Coupling & Crosstalk: 5 Thoughts About 5G

Coupling & Crosstalk is my column in the MEPTEC Report. This column appears in the Summer 2019 edition on pages 9-10.

Electronic coupling is the transfer of energy from one circuit or medium to another. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes not (crosstalk). I hope that this column, by mixing technology and general observations, is thought provoking and “couples” with your thinking. Most of the time I will stick to technology but occasional crosstalk diversions may deliver a message closer to home.

5 Thoughts About 5G

1 – Just in time.  The cell phone has become a commodity that has saturated a finite market. Everyone has one and the sales pitches are becoming more like the automotive industry trying to convince you to trade up to a new model with almost the same functionality. 5G is the marketer’s dream — Premium Performance! — for handset companies and network carriers. Just because the new car can do 250 miles per hour, will you ever drive it that fast? Especially when the availability of the required “premium fuel” (network) is unknown?

2 – It’s here! It’s here! Well, sort of… 5G phones are shipping today from Samsung and a 5G ‘add-on’ module is available from Motorola. Others plan to bring new phones to the market ‘shortly’. In a few test areas in the US you can see how much faster 5G really is (about 10x the data speed of the current 4G wireless network). And ‘select customers’ can access 5G networks in Korea and Japan. Handset companies are marketing the heck out of 5G in hopes of spurring sales and motivating wireless carriers to roll out infrastructure faster. So is this the classic “build it and they will come” or closest to “sell it so they will build it”?

3 – Waves of Disruptive Innovation. Remember how the BlackBerry was ‘the phone’ when everyone wanted to do more than talk? The first wave of disruption was the BlackBerry serving up your emails on your phone. (Remember the Pavlovian response people had to the ‘ding’ announcing a new email?) Then a following wave delivered this really cool looking and very expensive phone that no one seriously thought would amount to much. Well, Apple basically cornered the market with the iPhone and its concept of an “Application Store”. Today Apple and Samsung, both late entrants, dominate the market.

Just like waves that travel in “groups”, 5G will be another group of disruptive waves. Two waves forming on the horizon are the rise of new handset manufacturers, including Google and Chinese brands, and the promised applications enabled by 5G. As part of the race to see where 5G networks are built out first, there may be some disruption in the network equipment side. Huawei is looking to give Nokia and Ericsson a run for their money especially as China may out pace both North America and Europe in terms of network deployment.

4- It’s not just phones. Businesses need to prepare for the disruptive technology that is 5G. And this isn’t just about beefing up your network to accommodate your customers’ and employees’ equipment under a bring-you-own-device (BYOD) plan. Yes, as users get hooked on lightning speed and low latency on the carriers’ networks, they will expect even higher performance of your in-house  network. Don’t worry, your network will not be fast enough to keep some of them from complaining. Ask any hotel manager about the never-ending demand for more bandwidth or the inevitable bad Trip Advisor reviews over the speed of the hotel WiFi network.

5It’s more than hype. 5G is not a simple incremental performance update from today’s 3G and 4G networks. The order of magnitude speed increase combined with extremely low latency enabling entirely new usage models is what makes 5G disruptive. Think autonomous vehicles, remote surgery robots, truly immersive real time video, and more. As such, every business – regardless of size or industry – needs to treat this as a disruptive technology not an incremental upgrade. Being conservative and ‘hanging back’ to let others lead is a poor strategy since your company will be left in the dust. Even ‘Fast Followers’ will not reap the rewards of those who embrace the unknown early. The best way to think of the disruption is that of a land grab or a gold rush. Existing markets and relationships will be upended. And just like the California Gold Rush of the 1850’s, those who really made the money were not the miners and prospectors but those who sold the essential supplies like shovels, food, and clothing. Remember Levi Strauss? You may be wearing a modern-day version of the miner jeans that made their family fortune.

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Okay, you got the message that 5G is disruptive but let’s take a lesson from another messenger. Remember Paul Revere? He rode from Boston to Lexington screaming the “British are coming!” Everyone along the route knew they were coming soon. His ride just told them when and which route. The revolutionists’ success depended on their preparation and strategy! Okay now, 5G is coming tomorrow morning: what is your strategy to win?

Every company needs to have a strategy in place today for 5G! So not only does 5G need to be a part of your yearly strategic planning process, the tactical implementation needs to be a part of your quarterly business reviews (QBRs) now. (Don’t have an effective strategic planning process or QBRs? That should be corrected immediately and we’re happy to help.)

In the case of major disruptions like 5G there are many uncertainties especially unknown-unknowns. And I’m certainly not a fan of just jumping in the pool in hopes of being able to learn to swim. Therefore, having a strategy that is continually tested and adjusted is essential. First make sure you have the stamina to swim (assets to compete). Then jump in the pool with a destination in mind. Lastly, have the proper processes and support in place to adjust as your organization progresses up the learning curve. With a race to scale (i.e. a land grab) it is essential to learn quickly to remain in the race. Those who wait to enter the race may have to wait until the next disruption – if they are still in the business. Use a stage gate process similar to a Product Lifecycle to deploy resources efficiently and to balance the risk with potential return.

Pin this to your wall:

These questions need to be answered in a company’s 5G strategy or any strategy where disruptive technology includes the potential to impact products (including services), customers, operations, and markets. For example:

  • What can the technology enable or improve in your own or your competitor’s products?
  • What new products are now possible?
  • How will customer expectations change based upon this technology?
  • What features or products will customers demand and value?
  • How can this new technology make your operations more efficient?
  • What new procedures / processes are needed to deploy and operate this technology?
  • How will the technology disrupt the existing market or create new markets?
  • What market should you be in? Selling products based upon the technology or enabling the technology?

Our business plan in regards to 5G? Helping our clients build the right strategy to grow their businesses as result of 5G innovation. We are prepared to be much more than a messenger of change since everyone knows 5G, like the British, is coming. Our goal is to help successfully guide your company through disruptive changes in technology, markets, and manufacturing concepts.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments directly. Please contact me to discuss your thoughts or if I can be of any assistance.