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The channel opportunity around 5G

This was always meant to be the year that 5G arrived and changed the world. We look at what that means for those trying to sell and support the technology

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: The 5G opportunity

Who knew that increasing the number in front of “G” from “4” to “5” would generate such excitement? According to some pundits, 5G “will supercharge business”. Can anyone remember if the move from 3G to 4G merited such attention?  

Well, back in May 2012, in an article headlined 4G internet: Will it revolutionise the internet?, HuffPost reported: “The introduction of 4G internet could result in the safeguarding of thousands of jobs, £5.5bn investment in the UK and could save workers 37 million hours a year, according to group 4G Britain.” 

Here we are in 2021 and only a few weeks ago, O2, Three and Vodafone were announcing plans to build and share 222 new mobile masts to boost rural coverage across the country as part of the government’s plans to provide “high-quality” 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. You will note that the plans are for 4G, not 5G. 

So why are we talking about 5G when the UK is still struggling to provide full 4G coverage? The obvious answer is that nothing stands still and even as 4G nears the end of its roll-out, it makes sense for 5G to be coming in behind it. After all, by 2025 it will have taken 13 years for 4G to reach 95% coverage. No one wants to wait another 13 years for 5G. 

But what benefits will it bring? Analysis published this year by PwC in its Powering your tomorrow report predicts productivity and efficiency gains from the roll-out of 5G technology will add £43bn to UK GDP by 2030. 

Wilson Chow, global leader, technology, media and telecoms, and partner at PwC, argues that 5G puts a new lens on advancing productivity and rethinking entire business models for the future.

“Given the scale of potential and its impacts, every organisation will need a plan for 5G’s implementation within five years across technology and business strategies to maximise opportunities and prepare for how they integrate their technology and business strategies, and engage with customers, supply chains and regulators,” he says. 

But those PwC figures are for the beginning of a new decade that is still nine years away. What does 5G mean for channel partners today? 

5G here and now

David Friend, CEO at Wasabi, offers an interesting perspective. “From a high-level viewpoint, 5G will create somewhere between 10 and 100 times the bandwidth of 4G. I don’t think it’s clear yet exactly how that extra bandwidth will be used – it’s still a solution looking for a problem,” he says.  

James Gray, managing director at Graystone Strategy, echoes that view. “Initially, the 5G opportunity is probably quite limited, the use cases are largely more of what you can do now, but faster, and the relative cost of the handsets means enterprises are unlikely to widely adopt 5G throughout their fleet,” he says. 

Is it just a question of faster is better? It could be. “Beyond emphasising its higher speeds, how you sell 5G differs very little from other mobile protocols,” argues Andy Horn, CEO at IntraLAN. “The technical numbers might get larger but the actual use cases remain the same as 4G – enabling employees to work more flexibly by increasing mobility, reducing network contention – a pain point most of us have experienced in recent months – and its application as a secondary connection should someone’s broadband fail.” 

“The biggest deterrent for the adoption of 5G is not solely the cost, but often a lack of a clear path to return on investment”

Sam Barker, Juniper Research

He suggests that partners “treat 5G as a conversation starter – the chance to ask your customers what their long-term plans are in this brave new world and a primer on how they intend to connect remote employees safely and securely to corporate systems and data”.  

Sam Barker, lead analyst at Juniper Research, believes there will only be demand from a limited number of companies – those that can afford the premium pricing of 5G.

In the early stages of 5G, he says, established internet of things (IoT) service providers will continue integrating 5G connectivity into their existing IoT solutions. “5G will work with a variety of other IP-based technologies to provide a service that provides more value than the sum of its parts,” adds Barker.

But he warns that “the biggest deterrent for the adoption of 5G is not solely the cost, but often a lack of a clear path to return on investment”. Larger companies will benefit from economies of scale in the deployment of 5G connections so they are likely to benefit from a faster route to a return on investment.  

Markus Nispel, vice-president of international markets at Extreme Networks, claims the majority of 5G deployments are focused on improving the experience for individuals and home workers with smartphones and other mobile devices.

“As a consequence, many businesses, particularly those in offices and larger buildings, will not see an immediate benefit from 5G inside their premises, given the technology struggles to permeate walls and other building structures,” he says. “Most companies that want to supercharge their connectivity for devices indoors and within their company premises should therefore invest in Wi-Fi 6 first.” 

Nispel argues that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 “go hand in hand and perfectly complement each other”, adding that “5G is not a silver bullet that will radically transform business connectivity for every single company out there”. 

Business opportunities

Chris Dando, chief technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), disagrees with Nispel’s assertion that 5G deployments are focused on the individual. To him, the big difference between 5G and its antecedents is that they were focused on the individual but “5G is much more focused on business-orientated services”.

“5G will enable businesses to offer new services where cost, complexity and geographic reach have prevented them in the past”

Chris Dando, HPE

He argues that many more business services will be enabled over cellular networks, much like the way business communications historically occurred over fixed-line wide area networks. “Businesses will be able to offer new services where cost, complexity and geographic reach have prevented them in the past,” adds Dando. 

From a channel perspective, he says partners will “have the opportunity to simplify the adoption of 5G within a corporate environment”. They will be able to bring insight from adjacent and different industries to their clients and highlight where a practice, process or architecture from one industry can be applied to another. This will help “improve quality whilst reducing risk and cost”. 

Darryl Brick, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) vice-president for partner sales at Cradlepoint, suggests that the effects of Covid have demonstrated the value of 5G. “The global pandemic has underlined the imperatives of agility, flexibility and mobility in organisations across the world,” he says. “And 5G is the answer.” 

