The latest global health challenge has revealed what many in the tech industry have long known — digital transformation is changing the landscape of business. Once a mere line item on business plans, the coronavirus pandemic has moved digitization from consideration to requirement.
While many executives have digitized parts of their business, we’re entering the big leagues. Recent data from McKinsey shows that both business and consumers have vaulted five years forward in digital adoption in a matter of approximately eight weeks. Rapid migration to digital is everywhere — optimizing operations and bringing greater efficiencies that cut costs and deliver a better bottom line — and 5G technologies are taking a front seat to help companies keep pace.
5G is a critical component of every company’s digital transformation, and most enterprises need a better understanding of what it means for their business. It comes down to two key fundamentals: convergence and speed.
Convergence is a term in the tech world for unifying a combination of digital solutions into one managed system. It removes siloed approaches from business operations and will play an important role in managing the 5G networks behind digital initiatives. Throwing up one Wi-Fi access point in an office no longer cuts it. Enterprises must now blend a mix of licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum, bringing together cellular, Wi-Fi, CBRS (citizens broadband radio service) and IoT (Internet of Things) solutions through convergence to enable scalable, secure and data-driven digital transformation.
Convergence has led to nearly every digital advancement. Three decades ago, it was customary to carry both a cell phone and a pager to stay in touch and have a landline phone both at home and the office. As wireless networks became more sophisticated and wireless devices got smarter, these services started merging. Text messaging made the pager obsolete. 3G networks made it possible to send and retrieve email from your cell phone and surf the web. Smartphones, 4G and the cloud changed the game, converging nearly every business function in the palm of your hand.
With 5G, convergence continues to evolve, entering new territory to connect all parts of business, whether on-site or remote. Leading IT departments integrate multiple wireless technologies throughout their enterprise with a converged architecture that applies the right 5G technology — like millimeter wave, CBRS, Wi-Fi 6/6E and others — to the right 5G use case. Want IoT sensors on a factory floor? CBRS and private LTE are great options to ensure security and data visibility. Need to add touchless, self-service payment and mobile kiosks for customers? Consider cellular and network solutions like distributed antenna systems (DAS) for high-density areas. Looking to better manage connectivity for employees or guests? Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E can introduce gigabit speeds for the enterprise.
5G networks behind digital transformation are not one size fits all. Executives focused on making business faster, smarter and virtualized combine a variety of wireless solutions. Take stadiums as an example.
Major League Soccer (MLS) club Austin FC, a client of ours, will begin to play in 2021 in a new soccer stadium. The team’s vision is to offer a world-class experience to Austin’s tech-savvy populace. Behind the scenes at the venue will be a converged wireless network that utilizes both cellular and Wi-Fi 6 technologies to power matchday operations and an immersive fan experience. This flexible network foundation will facilitate new digital initiatives that are essential to the stadium business of the future.
Beyond the MLS, NFL stadiums like Ford Field in Michigan and Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts are launching next-generation wireless networks to handle 5G demands. For this year’s NBA playoffs, 5G is bringing holographic interviews to TNT and ESPN’s pregame shows. The NHL is also turning to 5G to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity.
From the MLS to the NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA, digital solutions will be front and center, especially as the industry works to ensure a strong recovery amid Covid-19 challenges. A converged network helps teams follow rigorous health and safety protocols and roll out new touchless experiences, like contactless entry and concessions.
As we’ve seen from the past few months, digital progress is moving at lightning speed, requiring companies to act fast and at scale. To meet transformation goals with velocity, executives are growing their partner ecosystem. While reskilling talent and building internal systems are important, external support expedites the process and simplifies innovation complexities like 5G.
Previous generations saw businesses tackle wireless networks on their own, but the intricacies of 5G calls for expert service providers who can uniformly manage all wireless technologies. Neutral host networking has emerged as a business model for facilitating fast digital change across enterprise verticals with a technology-agnostic approach. It converges diverse networking solutions under one managed platform to seamlessly connect every person and thing within an organization, working in the background to link together a new era of business.
Adopting 5G and shifting to a digital-first mindset can be daunting, but enterprises that tackle it head on will get ahead. Start your strategy by auditing all of the applications, devices and machines that interact with your business and identifying which of them can be automated. Consider the cloud for new virtualization and software strategies, smart sensors for remote office management and artificial intelligence (AI) for managing critical business processes. Once the use cases are set, utilize a converged 5G network to connect and power use cases, seamlessly moving analog processes to digital.
Digital transformation is no longer a stretch goal on the five-year road map. It’s happening now, and 5G is making it possible.