A panel discussion at today's 5G World virtual event has examined how 5G is transforming vertical markets. There's a big commercial opportunity for mobile operators targeting certain verticals, but unlocking that potential could require industry-specific ecosystems and targeted applications, the panelists said.
"As an industry, if we build the architecture of 5G solutions that are heavily dependent on additional integration, the adoption will happen, but it will happen slowly and the smaller guys will get left out," said Vinod Kumar, the CEO of Vodafone Business. "The more we modularize it and have end-to-end solutions available on the shelf for specific use cases within specific industries, the more we will drive adoption faster. That's also going to need us as mobile network operator brethren to come together and cooperate in a way that we didn't do with the IoT industry."
For Sampath Sowmyanaravan, the president of global enterprise at Verizon Business Group, there are so many vertical opportunities for 5G, the challenge is understanding which to target first. "If anyone thinks they know what the use cases for 5G are with some level of certainty, I want to drink what they've been drinking," he said. "I think one-third of all 5G value over the next decade or so will be created in the manufacturing space but education is another interesting one. COVID has to be brought into the story and, suddenly, remote education has become mainstream, from something that was a side project on the side. Another opportunity is healthcare."
André Krause, the CEO and COO of Sunrise, the Swiss operator that was among the early pioneers of 5G and has a commitment to achieve 90% 5G coverage in its market, agreed: "I would say manufacturing is definitely one of the frontrunners and health care is also pretty fast. We have also had very intensive discussions around health care."
However, Krause feels the market remains immature and smaller operators need to become part of a wider ecosystem to target verticals. "We're too small to build vertical solutions so we either will use local partners to do so or we will tap into our global partners and Vodafone is definitely miles ahead of what we can deliver on ourselves," he said. "For us, it's very clear, we need to rely on partners to build that."
"When we went to market [with 5G] 15 months ago, it was really early days," he added. "I think there's still the challenge that some of the devices are not really available or remain quite expensive, which is a limiting mass roll-out activities. I would say it's really still early days. We have seen a lot of 5G proof of concepts but it's still not a mass market phenomenon."
The larger operators were more positive, pointing to ongoing trials and live commercial deployments as well as engagement in the wider 5G ecosystem. "We have 20-25 very, very large-scale pilots going on right now where we can test the efficacy, test the co-innovation that's going on, and there are a couple of commercial deployments on the enterprise side mostly in the campus environment that have happened," said Sowmyanaravan. "So, no more proofs of concept it's real right now."
Kumar concurred: "It has definitely moved from PowerPoint to reality," he said. "In many cases we're seeing proof of concepts move beyond that to actual commercial deployment. We have a really healthy pipeline and what's interesting is the pipeline is across sectors. I'm almost surprised to see even mid-size companies beginning to say they're building a next generation manufacturing plant."
Session moderator, Karim Taiga, the managing partner and global practice lead at A.D.Little, concluded the session. "Beyond building the ecosystem, I think it's important to build capability but have enough capex as well because, in my view, one of the resistances you may find with a company is the lack of funding. We talked about billions of value creation and I believe that in 5G probably this enterprise segment will contribute the highest value return on investment."
— George Malim, Contributing Editor, Light Reading