The search for success stories in 5G is, generally, disappointing. Still, we were lucky enough to find some good news in the Netherlands when we talked to Jacob Groote, EVP, 5G of KPN about some interesting initiatives.
Groote is a veteran at KPN, having led critical parts of the organisation. Recently he moved from Networks (where he rolled out 4G in 15 months) to Operations, where he is leading some of the 5G initiatives that will, he believes, deliver the value to the company that was previously harvested by the likes of Apple and Facebook.
It is early days, and Groote looks forward to 2022 when the speed of 5G will increase dramatically and provide even more opportunities. Yet even in these early days, KPN demonstrates some innovative use cases for ‘early’ 5G.
As far as Groote is concerned, the fundamental difference is that the priorities have changed and are now ‘business first, technology second.’
While 5G has been launched in both the enterprise and consumer sectors, the enterprise sector is where Groote is focusing. He describes three value-added service areas where KPN is already delivering value.
The first is ‘coverage on-demand’ where enterprises can ask for coverage for areas of their facility with poor or patchy coverage, such as an oil refinery, clogged by concrete and steel. KPN provides coverage to a specific area and will charge per square metre (something new to even us veteran billing people).
Generally, there is a fixed-term contract, and the cost per square metre is between 10 and 25 cents. This is easy for the customer to justify and will also add up to a useful revenue stream for KPN over the contract period.
The second service is guaranteed bandwidth. Whereas other European countries suffer bad coverage in some areas, the Netherlands boasts upwards of 95% coverage. Yet farms and factories in remote areas will (and do) pay a premium for guaranteed bandwidth. As a huge agricultural exporter, and with the rise of technology in agriculture, this makes perfect sense.
The third service demonstrates the power of 5G in the healthcare sector. For a very reasonable subscription, an agreement between municipalities and KPN can allow ambulances to switch traffic lights to green as they approach. This not only enables patients to reach the hospital faster and safer but saves lives. Many accidents are caused by ambulances crashing as they race to hospitals with critically ill patients on board.
The potential in health is enormous, Groote believes. The ‘old’ way of arriving at a hospital, for instance, should be defunct. Instead of case notes written on a glove and handed to a doctor at A&E, 5G provides the possibility of sending data about the patient to the hospital, where the patient’s records are retrieved and a bed allocated. This means that there is already a plan and strategy in place when the patient arrives.
Other health-related use cases are being explored around enabling a more efficient ecosystem across the entire sector and the relevant players.
Health is not the only area that Groote is looking at. Six field labs have been set up: in agriculture; manufacturing; automotive; urban areas, football and health.
As a huge agricultural economy, this is an area that Groote is focusing his attention. One use case that he describes involves connecting drones to a 5G network to analyse which areas of a field or farm need pesticide treatment. Groote believes that the use of pesticides can be reduced by as much as 30% using intelligent monitoring techniques, enabled by 5G. This reduces the cost to the farmer and benefits wildlife and the environment.
It is not all plain sailing, though. Groote is the first to admit that the issue of data exchange, for example, is complex and requires unheard of collaboration between the players. He also believes that a telco is the perfect player to perform the central role in the data exchange problem.
After all, telcos have been performing this role for 45 years.