2021.


Build and leverage first-mover advantages

We’ve seen a steady stream of global-first announcements since deploying the first 5G systems in labs, ranging from major technology milestones, use-case innovations and networks and service launches. While communication service providers and technology providers in the telecommunications industry have been in the driver’s seat, the next in line to be added to the broader 5G eco-system is your best business customers.

The conversation to tee-off here is, “What is driving your strategic ambition to be either a first-mover or a follower?”  The businesses aspiring to gain first-mover advantages will be the most active in 2020, and you should expect to be asked to provide perspectives on topics such as:

  • When can I expect to have access to 5G networks for early field evaluations?
  • Who are the other key players in the eco-system for my industry and why?
  • What defines the time to market timelines I need to aim towards to secure first-mover advantages?

When it comes to first-mover and follower, clarity on strategic intent for your vital enterprise customers is an essential part of any 5G strategy. The action in 2020 will be primarily focused on first-movers and what it takes to bring their initial use-cases to market.


Gear up for an intense learning journey in multiple steps

Working with first-movers across different industries requires readiness and the interest to learn along a steep learning curve. Imagine when you started college and were excited for the prospect of earning your degree, enjoying campus life and anticipating a successful career after graduation. The same mindset is needed when looking towards adopting 5G solutions. You play an essential role in guiding your customers on this journey, both to foster their initial focus and then to ensure they remain on course.

Engaging in a conversation focused on the intensive learning journey can start with the question, “How do we best set up a path for collaborative co-creation of the use cases your business will benefit from the most?”

The nature of 5G involves learning by doing, and working closely together to discover:

  • Which business opportunities are logical to address first with 5G?
  • What is the balance between go-to-market and implementation undertakings for those use cases?
  • Which are the vital few we can start collaborating around?

By immediately establishing an environment for collaboration and co-creation in the early phases, you ultimately set the tone that this journey will be both innovative and learning-intensive – the successful recipe for unlocking the full potential of 5G for businesses.


Define the target spectrum matching your needs

The type of spectrum used for 4G-based services is a non-issue for most businesses. The mix of low and mid-band spectrum is transparent to users, and network coverage is omnipresent outdoors and at most indoor locations. This reality drives an expectation that 5G can be deployed and switched on similarly.

The three types of bands used for 5G, however, are different when it comes to coverage, characteristics, cost of deployment and time to market. These differences open up conversations around the question of “Which of the three flavors of 5G, and where, is most important for your business goals in 2021?”

The key considerations you can expect to face in these conversations are:

  • Which spectrum is best for my initial use-cases?
  • What do I need to do to secure network build is taking place in the areas where I need it first?
  • Who does the licensed spectrum options offer beyond shared and unlicensed mid-band options?
  • What deployment options could I consider in order to maximize the benefit of this spectrum type?

This conversation is both important and complex. However, clarity on the target spectrum adds focus to the early deployments for tying together network, device, and use-case strategies.


Illuminate your role in the evolved ecosystem

If you view 5G as an innovation platform rather than a connectivity network, it opens up for strategic conversations around roles in the ecosystem. The ecosystem around 5G extends outside the telecom industry, and is more of an “ecosystem of ecosystems” linking industries to the innovation platform.

A conversation starter here can be, “What is our role in the new ecosystem and is it a shift up or down from what we do today?” 

Additional follow-up questions include:

  • What are the building blocks in the 5G ecosystem for our industry?
  • Do we expect our industry to innovate at the forefront or leverage innovation efforts in adjacent sectors?
  • Who are the anchor partners we need to have a relationship with?
  • What new skills, behavior and culture changes may be necessary to become an effective partner in ecosystems?

The goal is to have an aligned view of the new ecosystem landscape, with a focus on the critical building blocks for the initial deployment phase.


Acknowledge the power of adding a use place focus

5G will eventually serve a wide variety of use-cases. The initial Ericsson study on the business potential for 5G in 2017 suggested 200+ use-cases across ten industries. The focus on use-cases remains central, but a clarifying complement on where your customers will need 5G first is valuable. These use places are easy to link to planned network deployment in zones, metropolitan areas or nationwide.

The strategic question to penetrate is, “Are the initial use cases we target limited to a particular geographical area, where we can expect early access to 5G networks?”

This question can be broken down into further discussions on:

  • What are the use places where we need networks first?
  • What is the size of those first use places?
  • What will set the agenda for network investments for a given use place, as a base to scale from?

Clarity of where to start, and if the first use places can be limited in time, size or scope, reduces execution barriers. Early deployments for 5G networks followed a pattern of labs, followed by small scale trials before heading to larger deployments. The use places of your business customers’ 5G needs can scale up similarly.


Recognize the three key wireless options

A crucial part of businesses’ digital transformation comes from the agility provided by wireless networks. Today, 4G and Wi-Fi complement each other to connect smartphones and laptops, with a large share of industrial devices supported by wired networks. The introduction of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are new tools to the toolbox, and businesses are seeking guidance on how to best leverage the available options.

The topic for the discussion here is, “Which of the available 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 options are best suited to deliver the wireless network performance your business needs?”

This can be drilled down even further to questions such as:

  • What types of devices guide your choices?
  • Which of the three options represents the minimum viable solutions?
  • What role will the existing wired and wireless networks play going forward?

A basic scenario is to upgrade 4G to 5G, and Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6, within existing network domains. However, increased performance, security and reliability requirements and wireless options for in-building networks can eliminate borders between devices and edge computing sites.


Lock down the business model variables for private networks

Cellular networks and wireless LANs services use different business models today. Business model innovation is logical when cellular network technologies for new business applications are concerned. In its purest form, it is a choice between an OpEx-based as-a-service model, or a CapEx-based private network and we ultimately see a more multi-facetted scenario from the start.

The communication here centers around, “Which is the most suitable business model for a business’ private/hybrid network needs?”

We can break this question down further to:

  • What are our preferences when it comes to spectrum ownership, network assets ownership and network operations?
  • Do we have any use-cases with strong dependencies to unlicensed, shared, or licensed spectrum?
  • How much of the network capabilities need to be dedicated, ranging from radios only to complete communication applications?
  • Is our private network tied to specific premises or requiring wide-area network coverage?

We expect these preferences to vary between industries, with new business models defined around spectrum, assets, operations and network scope. The final consideration comes from the projected split between public and private network traffic. Expect to see dual slice networks, one private and one public slice, as a common request.


Carve out the essential use cases in the first use places

The final step in this practitioner’s guide focuses on locking down the few use-cases that make your business customers move down the path towards 5G with you in 2020. When looking at the challenge, consider the opening of a famous hamburger chain in 1937.

It is important to agree with your customer on the question, “What are the three, or fewer, essential use-cases that justify the deployment at our first use place?”

Through this discussion you should be looking for use-cases that can play the role of:

  • The hamburger – a use-case that is critical to serving well in the initial roll-out? Without this staple element the pivotal business value falls.
  • The milkshake – a use-case which complements the primary use-case by making the business solution either complete, or makes the business case for breaking even.
  • The French fries – an important use-case which adds value at a low incremental cost.

The broad potential of 5G enables us to see the second wave of customer-driven use-case innovation occurring once the network is in place. When your business has access to 5G networks, their creativity will bring the equivalent to the assortment of nuggets, apple pies, salads, sundaes and beyond. These additions will serve as significant future upsides, as long as they don’t force a delay in the introduction of 5G.