Studies conducted by the likes of GSMA, Qualcomm and Ericsson on the revenue potential of 5G indicate revenues to the tune of a trillion dollars by 2026 (by which time 5G services are expected to be ubiquitous). GSMA, in its research report The 5G era: Age of boundless connectivity and intelligent automation, discusses the five goals of the mobile industry (which is also relevant for the entire communication industry) and states vertical/industrial transformation as one of the key goals. This avenue of the telecom business by itself can not only bring in multitrillion-dollar revenues but also transform industry verticals. This specific goal is mentioned apart from the goals of massive IoT & critical communications and connectivity for all. Today, telecommunications services are being leveraged extensively by industries but basically, for running the industry enterprise rather than the core part of the industry. Hence the need and opportunity for a focused effort on industrial communication.
Often, technologies are dependent on other breakthroughs and social phenomena for widespread adoption by industries. A classic case is that of Aztec and Mayan civilizations, credited with possessing phenomenal knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, where wheels were not used in transportation. However, surprisingly, they did make wheeled toys. They could not gainfully leverage wheels for transportation probably due to the lack of draught animals. In more recent times, the internet became a transformer of industry verticals (this started decades later after the initial commercial deployment in the ‘80s) with the ubiquitous spread of smartphones and society’s readiness to accept trusted relationships without face-to-face interaction with unknown third parties.
Every industry segment is going through digitization and encouraging its spread to other segments as well. Consumers of products and services are looking for customizations. Industries are leveraging external innovation through opening APIs increasingly. All these can be leveraged for widespread deployment of 5G services. Organizations that have in-depth experience and domain knowledge across industry segments like Software Service Providers (SSPs) / System Integrators (SIs) can not only ensure effective cross-leverage of the above but also accelerate industrial deployment. Leveraging their experience and connect, SSPs/SIs need to carry out a few key actions.
Core processes digitalization: Industry processes need to be digitized into component tasks which can be then carried out as a logical unit. This needs in-depth domain knowledge as well as deployment experience. Industrial digitization is not just about leveraging digital technologies for front-end interactions but also converting traditional monolithic, siloed processes into a set of tasks that can be dynamically orchestrated. Digitization should enable integration with external tasks as well.
Intervention point identification: The next action is to identify possible points in different process flows where a logical intervention is possible. Apart from identifying technically feasible interventions, one should also look at points in the flow where interventions can enable different customizations that the market is demanding or may do so in the future. Similarly, intervention points that allow for seamless amalgamation of cross-industry services and products are essential for next generation heterogeneity.
External interface standardization: Opening up the intervention points, whether in a process or at a meta level in the orchestrator creating dynamic processes, will enable leveraging of external efforts and innovation. Standardizing the same will facilitate a multiplicative effect as integration efforts can be leveraged across industry domains. Many industries are still struggling with specifying APIs and standardizing the same. Taking advantage of their experience with multiple clients and multiple use cases across the world, SIs can play a vital role in the identification and standardization of APIs.
Address security concerns: When it comes to integration with external parties, one of the biggest concerns is security. Each industry has its own need and perception of security. An integration that involves a third party, like a communication service provider, further escalates security concerns. Hence, it is essential to understand specific security requirements and map the same to the envisaged communication service. In fact, effort should be made to use communication services to further strengthen security.
Translation of communication needs: Integration between industry units will require communication media. The communication required can differ not only based on the type of industry but also the nature of integration. Apart from the requirements regarding quality of service (QoS), bandwidth, etc., one must also consider the cost of service. SIs can work with industries to understand exact communication needs for a specific situation and map it to suitable communication specifications.
Innovation ecosystems: Organizations with multi-domain expertise are uniquely placed to put together a platform for innovation wherein services from multiple industry segments can be roped in to the platform to create transformational solutions. Real-time end-to-end communication services with guaranteed quality that 5G promises can radically change how industries run today. An ecosystem to enable startups to work seamlessly with mainline industries will push industries to continuously revitalize themselves. Extending CPaaS (Communication Platform as a Service) solutions can be extended to rope in other generic services like identity and trust relationship along with services from niche service providers of industry segments. System integrators, with their vast knowledge, can play a critical role in building, deploying and maintaining such platforms.
Bringing the benefits to vertical industry segments needs to be a multi-pronged effort. Some of the possible approaches are:
Increase efficiency and velocity: To start with, SIs can look at existing processes and systems of different verticals and leverage 5G communication services to reduce process time and/or to increase efficiency in the system. This approach generally does not disrupt the regular way of working. Typically, information is collected through IoT devices and transmitted on a secure and real-time communication channel followed by transmission of controlling actions. This has been around for quite some time but the concept of 5G Network Slice, with end-to-end QoS guarantees can significantly increase the possibility of more processes. The Energy & Utilities and Banking & Finance verticals have well-defined processes. However, by leveraging 5G, they can increase their reach, enable customer convenience and facilitate “just in time” decisions for greater efficiency.
Repurposing the current process: Many of the existing processes and systems have been designed based on human intervention, electromechanical connectivity, the need for physical proximity and human monitorability, etc. Technology advancements in digitization, automation and communication (5G) provide a unique opportunity to incorporate far greater levels of flexibility and enable external control. This, in turn, will enable creation of highly customized products and solutions. The sports and entertainment, transport & manufacturing industries, while having core processes, can immensely benefit by redesigning their core as well as peripheral processes to leverage the new capabilities that 5G communication brings.
Bundling with 5G communication: Many businesses - and life-critical solutions do not leverage communication services as the core part of their offerings. At best, they are bundled in the form of supplementary solutions. This is because mobile communications technologies, traditionally, have not been able to provide differentiated services. Network Slice concept of 5G allows for opportunities where communication can play a part in the core of a vertical’s product or solution. The healthcare industry can dramatically change by bundling 5G in the core of their services in the fields of remote diagnosis and treatment, remote-assisted surgery etc. The sports industry can transform sports fans’ experiences from passive to immersive by leveraging real-time guaranteed communication capabilities.
Cross-vertical solutions: Ideally, many of the verticals’ solutions can be significantly enhanced by leveraging solutions from other verticals. However, due to the silos in which each industry vertical has developed, this is not possible. There is an opportunity to create new solutions by enabling real-time and assured communication between verticals. By bringing together products during the process of creation rather than post-creation of products or doing so at the customer end, a more efficient and dovetailed solution can be created. The manufacturing industry can open itself to customers from other verticals for real-time manufacturing control. Retail banking and entertainment solutions can be combined to create consolidated solutions.
In conclusion, the potential of 5G can be unleashed across industry verticals. However, this requires active intervention to accelerate transformations. Any uptake by an industry vertical requires in-depth domain knowledge and practical deployment experience of the industry along with knowledge of communication verticals. Global SSPs and SIs can potentially utilize their knowledge and experience to be the catalysts that will not only accelerate the 5G uptake and the journey towards multitrillion-dollar revenue, but also be transformational agents across industry verticals.