Has the MWC 5G bandwagon got its head in the Cloud?

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We know that 5G is overhyped and we are sick to death with current industry buzzwords. We also get pretty depressed when Mr Hoffmann of the GSMA opened his press briefing about what MWC has in store this year with five biggies – 5G, IoT, AI, big data and hyper connectivity – in his opening sentence.

Given this, the show’s strap-line does not really fit with that buzzword-fest and even smacks of compromise. ‘Intelligent Connectivity’ perhaps pinpoints where the telecoms industry is at the moment, i.e. it doesn’t really know but ‘let’s use 5G as a rallying point, while hedging our bets’.

All of this buzzword hype and hoopla is missing a point.

5G is just one direction that most telcos are heading right now. It is almost as if 5G has created its own cloud to obscure one real direction of travel – the Cloud (of which many flavours are available).

Sure, Amdocs can commission expensive (and interesting) surveys that reveal that 80% of operators expect to increase enterprise revenues with the roll out of 5G (if they didn’t we would be really worried). That said, the survey talks a little about operators now being able to harness a widening portfolio of network solutions which will enable them to offer the ‘Network as a Service’ type solution to enterprises. This is nearer the point.

Most operators have not yet figured out viable business models for 5G in itself. There is certainly no foreseeable consumer market, apart from mobile/fixed replacement, mainly because consumers, as Openet CEO Niall Norton said in our recent interview, “won’t give a damn about 5G as they will see it as somewhere between 4G and Wi-Fi”.

What Norton and other industry observers do see is telcos implementing ‘5G ready’ platforms they can use now and that will allow them to react quickly when business models are clearer and everything is finally in place (if that time ever comes).

Cloud based platforms, aimed at solving enterprise problems, via a Network as a Service model (if we must use the term), is where life is leading. Indeed, 5G might a convenient hype driven ‘door opener’ that telcos need to be able to address enterprise problems, even if the final solution is based on WiFi, or Fibre or 4G, or a mixture of any or all of the above.

As Norton says, when we asked what he would be focusing on if he was CEO of a telco, “I would be bulking up on my corporate deal makers. I would be focused on transforming my business into a marketing business. I would be getting wholesale deals with the likes of GE and Caterpillar and whoever is cool and big in gaming. I would be looking at doing deals with Netflix and the like”.

Norton goes so far as to say that “2019 could be the year of vendor desperation” as nothing much happens in the ‘5G’ space and that operators are focusing on “the transformation around the convergence of automation and cloud as a hosting technology and an efficient infrastructure” with ‘light touch’ billing added in.

Operators are pragmatic. We will not see any roll out of vastly expensive networks on the tried, tested – and failed – principle of ‘build it and they will come’.

We will see operators ‘disappear’ into the enterprise space, to partner, to solve problems, to enable innovation within those enterprises – and to reap the rewards. And with those rewards explore business models for larger volume, lower margin arenas.

That MWC 2019 is going to be buzzing with 5G, yet the strap-line is ‘intelligent connectivity’ may actually be an uninspiring yet decent compromise. 5G is the door opener to a huge but perhaps less sexy than usual trade show, as telcos are actually preparing a portfolio of enterprise solutions.

Meanwhile, if 5G or any other solution is going to revolutionise other industries, then it will be interesting to see if any healthcare professionals, automotive experts or even farmers will be in attendance in Uber-free Barcelona.

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