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Covid-19 accelerates interest in 5G

EY report shows that while the pandemic has prompted greater interest in 5G and IoT for majority of organisations, most are also struggling to identify the right 5G supplier strategy

Almost three-quarters of enterprises (71%) believe the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated existing digital transformation plans, with 52% signalling greater interest in 5G and the internet of things (IoT), according to research from EY.

The Reimagining industry futures study 2021 was conducted through an online study of 1,012 global enterprises between February and March 2021, and focused on understanding perceptions around 5G. Respondents were from 11 countries: the US, the UK, France, Germany, India, Australia, China, Japan, Switzerland, UAE and Austria, and covered an array of industry markets including technology, consumer, energy and government.

EY found that overall as many as 74% of organisation respondents across a range of sectors believe 5G will represent an opportunity to reinvent their processes over the next five years, and as their firms continue to build out their digital transformation plans, 65% of respondents said that emerging technologies will play a critical role in their business’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, despite the general optimism regarding 5G and 73% of respondents indicating that their company was planning to invest in three years’ time, most firms were found to be approaching their deployments with caution, with just 17% of enterprises currently investing in 5G.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of enterprise respondents reported that they were struggling to identify the right kind of supplier to address their 5G strategy, while 74% of respondents agreed that suppliers must provide a more coherent vision of 5G to construct a robust investment case.

Priorities stated by respondents when it comes to choosing a 5G supplier included the obligation on suppliers to deliver business outcomes as partners rather than pure technology benefits (79%), and that end-to-end services are a preferred supplier attribute (30%).

When asked what their top 5G priority was, 36% stated it was around exploring 5G’s relationship to other emerging technologies, while 5G’s integration with existing technologies and processes was seen as the number one challenge, cited by 38% of business respondents.

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The report finds that only 18% of respondents see operators as digital transformation experts, a vital competence that must be improved as enterprises increasingly turn to 5G to drive transformation agendas forward. The majority of respondents see IT services and application/platform suppliers (51% and 65% respectively) as digital transformation experts.

“Organisations understand the importance of 5G, IoT and other emerging technologies; however, the capability gap among suppliers is a key concern,” said EY global telecommunications leader Tom Loozen.

“Telecommunications operators should take steps to improve their transformation expertise, recognising that businesses want suppliers to act as partners that provide end-to-end services. For this to happen, operators should explore new ecosystem positions while focusing on the opportunities for business model overhaul that 5G can enable.”

Looking geographically, the study found that 5G investments among organisations in Asia-Pacific are further ahead than the Americas and Europe, with 78% of firms currently investing or planning to invest in the next two to three years, compared with 71% of organisations in both the Americas and Europe. Just over a quarter (27%) of Asia-Pacific firms signalled significantly greater interest in 5G and IoT since the Covid-19 pandemic, compared with 13% and 15% in the Americas and Europe, respectively.

Overall, the study found European enterprises are lagging compared with the other regions in terms of recognising 5G’s potential: 70% believe that 5G will enter the heart of their business processes, compared with 80% in Asia-Pacific and 75% in the Americas.

“There is an obvious hunger and interest in 5G and IoT across all businesses,” said EY global telecommunications lead analyst Adrian Baschnonga. “It is clear that service providers should reposition themselves as collaborators to their customers, but there is no one-size-fits-all service to unlocking the benefits of 5G.”

“Service providers should take care to educate and inspire enterprises in Europe that may be in an earlier phase of adoption or less aware of the pervasive opportunities represented by 5G and IoT,” he said. “Meanwhile, organisations that are more focused on 5G’s role in pandemic recovery require a different approach, and service providers must be ready to refine their 5G propositions at pace to cater to fast-changing use case needs.”

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