Moreover, executives reported relying on technology companies—namely, application providers and cloud providers—the most to help design their advanced wireless network architectures. And enterprises are keenly aware that their networks can’t merely connect their devices but must also connect to clouds, collecting data from machines and sensors, and meshing it with the company’s cloud-based operational data.
Another area that bears watching is the proportion of adopters (16%) that expect to chiefly deploy and manage their wireless networking applications and services on the edge in the near future. This represents a jump from 9% of executives in our US study and points to a growing awareness of the significance and utility of edge computing.40 Consider that, with 5G, the time for device or sensor data to arrive at a cell tower may be just 2–3 milliseconds, but the time for it to travel to a distant data center for processing (for example, by cloud-based analytics services) could still take hundreds of milliseconds, presenting a problem for applications for which low latency is critical.41 Moving data processing, storage, and AI-driven analytics to the edge—closer to where the data is collected—can enable applications that require fast response times, such as drones that visually inspect rail lines or bridges to spot possible problems, telehealth systems that capture and analyze video to monitor patient health in real time, choreographed robots on a factory floor, or automated traffic management systems.42
As providers of next-generation networking products and services jockey for competitive position and race to deliver complete solutions, the enterprise networking space is seeing the formation of many innovative collaborations and alliances among technology firms and telecom vendors—even among parties once considered competitors. Edge computing is an especially dynamic area for emerging partnerships, and the large public cloud providers are all rolling out edge computing capabilities.43 Amazon, for example, has been partnering with telcos (such as Telstra in Australia) to embed Amazon compute and storage services at the edge—in base stations or the network operators’ data centers—and customers can continue to use the cloud APIs and functionality with which they’re already familiar, without worrying about the complexity of establishing an edge presence themselves.44 Google Cloud is partnering with AT&T in the United States to bring edge compute services (such as cloud-based artificial intelligence and machine learning) to the network edge.45 In India, Bharti Airtel has teamed with IBM in an initiative to bring 5G, hybrid cloud, and edge capabilities to its customers.46
Considerations for networking decision-makers
Although it’s still early days of rolling out advanced connectivity, leaders already recognize the potential benefits. Adopters strongly believe in next-gen wireless networking technologies’ ability to deliver competitive advantage, unlock the power of other emerging technologies, and rapidly transform both their organization and industry. The strategic decisions that wireless adopters make today may affect their future positions, and organizations may want to take the following considerations into account:
• End goal in mind. Adopters should consider the usage scenarios they want to achieve and determine which wireless technology (or technologies) would be the best choice in different situations. The most successful adopters are likely to be those with the skills to deploy multiple technologies and make diverse networks interoperate as needed.
• Data strategies. When massive volumes of data flow from connected machines and sensors, organizations need thoughtful strategies and policies on how to store, secure, and analyze it. Depending on the requirements of various usage scenarios, some data may need to be stored and analyzed in clouds, with other data processed at the intelligent edge.
• Innovation infrastructure. Given that leaders see next-gen wireless technologies as a significant enabler of other pivotal technologies such as AI, IoT, and edge, wireless will likely become intrinsic to every innovation initiative. Enterprises should regard next-gen wireless as a core part of their innovation infrastructure and strategy, not as a discrete consideration or afterthought. Imagine how advanced wireless may enable new products, services, and business models—and enhanced interaction with customers and employees.
• Integration and network management. Adopters are interacting with a complex ecosystem and a multitude of vendors. With the propensity to acquire best-of-breed components, organizations should decide whether to tackle the complexity of integration themselves or seek out partners. They should assess their organization’s ability to manage, authenticate, and secure networks with thousands of devices. Given that security is the number-one adoption concern, leaders would be wise not to underestimate the level of risk, cost, and effort in shouldering these responsibilities, and may want to engage partners for help.
The advanced wireless ecosystem is complex and competitive, with the overwhelming majority of adopters willing to reconsider their vendors for wireless implementation and management. Suppliers of next-gen networking products and services may wish to consider the following:
• Challenges as opportunities. Adopters cited security and backward compatibility as top challenges to adoption. And, depending on country, there are difficulties around understanding business value or identifying the right use cases. All of these are areas of opportunity for savvy vendors to demonstrate their expertise and value.
• Ecosystem positioning. Evaluate where you can add the most value and carve out your position. Consider whether you can offer expertise in architecting solutions and integrating components—areas where adopters of advanced wireless are likely to seek help. Think about teaming up with other vendors to offer more complete solutions and a more attractive value proposition to adopters.
• Innovation partnerships. Vendors that see next-gen connectivity as adding merely incremental value may miss out on opportunities. Savvy vendors should go beyond offering connectivity products and services and seek to become trusted partners for innovation and transformation.
Both adopters and providers may be able to unlock enormous opportunities as advanced wireless networks become widespread over the next few years.