I throw some analysis at the next generation of wireless regularly to counteract the white noise surrounding 5G, its technological progress, who just turned on 5G, where, and where everybody is in the standings, and such, gets pretty boring after a while. It was just like that fabled, “race to 5G,” which really had no substance, just a lot of noise. And once the deployments started, the race was quickly forgotten.
My position on 5G is that it is not 5G that will succeed, it is what 5G can enable that will cause 5G to succeed. And, without a doubt, that success will come with verticals.
The number of verticals is limitless. Some will take off running, others crawling. Some may take years to gain momentum. One that is being eyed from a variety of angles is retail – and how the traditional wireless retailers will capitalize on it.
There is a lot we do not yet know about 5G. While we have a good grasp on its concept. Implementing it is another issue. Not all issues are technological (legal and financing, for example), so businesses, including wireless retailers, have a learning curve coming down the road, beyond technology.
For this vertical segment, the transition to 5G can be lengthy and require a fair amount of due diligence in advance of committing to move into the 5G space. Knowledge is power and they must stay on the fast track as to how it will augment their business.
For wireless retailers, the most important single metric is the consumer experience. A bad customer experience will leave them with empty cash registers, regardless of how “technologically” advanced or competent, retail-wise the company is. That is particularly applicable to wireless retailers.
So, what elements contribute to the consumer experience? First of all, wireless retailers must be able to explain the benefits of 5G to customers. Just saying it is faster and better will not fly. There is already a fair amount of “ho-hum” about 5G by consumers. 5G is not a selling point.
What will sell is improvements in what users find important. For some that is being able to download a 4K movie in seconds. For others, it will be using apps capable of real-time traffic conditions and route management. Still, for others, it will be gaming – the list goes on.
The bottom line is, can the wireless retailer sell the user an improved wireless experience? To accomplish that, the wireless retailer must, themselves, understand 5G, well.
Since 5G is a rollout that will take years, overselling it at the beginning is a recipe for disaster. Woe to the retailer who promises the full breadth of 5G before the infrastructure is in place. The smart retailer will learn what segments of 5G are deploying, and where, and put the customer in a place where they are not expecting it all at the beginning, yet can avail themselves of the platform as it evolves.
That means cautiously selling first-generation handsets. The customer must be advised that 5G is spotty and will be for a while.
Next, the customer must understand that the promises of 5G (enhanced mobile broadband – eMBB) will ebb and tide for some time to come (for example, movie downloads may vary depending upon 5G availability) and download speeds can vary significantly. The same for some real-time apps. While 5G promises wide bandwidths and low latency, early deployment work better for some apps (fixed broadband) than others (gaming).
5G promises a lot. One concern I have heard is that early 5G experiences may be disappointing. Because of the limited deployments if these networks are hit by lots of users, these early, and somewhat fragile, networks can experience loading issues. If that occurs, the results will be similar to current networks when they become overloaded. While 5G promises more bandwidth, it is still possible to storm the network.
Other retail vectors have different issues, such as focused marketing in malls by storefront kiosks and displays (obtaining customer data in real-time to target a specific user as they walk by a storefront, for example). 5G promises the bandwidth to be able to, effectively, accomplish that. Such retailers, too, face the issue of understanding 5G, lest they believe that 5G will deliver all kinds of new capabilities from the onset, and find out that it will take time for the networks to evolve.
Early 5G systems will not be much more than beta-test systems, regardless of what is promised. That is not to say they will not deliver on some of what is promised. However, they will be far from the “unlimited” bandwidth and 1 ms latency numbers much-touted by 5G hypsters. 5G – for all of its potential improvements and promises – is still largely theoretical. We do not have reliable data on how it will act once large-scale deployment starts.
As well, large scale deployments are an issue unto themselves. Speculation and hype are still rampant in the evolution of 5G. It will be years before any semblance of a reliable, pervasive network is available – even longer until all the players are on the same page. And, that does not consider the non-technical elements such as politics, policies, esthetics and resistance to the physical elements (towers, street furniture).
With all of the potential pitfalls and all of its capillaries, the retail vertical must look carefully before it leaps. Understanding 5G is paramount. Some may only get one chance to get it right. For the immediate future, failure to work in the real 5G world will, certainly, spell disaster.