In 2021, many telcos, their industry forum, and governmental bodies invested copious time and energy in trying to define the killer use cases for 5G. We can debate whether a simple silver bullet (some say, unicorn) for 5G monetization will ever be found (like the Apple iPhone for 4G), but undoubtedly without it, the 5G market is evolving more slowly than expected.
By comparison, demand for Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC or Edge) is definitely here and is now driving real-world use cases and customer value added. So, whilst 5G looks like future revenue, Edge in combination with private 5G, very much offers immediate returns – both to the customer and their service providers. In fact, Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2023, more than 50% of large enterprises will have deployed at least six Edge uses cases. Unsurprisingly, CSPs have switched focus to monetizing Edge use cases which puts their 5G monetization strategy on a slower development path.
It has never made more sense to move to the Edge, but understanding the how, when and why for enterprises to make that switch is crucial in order to understand the benefits they can achieve in using it to drive their digital transformation forward. Whether this is defining new services, better cost performance or improved speed, quality and agility – it’s all bankable business outcomes.
Enterprises are launching into the Edge landscape with enthusiasm, but often face capability gaps because of the breadth of knowledge or experience required when it comes to stitching together the vast array of new technologies needed to form solutions. To realize the true promise (which includes the ROI) of campus 5G with Edge, collaboration is the name of the game. It’s all about working with complimentary partners with the skills mix to co-create and co-innovate solutions and then driving economies of scale in execution using a digital business platform – which is where the opportunity sits for Communication Service Providers (CSP).
Shifting to an ecosystem orchestration model is much like captaining a vessel on unchartered waters. A CSP deciding to monetize Edge use cases starts with the destination (the customer problem needing to be solved) and needs the tenacity to navigate combining the right partners and complementary capabilities together to deliver the outcomes. The authors of the book “Platform Revolution” characterize this as the “Inverted Firm Model” – where orchestrating the ecosystem of partner capabilities creates far more value for customers than they can create on their own. This new multi-sided business model runs very much counter to the old linear value chain thinking.
Industries, such as manufacturing and healthcare are massively keen to harness the power of the Edge with all the capabilities it unlocks, such as: AI, ML and robotics in combination with 8K video, IoT and 5G campus.And for most, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel with many of the horizontal key components that will form the vertical industry use cases already in existence. In most cases, though it is this partnering of rich industry expertise with insight into the customer problem with the technology, security and connectivity capabilities that will form the solution. Even better if it’s created as a highly repeatable solution using a platform and can be delivered globally as a pay-as-you-go cloud service that can benefit from massive economies of scale, so it is truly cost effective.
The first step is to establish a governance model which is key as there are many stakeholders and needs to be addressed. There are different ecosystem models ranging from the more autocratic centred on the platform owner, to the more federated partnership of equals like with the visa credit card. It’s this critical collaboration that weighs up the governance models and ensures that the ecosystem delivers value for all, including customers and partners. The power play within the ecosystem is really who controls the customer value added. It also needs the power to remove a bad actor, for example for persistently breaching SLAs and dragging down other ecosystem partners who don’t get paid.
A key process is that of co-creation and co-innovation allowing the platform owner (such as the CSP) to build its solution portfolio. For each solution, an agile approach is required that offers a rapid path to creating a minimum viable product (MVP) which is the smallest increment of the solution that can be tested with the customer to get early feedback. Likewise, success for a platform is defined as its minimum viable community (MVC), the number of partners plugged into the ecosystem which, through co-creation and co-innovation, perpetuate the development of value adding solutions, customer choice and economies of scale (otherwise called “network effect” by the authors of Platform Revolution).
CSPs are new to this game and are typically autocratic so need to learn to work with partners more as equals while acting fast, putting in place their own capabilities needed and getting closer to customers to gain insight into their problems.
The promise of Edge technology is clear. It meets the needs of these highly reactive systems –pushing data processing and compute out to where speed and reliability are critical for real-time decision-making, successful customer experience, and intelligent operations. Though edge communication can be realized with other technologies, 5G will prove fundamental to its maturity. Above all, Edge requires a business and operating model change by those who want to capitalize on it and build compelling new solutions.
5G’s higher bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and increased data rates inherently support the high performance, low latency requirements of edge computing. MEC coupled with 5G network virtualization will enable dynamically scalable instances of edge compute at the mobile network infrastructure edge. CSPs are well placed to respond to the enterprise’s growing demand for edge solutions, by using their existing physical network infrastructure (BSC/RNC) to locate compute close to the physical location where the data is collected. Many CSPs are already forming partnerships with hyperscalers to enrich their offerings with edge cloud solutions and edge computing.
Building the right partner ecosystem with the right digital business platform to underpin becomes a powerful enabler for edge partner ecosystem orchestration and monetization. New solutions that partner industry knowledge and customer insight with the right technologies, devices, edge compute and cloud from an ecosystem of partners must be accompanied with the right business model. Enterprises want a solution that is easy to try, buy and consume – while all the complexities of orchestration and monetization is hidden in the background. This is where the opportunity lies for the CSP.
Moving to the Edge is a critical opportunity for telcos to generate new revenues, and Edge use cases further highlighting the potential for 5G. For the time being, many of the applications enterprises envision as supporting their digital transformation ambitions, productivity and efficiency enhancements can be achieved through a combination of edge architectures and 4G networks. Even capabilities such as network slicing are wholly achievable on 4G. Edge adoption is certainly accelerating as the use cases are more clearly defined, but that definition of a clear use case will give operators the opportunity to demonstrate the true potential of 5G, as services continue to require more dynamic, dedicated connectivity.