Here’s what businesses actually, truly want from CSPs when it comes to 5G

two women in a warehouse with a tablet
Photo Credit: iStock / Tempura

The same pandemic that has many businesses pausing their 5G deployments may end up proving to them just how much they need the technology to survive and thrive post-COVID-19. 

So when companies do resume their 5G investments, how can CSPs position themselves to compete for their business in an increasingly crowded provider market? A recent research report from Nokia may shed some light.  

As a backdrop to the outlook for enterprise 5G, let’s first take a quick peek at the forecast for IT spending overall. (Hint: it ain’t great.)

Overall IT spending

Coronavirus is casting a dark shadow on global technology investment. Gartner Research expects worldwide IT spending to fall by eight percent in 2020, as companies shelve forward-looking tech initiatives to focus on just keeping the lights on during unprecedented, uncertain times.

“CIOs have moved into emergency cost optimization, which means that investments will be minimized and prioritized on operations that keep the business running,” Gartner VP John-David Lovelock stated in the firm’s analyst note.

According to ABI Research, however, something surprising has happened. The pandemic is actually demonstrating the power and potential of one specific technology to the enterprise market: 5G.

“The spread of COVID-19 has indeed been a global challenge, but it has also been a platform for illustrating that 5G has been designed to be much more than just a consumer-focused mobile broadband network,” ABI research director Dimitris Mavrakis stated in a June 10 analyst forecast.

Mavrakis said COVID-19 is unwittingly showcasing 5G’s potency well beyond jitter-free Zoom meetings and work-from-home (WFH) virtual collaboration apps.

“The use of 5G during the pandemic has illustrated that the new technology can provide tangible benefits to many enterprise verticals, the most important of which are healthcare and public safety services,” he continued. “The early use cases will prove to several enterprise verticals that 5G can rapidly provide connectivity to new areas and enable use cases that were previously not possible.”

ABI expects deployment of 5G enterprise applications to accelerate in late 2020, starting with Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), which Mavrakis said “will provide a foundation for network slicing, reliable networking, and much more.”

Okay, so businesses – newly convinced of 5G’s importance to their operations in an increasingly virtual global economy – will soon turn back to their 5G playbooks once again. What can CSPs do to be star players in the enterprise 5G field? 

Biggest 5G opportunities

an infographic for Nokia's survey on enterprises and 5G
Businesses reveal their plans and expectations for 5G

Nokia surveyed 1,100 IT decision-makers in seven industries in the U.S. and U.K. on 5G use cases. Although the survey was done in January 2020, the researchers incorporated the current and projected impact of COVID-19 into their analysis. Nokia asked large enterprises and SMBs how they plan to use 5G, and here’s what they said:

  • 35 percent already use 5G and almost half (47 percent) are now making plans to deploy it
  • SMBs see fixed wireless access (FWA) as the most appealing 5G use case
  • Larger businesses view video surveillance and video detection as their most likely near-term entry point to 5G
  • Energy and manufacturing are the sectors most interested in 5G, with advanced use cases being explored for cloud robotics, remote machine control and drone-based video surveillance

How COVID-19 impacts 5G deployment

Coronavirus is having an enormous impact on every industry around the world. That, in turn, is shaping how various sectors deploy 5G technology. Nokia’s survey data, interview insights and COVID-19 impact analysis suggest that:

  • Physical distancing and travel restrictions are hastening many manufacturers’ 5G plans for remote control, remote surveillance and robotic automation
  • 5G video, AI and analytics could strongly appeal to manufacturing and energy verticals for use cases such as cloud-based robotics, remotely detecting product defects, inspecting production sites, and automating connected equipment for remote monitoring and management
  • COVID-19 measures will boost interest in AR/VR use cases for retail (i.e., virtual clothes or furniture shopping), education (i.e., immersive online learning experiences) and any industries deploying remote training, supervision, maintenance and installation support applications

CSPs’ biggest 5G competitors

a person using a mobile phone

According to Nokia’s report, “CSPs are likely to face many competitors for the provision of 5G services, depending on the size of the business, the use case being targeted, and the industry.” Three of the top competitors in the enterprise 5G market are:

  • Systems integrators: Nokia’s survey reveals CSPs will face strong 5G competition from systems integrators, especially among medium and large-sized businesses. Why? Systems integrators have forged deep links with players of those sizes, cultivating expertise and trust within those market segments.
  • ISPs: 45 percent of all businesses polled indicated their current Internet service provider would be their preferred provider of 5G FWA
  • Tech giants: while 67 percent of all surveyed businesses said their mobile provider is also their preferred 5G FWA provider, 40 percent said they would be willing to get FWA from a tech giant like Google or Amazon

What CSPs must do

As 5G makes its way back into IT budgets, how can CSPs strategically position themselves with business customers of various sizes and sectors? Survey results suggest CSPs should:

  • Educate customers: 30 percent of surveyed businesses said they need more information about what 5G can do for their organization before starting to plan for it; in addition, one-third of SMBs still aren’t convinced 5G speeds can rival wired broadband
  • Educate themselves: since systems integrators have already forged strong ties and expertise within vertical industries, they are CSPs’ strongest 5G competitors; CSPs must thus cultivate their own partnerships and knowledge within those sectors to become trusted 5G partners/advisors to enterprise users
  • Show, don’t tell: companies said they get most excited about 5G when they see specific contexts for its use, so CSPs should provide case studies, demos and concrete examples whenever possible
  • Partner with app developers: while third party software vendors can provide immersive AR/VR apps, CSPs can team up with developers to offer a complete solution that includes apps, service, support and connectivity
  • Compete on CX: nearly half of the surveyed businesses said 24/7 technical support and outstanding customer service would make them more likely to partner with a CSP for 5G

In just a few short months, businesses around the world have had to adapt in ways they never imagined. By understanding how drastically their needs have evolved, and demonstrating the use cases that can meet those needs best, CSPs can become trusted partners to help those businesses leverage the power of 5G.

Find out more about “Mapping demand: the enterprise 5G opportunity

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