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May 27, 2020

5G is Driving the Acceleration of Customer Expectations

Lenley Hensarling

(LumineImages/Shutterstock)

Fifth-generation wireless technology, more commonly known as 5G, promises download speeds of up to 100 times faster than 4G, all with dramatically lower latency. U.S. carriers are beginning to boast about the number of 5G markets in which they have rolled out 5G service. Mobile device manufacturers are beginning to introduce 5G-compatible devices globally. 5G has the potential to be a transformative leap in speed and reliability of communication across connected devices.

Consumers will quickly see the benefits – especially in video, gaming and entertainment. And their expectations of immediacy when working with technology will spill over into business applications. The ability to be constantly in step with the context of your customers will be mandatory.

Businesses will benefit from 5G as well. As high-bandwidth communication becomes available across different types of devices (cars, planes, homes, ships, smart buildings, etc.) and in more situations, businesses will use data in different ways. AI thrives on data, and as bandwidth increases the ability to deploy AI for near real-time decision making will expand. As research analyst James Kobelius wrote, 5G will be a key component in the successful use of artificial intelligence (AI).

To take advantage of 5G, and the accelerated expectations that come with it, organizations will need to adapt their businesses. They need to be able to handle increasing amounts of data generated, and also change how they use data to generate the best return on their investments in AI and machine learning. Data that was previously processed intermittently in batches with high latency must now be processed in real-time. By knowing the business context and state in real-time you compress the window of uncertainty.

(Iaremenko Sergii/Shutterstock)

This drives efficiency and removes risk from supply chains, customer interactions, and equipment maintenance and performance. New standards will be set by forward-looking companies, and new businesses will emerge that are leveraging the availability of an increasing amount of real-time data.

5G in Practice: The Need for Speed

Many digital applications these days require immediacy – and the rollout of 5G will only speed up these expectations.

Latency or unreliability in streaming video, for example, is not just annoying when trying to watch Netflix at home. It’s a major inhibitor to productivity in remote working video meetings and distance learning. For telehealth, video content must stream in real-time and at high resolution. Medical staff cannot diagnose diseases without understanding what they are up against. Even facial expressions matter in this case. The ability to merge in real-time a specific patient’s symptoms, their history, and the current data on infections at large will mean fewer missed diagnoses.

In the supply chain, you have to know where there are gaps in resources, or you will not be able to reliably transact an order. The same goes for real-time execution of stock market buys and sells – when even a couple seconds of latency can result in an inferior settlement price.

Over time, 5G can open up new business models. As Datanami Editor Alex Woodie wrote, 5G could one day enable a network of connected automobiles to share details of road conditions and possibly even a fleet of remote-controlled cars. It could also enable remote surgery, where doctors can operate on patients using haptic feedback. And of course, faster speeds will expand what’s possible with drones, robots, and other devices on the edge.

The Effect of COVID-19

I don’t pretend to know when businesses and consumers will return to normal in the wake of COVID-19. It could be months or years away. COVID-19 may delay or accelerate the actual rollout of 5G globally. But what’s clear is that businesses are getting an early look at the need for scalability and reliability across their infrastructure.

(Nhemz/Shutterstock)

Having legions of employees work from home is forcing businesses to expedite their digital transformation efforts. Whether it’s for cost-cutting efforts given the economic uncertainty or to better respond to their customers, many businesses are pushing forward and skipping steps in their journey to digital. This is the opportunity for differentiation among companies – those that lean in and see this time as an opportunity will come out leading.

This environment under COVID-19 also presents new opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers, given that so many businesses are working from home. But we have to meet our customers where they are and in the context. They have time now for longer-form videos and documents, but competition for their time remains fierce. One of the things that 5G will bring us is a set of richer channels for communication. The standards of production quality and content quality are going to rise.

The Path Forward: Real-Time Decisions

5G is a catalyst for the trend under which more workloads are executed and data resides on edge devices. As the world becomes more digitally driven, the scale of the digital data to support that becomes enormous. Companies have to think about the scale of the data underlying their digital businesses.

And rather than analyzing data on a set schedule to inform business strategy, forward-looking enterprises are beginning to understand the need for data to make decisions in real-time. The demands for real-time decisioning will only accelerate as 5G becomes prevalent and businesses begin to reap the returns from their investments in AI and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Businesses that prepare for 5G – and the increased expectations it will usher in – will deepen their competitive advantage with higher revenues, higher operating margins and lower customer churn. Those that ignore 5G will quickly find themselves falling further behind in an unforgiving competitive landscape.

About the author: Lenley Hensarling is the chief strategy officer of Aerospike, a leader in next-generation, hyperscale data solutions. He has more than 30 years of experience in engineering management, product management, and operational management at both startups and large successful software companies. He previously held executive positions at Novell, EnterWorks, JD Edwards, EnterpriseDB, and Oracle. He has extensive experience in delivering value to customers and shareholders in both enterprise applications and infrastructure software.

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