Describing the technology as “a necessity for innovation now, rather than a luxury”, he points to organisations across industries such as financial services, education, construction and retail that are seeking the potential of wireless WAN to drive efficiency, return on investment and revenue, claiming “5G infrastructure will facilitate that”. 

“The global pandemic has underlined the imperatives of agility, flexibility and mobility in organisations across the world – and 5G is the answer”

Darryl Brick, Cradlepoint

Brick highlights IDC predictions that the 5G and LTE router/gateway market will reach $3bn by 2024. “Given the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on the global economy, businesses are increasingly looking for sustainable ways to bounce back,” he says. “By offering 5G solutions as part of their packages, channel partners will be able to make that return possible for customers,” he adds. “Partners will play a crucial role in facilitating the benefits of 5G for businesses.” 

Rob Tomlin, vice-president for UK channel at Dell Technologies, is very bullish about 5G, stating that it promises to set a fire under channel sales across IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing.

“The opportunity it presents is enormous,” he says, adding that channel partners “may want to impress upon their customers that emerging technologies like 5G will be crucial components for businesses to succeed in a data-rich, data-led digital economy”.

Understanding 5G’s potential

According to Kathy Quashie, head of indirect business at Vodafone, 5G has the potential to deliver widespread change across UK industries. She says partners have a “fundamental role to play in helping more businesses understand 5G” and showing them how they can use it to drive efficiencies and improve customer service. 

5G is already offering faster upload and download speeds and lower latency than 4G. It is also supporting the adoption of technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics, connected cities and self-driving cars. She highlights the healthcare, automotive, financial services, entertainment and media industries as the likeliest beneficiaries. 

A report commissioned by Vodafone suggests that upgrading the UK’s mobile infrastructure to 5G could be worth as much as £158bn to the economy over the next 10 years, providing a much-needed financial boost to the country as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Citing the “soaring expectations” around 5G’s fast connectivity, Quashie says partners can help customers on the 5G journey, “perhaps starting small to show the reality, and then using market-leading early deployments to show the potential for their sector”. She adds that 5G “presents a tremendous opportunity for partners to re-engage existing customers and break into new areas, helping them to capitalise on the potential of the new technology this year and beyond”. 

Florian Malecki, international product marketing senior director at StorageCraft, says the support of managed service providers (MSPs) will be “indispensable” in assisting businesses to fully understand the benefits 5G can bring and advising them on the infrastructure needed to successfully implement the technology. He believes this presents “a huge revenue opportunity for partners when it comes to supporting customers through this transition”. 

Nick Offin, head of sales, marketing and operations at Dynabook Northern Europe, says the channel “will play an integral role in helping customers to identify and realise the potential 5G can bring to their business”. As the technology becomes more widespread, “customers will look to the channel to provide advice and consultancy around which solutions to adopt, as well as to support them with services such as upgrading network infrastructure”. 

Benefits for large and small

While 5G can benefit large and small organisations, the answer to who it will help most is dependent on who you ask. Dell’s Tomlin believes “large enterprises will dominate the technical and deployable landscape of 5G for the immediate future”, claiming “those industries with the power to build their own 5G network in a private, industrialised setting like manufacturing, will benefit first”. But opportunities will grow for small and medium-sized businesses as the technology becomes more widespread. 

HPE’s Dando has a different perspective, arguing that because small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are less reliant on existing technologies and services, they have the potential to move much more quickly when exploring the opportunities provided by 5G. 

“The primary 5G benefits for SMEs will be new marketing opportunities and a greater opportunity to approach customers, largely around offering faster, more reliable and low-latency communications”

Jonatan Mattson, Kearney

He notes that some organisations are already “moving their business model to satisfy the potential of connected devices rather than focusing on connected people”. He uses the examples of software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) being used to enable smaller sites to move away from multiprotocol label switching (MPLS)-based fixed-line services to an internet business broadband-based service. In the same way, we could see smaller organisations move towards cellular only, he says. 5G could also be utilised as a backup/secondary connectivity method for many environments where a second fixed line is installed for resilience.  

Jonatan Mattson, Europe lead at Kearney’s communications, media and technology practice, believes 5G will work for both SMEs and large corporates. The primary benefits for SMEs, he says, “will be new marketing opportunities and a greater opportunity to approach customers, largely around offering faster, more reliable and low-latency communications”. For corporates, it’s more likely to be based on “private or campus 5G networks within large businesses and in industries like manufacturing, 5G will open access to more data and next-level communication between machines”. 

Cradlepoint’s Brick agrees that 5G is applicable to all businesses from the smallest to the largest. “A small delivery service company with a fleet of five vehicles requires these services as much as global logistics businesses with thousands of vehicles. A fast-food takeaway outlet at a market needs these services as much as large enterprises with multiple outlets around the world,” he says. 

“It’s a technology that can and should be a catalyst for growth for small, medium or large businesses. We’re only scratching the surface on 5G”

Kevin Hasley, RootMetrics

The benefits of 5G “transcend company size”, according to RootMetrics CEO Kevin Hasley. “It’s a technology that can and should be a catalyst for growth for small, medium or large businesses,” he says.

“We’re only scratching the surface on 5G. It’s likely, in fact, that 5G will inspire new use cases and applications that we haven’t even yet imagined. In that way, 5G can be thought of as an entrepreneurial technology, one that all businesses should look forward to and pay close attention to as roll-outs continue,” adds Hasley.


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