The 5G challenge: Which verticals to leave out

AWS's entry into 5G through its Dish partnership could be the shot in the arm enterprise 5G needs.

If anyone can popularize mobile B2B and get business leaders thinking about how they can make better use of the technology, Amazon can. Few businesses have experience in running wireless networks beyond Wi-Fi and are daunted by the complexities of spectrum management.

Slice and dice: Remote surgery (above) is one of the 5G use cases Chinese operators are shelving.  (Source: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo)
Slice and dice: Remote surgery (above) is one of the 5G use cases Chinese operators are shelving.
(Source: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo)

Amazon's market presence, massive cloud resources and familiar product portfolio – not to mention its reputation for user-friendly access – will doubtless take-up.

That will challenge telcos to simplify their own offerings. But if telecom operators want to build profitable B2B businesses they will also need to hone their product set.

They will need to offer value-added above raw connectivity and public cloud, but they can't chase every vertical. On the other side of the world, that's a lesson Chinese telcos are finally learning.

Enterprising ambitions

China is unique among large economies in not releasing any 5G spectrum to enterprise. Only MNOs are permitted to own or manage spectrum. Business customers must lease 5G VPNs through edge deployments or network slicing.

It's fair to say the Chinese telcos, despite their installed base of a million basestations and 450 million customers, have not made a huge impact on business. It's not from a lack of effort. Far from it; the activity has been frenetic.

In 2020 China Mobile unveiled 12 5G core platforms and by the end of June this year had deployed 452 private networking projects, while rival China Telecom had launched 360, according to a report by Orient Securities.

The GSMA has evenpublished a 73-page booklet on Chinese 5G use cases. Yet these are largely demonstration applications. For all the resources they have poured in, we have yet to see any operator sign a commercial contract of any size with a major customer.

Quality not quantity

Now the telcos – and Huawei, the second biggest cloud player – are scaling back their efforts to provide hundreds of customized services and are focusing on a small number of verticals. Right now there's a favorite sector: coal. It is one of five industries targeted by Huawei, China's second biggest cloud company.

Huawei formed a dedicated coal unit in April, recognizing the vast industry is badly in need of digitalization and that 5G can make quick gains in safety, cost reduction and efficiency.

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China Mobile and Tencent Cloud have followed suit with their own 5G projects.

Besides coal, Huawei is going after ports, data center energy, smart highways and smart photovoltaics. The operators are no doubt trying to make their own choices, a task made more difficult by the broad expectations on them as full service state-owned entities.

The big challenge in 5G for telecom operators will be deciding which verticals to leave out.

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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