5G is Here: Now Service Providers Must Figure Out How to Recoup Their Investments


After spending billions of dollars deploying 5G infrastructure the past few years, wireless carriers are finally taking the technology mainstream.

Consumer adoption of 5G devices has already hit 660 million subscribers, faster than any of the previous “Gs,” and it’s predicted to make up nearly half of all mobile subscriptions by 2027. In the meantime, major carriers are using 5G to test immersive entertainment services in American football and soccer stadiums, enable mission critical communications among robots in Europe, and combat climate change.

Yet, despite this momentum, the carriers still lack one thing: clear and solid monetization models.

As with any innovation, 5G is a wireless revolution waiting for some savvy service provider to unleash a killer use case that may disrupt the entire telecom industry. But this disruption will never happen by focusing only on connectivity offers for cellular subscribers. Rather, it will depend on tapping into a variety of technologies and partnerships to deliver innovative 5G-enabled products and services for businesses and consumers.

5G alone is not enough

The financial incentive  is huge. ABI Research says the 5G revenue opportunity for CSPs will reach $11.6 billion as soon as 2026 and TM Forum says half of this revenue will involve business customers.

All of this suggests real 5G monetization must be multifaceted with complementary technologies to succeed. Edge computing, for example, will move functionality away from traditional data centers and closer to 5G-powered Internet of Things (IoT) gear in smart factories, offices, retail outlets, and homes while virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies will provide rich and meaningful experiences for workers and consumers alike. Artificial intelligence (AI) — combined with big data – will support real-time analysis and automation, providing actionable insights whenever and wherever needed.

This is the future, and CSPs that think about the big technological picture will be the most successful.

 Approaching 5G with an industry lens

Consider the possibilities of riding such partnerships and taking a holistic technological approach around 5G wireless into retail. While most consumers have become experts at online shopping during the pandemic, 5G wireless could also have a dramatic impact upon in-person shopping.

Retailers are already taking a technological approach with smart shelves and smart fitting rooms,  to ensure that when consumers buy something online it will be ready for pickup when they arrive at stores., Major retailers including North Face, Sephora, and Lowes are testing smart robots in stores to help consumers find products, check inventory, and assist with product delivery. All of these emerging capabilities become even more of a reality with fast 5G wireless services.

Service providers also have an opportunity to monetize their offerings in manufacturing. A Splunk survey found that 23 percent of manufacturers are already using 5G wireless in some way and 63 percent plan to in the near future. By monitoring production machine performance with large volumes of real-time data to analyze operations, manufacturers can anticipate problems and determine where to make improvements. For example, Verizon is partnering with Deloitte to deliver smart factory solutions, based on product quality detection and plant productivity optimization, that will tap into 5G, mobile edge computing (MEC), computer vision and AI.

Healthcare is another major opportunity for service providers to expand and monetize. The greater speed, reliability and responsiveness of 5G, for example, could usher in an era of improved patient monitoring services. Patients who do not live near hospitals but suffer from chronic conditions can be monitored and remotely advised with speedy 5G-enabled wearable devices and robust applications. Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente has a remote patient monitoring program like this for diabetes and hypertension.Along these lines, AT&T is collaborating with VITAS Healthcare to study the effects of 5G-enabled AR and VR on patient engagement. The idea is to reduce pain and anxiety for terminally ill patients in hospice with “calming, distracting content” delivered to AR and VR devices.

Experiment to win

For service providers, the opportunity to deliver 5G products and services is truly unlimited, but CSPs cannot rely solely on others to figure out which use cases will succeed in their market. Efficient monetization will require continuous experimentation, balancing  5G-enabled consumer services with deep industry-specific solutions that use 5G to its full potential.

The fast and dynamic positioning of CSP hyper-scaler partners in 5G, including AWS, tell us that CSPs have no time to lose. But, the potential is there for the taking as long as CSPs remain agile and deliver a combination of technologies through key partnerships, while simultaneously addressing the evolving needs of business and consumer subscribers alike.

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