With 5G operators restricted in what they can offer businesses, is there a chance for channel partners to step up?

Christine Horton, Contributing Editor

March 10, 2020

6 Min Read
5G on a digital background
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2020 is being touted as the year of 5G, with more operators set to switch on their next generation networks in the coming months.

5G is expected to enable faster speeds and connect approximately 1 million devices per square kilometre. Research company GlobalData estimates that, by 2024, more than a quarter of all data traffic will be carried over 5G, up from less than 1 percent in 2019.

Of interest to the channel is the expected impact of 5G on business. According to a report by GSMA Intelligence, 5G will become the first generation in the history of mobile to have a bigger impact on the enterprise than consumers. It also forecasts that private enterprise networks will explode and become a competition battleground between telcos and cloud companies.

Disconnect with Telcos

So what is the opportunity for the channel when it comes to 5G?

A good starting point is a 2019 study by global consulting firm Accenture, which suggests that both business and technology executives are underestimating the disruptive potential of the technology. Moreover, nearly three in four businesses say they need help imagining the future possibilities and use cases of 5G, indicating there may indeed be a role for channel partners to help their customers cut through the hype and better understand the benefits – and challenges – of the technology.

Similarly, a recently released report by BearingPoint//Beyond, found that telcos are failing to come up with the business-focused solutions that will be vital to 5G’s commercial success.

The research suggests a major disconnect between what operators want to sell when it comes to 5G – connectivity and hardware – versus what business customers want to buy, which is sophisticated, complete solutions made up of multiple technologies, including 5G.

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BearingPoint’s Angus Ward

“Businesses want to buy 5G; CSPs want to sell 5G. The problem is that CSPs want to just sell connectivity and standardized ‘connectivity plus infrastructure’ products, while businesses want to buy more sophisticated, complete solutions that better fit their needs and require the integration of multiple technologies from multiple players,” said Angus Ward, CEO of BearingPoint//Beyond, who is based in London.

Developing Skills

There appear to be several existing areas of expertise that partners can develop and apply to 5G.

Ireland-based 4site, part of the Indigo Telecom Group, helps its wireless customers as they commence rollout of 5G technologies.

“All of the key skills, from survey and design through to property negotiation and structural analysis, are the key factors for rolling out new technologies such as 5G by our customers,” Eoin Callaghan, 4site 5G solution architect, told Channel Futures.

“From our perspective, rolling out 5G technology is similar to the way that all wireless technologies are rolled out in that they require extensive working with our customers to define the design rules and guidelines on how the network is to be deployed in the most economical manner with the least impact on the existing site configuration.”

Elsewhere, Colin Knox, head of community engagement at SolarWinds MSP, says 5G creates a need for …

… greater remote device management and security. This is an opportunity for partners to build out relevant practices like mobile-device management, secure remote control and specific security offerings such as DNS filtering, and endpoint detection and response for devices no longer sitting on premises.

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SolarWinds MSP’s Colin Knox

“There is also opportunity to support customers working in the field – such as utility or sales – where their desktop is a mobile phone or tablet. Speeds of 5G will now make that more possible, opening up new vertical opportunities that can deliver long-term value,” he told Channel Futures.

Into the Unknown

Alastair Edwards, chief analyst at channel analyst firm Canalys, believes the channel isn’t quite at the point of defining real business opportunities around 5G yet, or investing in building significant business practices around the technology.

He says this is understandable, given we are still in the very earliest stages of rollout, and those potential business opportunities have not yet become clear for most. Nevertheless, he says in the coming few years, 5G promises to transform multiple industries, particularly in terms of how increased bandwidth and speed allows value to be extracted from data.

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Canalys’ Alastair Edwards

“The big question is to what extent 5G will really deliver against that promise — that is still an unknown,” Edwards told us. “A clear early opportunity for channel partners is to start building the skills to advise customers on how they can start to prepare for 5G, to develop future strategies for 5G around areas like IoT, or edge computing. This could be as simple as ensuring in-house mobility experts have the right knowledge to help customers understand not just the potential benefits but also the limitations and potential pitfalls of 5G.”

In the longer term, he says, partners will develop a range of practices around 5G, whether they are mobility or wireless specialists, infrastructure partners, application-centric partners, vertical specialists or security partners, all of whose customers will need help to capitalise on the benefits of 5G.

Time to Evolve

There is of course time for partners to evolve and learn how to attain the right skills for managing the requirements of a more distributed IT environment with many more directly connected internet devices.

“Since 5G is still quite nascent, the good news is that there is time to get ahead of the game and think, about what’s needed to maximize 5G revenue growth as the opportunity itself evolves,” says Knox.

The role of the channel partner will likely be to provide insight to their customers about what 5G could mean for their business, including detailed and independent advice regarding which products from which telco will best suit them.

More importantly, they also have skills that telcos don’t possess, including industry-specific expertise. This is confirmed by the Accenture survey which notes that 60% of executives believe there’s a lack of knowledge among telecoms about the challenges their individual industries face.

This creates a potentially lucrative opportunity for the channel to work with their customers to identify 5G applications that are relevant to their unique environments — which could prove hugely valuable to both parties in the long term.

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About the Author(s)

Christine Horton

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Christine Horton writes about all kinds of technology from a business perspective. Specializing in the IT sales channel, she is a former editor and now regular contributor to leading channel and business publications. She has a particular focus on EMEA for Channel Futures.

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