A strategic and immodest proposal

The industry should do much more to establish conversations with the verticals upon whom they are pinning their future business models.

Ericsson held an event in London this week called 5GNow.

Parts of it were an admirable attempt to demonstrate some actual use cases of 5G. The idea is that by experiencing example applications that can specifically be enabled by 5G, businesses might start to build business cases around new services .

Ericsson’s Arun Bansal said that the hardest work to be done on 5G is to define business models. That requires discussions with industry partners, he said, to understand and define requirements. It also involves regulatory discussions to define what is allowable under net neutrality laws.

If the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the “Digitalisation Transformation of Society” and so on are as crucial to our future well-being as we state, then let’s start acting like it.

Ericsson’s view is that, in Western Europe, 5G can lead to an overall 36% revenue uplift for industry across a range of sectors – utilities, healthcare, manufacturing, media, transport and others – that will benefit from being able to offer customers new products and services.

But this can’t happen without increased engagement between the telco industry and the verticals (businesses and enterprises that might use 5G’s capabilities) themselves.

Tech, lovely tech

More lovely tech

This is laudable stuff. What was notable at the event, and even in the demo room accompanying the speeches, was how quickly “we” on the telco side of the 5G paradigm tend to slide into telco and network-centric terminology. For example, Bansal name-checked network slicing, cloud core, next gen OSS/BSS and other technical concepts. This isn’t to pick on Ericsson – who in fact should be praised for moving the conversation on. It’s just a reflection of how we as an industry slip into this sort of talk and assume it is understood.

In the demo room  we learnt about 5G NR supporting immersive gaming with talk about the “UE”. A display on Digital Business Solutions proposed “Federated Slice Orchestration” and “Federated Slice User Experience”.  A useful healthcare applications demo talked of cloud robotics and internet of skills – showcasing MEC

“Bring us structured conversations with industry verticals and bring them now”

It’s all a good start but I would contend that we have to do much better in terms of saying what 5G will do, and much less back-patting about how it does it. Let’s save all that for dull tech-obsessed websites such as this one, and intra-telco industry-vendor discussions. But most importantly we must be more adept at understanding who we are talking to.

And so. Recently I noticed that the GSMA is currently advertising  a strategy manager role. Well, inspired by the thought that mobile operators really could do with more of a helping hand to initiate the “Vertical Conversation”, I’ve decided to apply. 

The reason? I think mobile operators need to be putting more of their membership fees and the media, conference and exhibition sponsorship income generated by all the industry associations to this purpose: “Bring us structured conversations with industry verticals and bring them now”.  Given its scale and reach as the voice of the operator, the GSMA seems as good a place as any from which to hypothetically mobilise.

And if operators don’t lead this, then the vendors will. And the vendors, well… let’s just say here is the most recent draft of my application to become the GSMA’s new strategy manager.

“Hi the GSMA, thanks for the opportunity to apply for this post. In the unlikley event that, having read it, you would not wish to engage my services, please also forward it to the TMF, CTIA et al. 

“As your new strategy manager, I would work my hind off to define and deliver a strategy that aligns our comms, lobbying and technical efforts with the business needs of the  industry verticals that (we have said) will determine our members’ future profitability.

We will act as an industrythat genuinely believes it has the capability to transform the businesses of its customers and partners

“We will deliver opportunities for MNO members to have proper discussions with other industries about what each vertical requires from the network, and establish the business and technical frameworks to enable those needs.

“If those verticals don’t know what the 5G network can indeed provide and enable – then we will tell them. But mostly we will listen. Our existing lobbying efforts – all laudable in themselves – on regulatory certainty, the need for market consolidation, spectrum harmonisation and all the other safe old talking points will be boilerplate on a web page and/or handed back to our individual members. Instead we will act as leaders of an industry that genuinely believes it has the capability to transform the businesses of its customers and partners.  Where regulatory change is required, where it stands in the way of customer-led transformation, then our frustrated customers will be our best lobbyists.

“We will pack every speaker panel, webinar, conference session with “vertical” industry business development, marketing, technical leads and logistics managers and indeed their customers. We will ask them to tell us what they don’t know, what they need to know. We will end each session in clear language outlining exactly what the increased business opportunity is for both sides – the individual company and the operator – in a given 5G engagement. 

“We will ban any technical back-slapping on network slicing, virtual core networks, NFVi MANO, NSA 5GNR, IoT interoperability, from these sessions. Save that chat for the technology architects to map out. 

“Most importantly we will no longer rely on the vendors to do our work for us. We will say to our members, beware embedding yourselves within the strategies of your vendor partners – they have their interests at heart and you can no longer assume that their interests and yours align. One of the key aspects of 5G is that your interests and theirs will diverge much more widely than in 3G and 4G, where they were a lockstep. What is good for you is no longer necessarily good for them, and vice versa.

“For example, you (the operators) have made it pretty clear you hope 5G will break the vendor stranglehold over network provision, licensing and pricing. Don’t be surprised, then, if in turn you see your vendor partners directly reach out to prized “verticals” with private network solutions utilising unlicensed and shared spectrum, cloud edge platforms and cloud-based analytics platforms that box you in as (yes) the pipe.

“If the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the “Digital Transformation of Society” and so on are as crucial to our future well-being as we state, then let’s start acting like it. Let’s extend our existing conversations, build new ones and turn our faces out to the world.”