Tot up how much the world's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) plan to spend on 5G services and telecom operators are looking at a $433 billion opportunity by 2025. Except they're not, because operators remain fixated on the megalodons of the business world that account for just 1% of all companies.
It's the latest joint research from Omdia, a sister company to Light Reading, and BearingPoint//Beyond, a digital platform solution provider, and it's another harsh verdict on telco strategy. Operators in the 2020s just cannot seem to catch a break. They're trapped in the purgatory of digital transformation, fetching gigabytes for US public clouds or flinging billions at a new technology that will enrich everyone else.
The latest criticism is that operators are simply ignoring a very large chunk of 5G business. Their rationale, according to the research, seems to be that the 1% are the big spenders. Landing a major contract with a pharma or automotive giant probably sounds more lucrative than fishing for tiddlers in the SME pond.
5G sense and sensibility
Unfortunately, the feeling isn't mutual. While operators are infatuated with big business, corporate types just aren't interested. A survey carried out by Omdia showed that large enterprises "don't put CSPs [communications service providers] on their 5G priority list." And, frustratingly, the SMEs that operators choose to ignore crave CSP company, says Omdia.
It's the classic tale of a love quadrangle where Jack fancies Jill, even though she has eyes only for Tom, who'd rather be left out of the entire affair. All it needs is some kind of Jane Austen matchmaker to set everyone on the right path – a role that analysts and consultants would presumably like to play.
Unsurprisingly, BearingPoint//Beyond is straight in there with some advice to operators about the right kind of proposal. The overarching message from Angus Ward, BearingPoint//Beyond's CEO, is to keep quiet about 5G – important though it is – and concentrate on marketing "a broader technology solution" that companies need.
There's good and bad news here for service providers. Many will be chuffed that companies willing to spend a bit of money still value the telco as a partner. The worry is that some deep-pocketed industry giants would rather go it alone. Thanks to regulators that have reserved spectrum for organizations outside telecom, DIY is much easier than it used to be.
That others prefer the public clouds as 5G partners is alarming, too. Public clouds don't operate 5G networks, but they're increasingly visible in the 5G "edge" – the extension of cloud-computing services into the mobile network – through tie-ups with operators. Trusting Amazon more than AT&T to execute a 5G strategy is a bit of an insult to the telecom industry. After all, you wouldn't ask your interior designer to fix the toilet unless the plumber was useless.
The tie-up between Omdia and BearingPoint has already produced some compelling research about the 5G opportunity. Last May, an "innovation tracker" they developed showed that most 5G projects in the enterprise sector were not being led by service providers. Nine months on, operators still seem to be fumbling.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading