Digital transformation in the 5G age: are you ready?

Billed as 100 times faster than previous generations, 5G promises to disrupt the world as we know it – so why are telcos dragging their feet?


At last week’s annual TM Forum, Digital Transformation World 2019, the president sent a message loud and clear to a packed hall of telecom insiders: Get your act together.

Nik Willetts, President and CEO of TM Forum, didn’t quite use this language, but his keynote speech was direct and to the point. With the impending roll out of 5G, it’s time for telcos to put their digital strategies into place – or risk falling behind.

Much like the advent of 4G, the anticipation of 5G has been lacklustre at best. As with 4G, both the general public and telecoms industry appear united in their lack of enthusiasm for this ground-breaking technology. Why? Possibly because it’s hard to get excited – or prepare for – something that isn’t a necessity yet.

As Marc Allera, CEO of British telco giant EE put it recently: ‘4G sparked a huge shift in the way we do business and the services we all use. Uber, Deliveroo, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram – none of these companies would exist […] without a fast, reliable mobile connection.’

Add to the mix the disruption brought by the inevitable fourth industrial revolution, and the need to create more agile ways of working becomes critical for businesses across all industries. The question, then, is why aren’t telcos driving this change in order to better serve customers?

Despite everything, Chris Secker, RPI’s Principal Consultant remains optimistic. ‘The exciting thing about 5G is that it’s opening up so many new opportunities that will allow businesses to transform their own operations to better serve users,’ he explained.

‘Every aspect of our lives is becoming digitalised – there’s an increasing fusion between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. Once the telecoms industry masters this ecosystem, we can think more strategically about how we can address the digital future.’

But even Chris admits there are key questions that need addressing. ‘For me, the key takeaway from the TM Forum was how important it is for the industry to start thinking about how 5G will operate. What are the applicable use cases? How will it be monetised? And how we can integrate digital service with our users?’


The billion-dollar cost of outdated systems

According to Nik, an industry-wide failure to integrate new technologies is costing the sector around $1bn a year. Thirty-year-old procurement practices are crippling an industry that should be at the cutting edge of innovation.

And it’s clear that the request for proposal process can be a liability, with two thirds of CSPs and three quarters of vendors surveyed agreeing that it’s no longer fit for purpose.

Nik’s speech served as a ‘stern wake-up call’ according to Chris, who attended the TM Forum.

‘It’s not just about getting ready for 5G. The industry must transition to agile IT development and make procurement processes more flexible.’


Looking to the future

The good news is there’s still time for telcos to catch up – and 5G will help. As agile collaborative working grows increasingly important for business, the most innovative companies will be those looking for ways to empower their staff rather than autocratically dictate job functions. And faster data will aid this.

TM Forum speaker Tareq Amin, who is the CTO of Rakuten Japan believes that as more people share skills and knowledge, and dare to make mistakes, the workplace will grow more democratic. ‘There needs to be a culture where learning from mistakes is the done thing’ said Tareq. ‘People shouldn’t be afraid to try new ways of working.’

3G brought us video calling, 4G brought us Uber, but what will 5G bring? Nobody knows – and in many ways, that’s the point. The insatiable pace of innovation is making anything seem possible, which is a positive step.

Only by remaining open, agile and resilient will telcos and the businesses they serve be equipped to embrace this brave new world and innovate at pace. Without innovation we may as well go back to pagers.


For more information on how 5G might have a positive impact on your telco business and how to make the change, please call Chris Secker on +447444424688 or email him on