Say the words collaboration and telco and something seems wrong. For decades telcos worked alone (with a structured supply chain), delivering pipes and connectivity. That is now changing, fast.
Collaboration for telcos is not easy and does not really fit with the culture. Even though this attitude was beginning to change with widespread digital transformation initiatives, that change is now being thrust upon them.
It is not just about the role that telcos play in 5G, nor the understated issue of who ends up paying for 5G and how do they get their money back.
It is simply about the difference that 5G brings to a network.
A recent presentation at 5G Realised from Air France brought the problem into the spotlight. It turns out that delivering a public network that allows customers to do certain things does not bear any comparison whatsoever to delivering a private network with unique, special and critical specifications. The requirements included finely tuned applications for logistics, maintenance, runways, hangars and terminals. The telco, even supported by a veteran vendor, was not up to the job, alone.
Soon, hopefully, there will emerge more and more real use cases for 5G and, hopefully, this will trigger a greater sense of faith that the new generation of networks does bring real benefits.
The truth is clear, though. Collaboration between telcos and a new (for them) team of partners is critical. Without it, 5G will end up being just another expensive connectivity technology.
The scale of the challenge, while highlighted by an airport application in France, is plain for all to see. If we are to deliver a real smart city, with all the applications and intelligence that it can bring, if we are to deliver on smart factories, a million forthcoming IoT applications (that actually need 5G) and all the things we have seen on slides for years, then collaboration between telcos and different teams for different implementations is critical. And, of course, while in those same slides everyone used to refer to a customer as a partner, this just became true.
Many telcos have said that no-one can ‘do’ 5G alone. The proof will come from this potential collaboration between telcos and a wide and diverse range of partners who will need to deliver a huge range of applications.
For the digital world, the next few months will be very interesting.