How 5G is transforming the mobile ecosystem

“Ecosystem” is one of the most used words in the mobile industry, which today is a well-defined, established world. Communication service providers, network technology providers, and smartphone vendors all have a clear idea on the cadence of network and smartphone releases. Over the top providers are essential for end users but play a limited role in developing this ecosystem. However, with the rollout of 5G, this reality is changing. Now, the ecosystem is expanding to include the industries served. Communication service providers, network technology providers, and anchors in large enterprises are collaborating to form ecosystems. The goal is to exploit the full potential of 5G – beyond over the top services alone.

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The mobile ecosystem heritage 

Traditionally, three key stakeholders have critical roles in the mobile ecosystem: mobile communication service providers – who upgrade networks, and sell phones and subscriptions, network technology partners – who offer complete or parts of network solutions, and smartphone providers – who create phones from standardized hardware and software platforms. These three groups collaborate closely to build the foundation used by millions of mobile app providers. 

To date, the mobile ecosystem used a model where most applications ride on top of universal broadband connectivity. This "one slice fits all' approach will remain for non-performance critical applications. But as more industries are connected, the mobile ecosystem will expand to include new partners and raise the bar for network capabilities.

 

Five years of 5G industry collaborations

The expansion of the ecosystem started with the standardization of 5G and the desire to expand application potential in two different directions: firstly, additional support from massive IoT applications – also referred to as massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and secondly, critical IoT – also called Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) or critical machine-type communication (cMTC).

By adding these two distinct use case categories, we opened the door to the mobile ecosystem and invited in industries who weren’t yet leveraging the full potential of new network capabilities. We have laid the foundation for tailoring connectivity to serve un-, under-served and over-served market segments. An expanded mobile ecosystem can unlock this latent value, which has significant potential.

 

Multi-party collaborations 

A common theme across industries is the growth of multi-party efforts for cocreation and vetting of new use cases. Common stakeholders in the expanded ecosystem are: 

  • Global industry anchors - with vertical experience and a desire to take advantage of 5G to solve specific business challenges. 
  • Communication service providers - who act as providers of connectivity, service enablement, and applications in some cases. 
  • Network technology partners - securing the roadmap for network technology that meets the demand for a broader range of vertical applications.
  • Device innovators - providing a range of IoT devices for the realization of new use cases. 
  • Application creators - developing software applications working in tandem with device innovations. 
  • System integrators - working closely with industry anchors to refine needs, solutions, and investment cases. 

These multi-party collaboration initiatives represent what’s required to nail a new industry use case. A task where a horizontal network platform connects to vertical use cases

 

Putting the connected ecosystem to work 

Players at the global forefront of their industry are already defining the new ecosystem, with initial solution pilots underway. The maturity of this solutions and the remaining distance to commercial launch, varies significantly between industries.

The industry anchors take the next step and validate assumptions about needs, solutions, benefits and business models with minimum viable pilots across 5G networks. Starting with a few strategic use cases driving initial deployments

The communication service providers are considering technology developments and partnership opportunities when shaping their 5G business strategies, and are also accelerating marketing and sales efforts – especially where horizontal network rollouts need to consider vertical solution needs.

The network technology partners focus on global-first projects, nailing use cases before they are scaled. All players in the ecosystem will not have to talk to Ericsson, but in the formation phase, we often collaborate and co-create with the first movers.

Device innovators integrate their products with cellular networks. They are leveraging work already done by the system on chip providers. A vital task is to secure suitable connectivity options that match the use case needs.

The software applications unlock the value envisioned. In the smartphone world, application integration and verification are focused on smartphone platforms. But in an IoT world, it expands to include a wider variety of interoperability challenges.

System integrators for business applications have used many different network technologies in the past. The introduction of cellular network technology adds a new element beyond classic integration efforts. Interfaces between system integrators, communication service providers and network technology partners evolve to fit the new reality.

Expect the ecosystem expansion to mature in five steps, centered around use cases:

  1. Early showcases - triggering interest for a specific industry/use case. 
  2. Technology validation in labs - involving all vital solution components
  3. Solution pilots in target networks - proving solutions and performance expectations. 
  4. Commercial pilots - validating assumptions on business benefits and business models. 
  5. Nailed and ready for commercial launch - an industry case is stable enough for replication where the target demand exists. 

A critical pivot point is when we move from strategic collaborations to deployments for commercial use, where you, as a marketing or sales professional, come into the picture. 

 

Marketing and sales checklist for 5G ecosystem questions 

The following questions will give you a good idea of the maturity of the mobile ecosystem for the vertical you serve:

  • Do we know the required multi-stakeholder constellations shaping the foundation for the ecosystem for this vertical?
  • Which additional players do we need to add to make the solution ecosystem complete?  
  • What is the first one to three 5G use cases we see as the launchpad for the adoption of 5G by this vertical? 
  • What stage of ecosystem maturity are we at, related to the five-step model above? 
  • Is this vertical go-to-market or network deployment constrained?
  • Where in the 5G network, can we conduct required solution pilots to validate developing use cases? 
  • What is the potential for replication after successful pilots?
  • What would be an optimal network slice for commercial realization? 
  • How would you describe the business model for the key stakeholders in the ecosystem? 

 

Nail before you scale 

An essential part of your ecosystem responsibilities is understanding what needs nailing, and what is ready to scale. 

The nailing period is business development intensive on multiple fronts. You are validating needs, working out base solutions, articulating benefits, and proving business models. Working with a few use cases this phase allows you to focus on nailing all aspects of the challenge at hand. This period is a journey of gradual increase in clarity. 

After successfully nailing the above, the scaling phase is more straightforward, as sales can leverage a solid blueprint as a baseline. All early opportunities will be different, but small customizations from few well-known use cases is easier than addressing all opportunities with a full custom approach.   

Businesses can deploy 5G today by leveraging the ecosystem and models in place for mobile broadband and enhanced mobile broadband and extending with a more powerful cellular network connectivity. The years 2020 and 2021 are critical "nailing years" for more advanced industry-specific use cases and new business models. The ones taking an active role in shaping and nailing the ecosystem in these years have great potential to lead use case scaling once the market takes off. It boils down to where you can make the most significant difference, choosing from a wide variety of vertical opportunities. 

 

Want to know more?

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This post is part of our 5G Practitioner’s Guide where we outline nine strategic conversations service providers should have in 2020 to accelerate 5G for business. Investing time in these topics will make you better equipped to engage in 5G dialogues with your business customers.  

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