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AT&T 5G Isn’t About Thinking Outside The Box — It’s About Breaking And Rebuilding The Box

The only thing harder than building new tools is knowing exactly what to do with them once they’re actually built.

The development of 5G presents an excellent case in point. For the last several years, we’ve been hearing 5G is coming, bringing a whole host of capabilities that will forever change our interactions with the digital world. Well, 5G isn’t coming anymore — it’s here, at least in its nascent stages, which now leaves a giant, gaping question to be answered: What are we going to do with it?

That’s a complicated question, AT&T Director of 5G Center of Excellence Jason Inskeep told Karen Webster when the two sat down for PYMNTS’ Connected Economy series. That’s because the changes coming to the market, and the kinds of shifts they will enable, are qualitatively different than what has come before.

Previous iterations of connectedness came care of the original equipment managers (OEMs) who owned and operated the networks, he said. It was fairly monolithic in its construction. The ending day of LTE and the early days of 5G are qualitatively different than what came before, and they are much more software-driven and user-defined, creating all kinds of opportunities that didn’t exist just two or three years ago.

As Inskeep noted, 5G won’t just allow consumers to move seamlessly between verticals on their increasingly omnichannel journeys so much as it will actually change how they live in those verticals.

“The biggest thing I go back to is, don’t just think outside of the box, try to rebuild it because there are different opportunities now that we didn’t have just three or four years ago,” Inskeep told Webster. “We are always looking at things like XR, VR and autonomous robots — and those things are great and very shiny and exciting. But there are a lot of things that just by changing how your mobile connects provide a big advantage. It may not be flashy, may not be super shiny, but the customer experience gets better.”

It is the elevation of that customer experience that should be the “North Star” that guides actions and decisions on a daily basis, he noted — a process that is as much tied up in building the right processes as it is in putting the right technology into place. As powerful an enabler as technology has proven itself to be, it is still only that. It is the infrastructural ground layer upon which iteration and innovation can and will happen.

Innovation will roll out across verticals in a variety of different ways, expanding and developing over time. Connected options enable access to healthcare in remote and rural enclaves on par with what is offered in major metros.

In retail experiences, smart cities guide the consumer to the right commerce locations based on their intent and proximity to retail outlets that can meet their needs. With buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), the retailer can walk out and meet the consumer curbside as they pull into the parking lot, instead of the customer having to wait in a space for someone to walk out and meet them.

As Inskeep noted, the technology’s capabilities are as myriad as they are impressive. For the retailer, the challenge is in finding the right use cases to delight and engage their current customer base and also attract new consumers.

“We’re coming to a point in technology where we can do just about anything,” he said. “The bad news, however, is that we can do anything. So, firms need to measure where their current use case is, understand their customer personas, because that’s going to guide them to what they want to do. When it comes to transforming the flow of traffic, we’ve come to a point where it’s not a matter of if, but when and how.”

Transformation in the era of 5G and the increasingly super-connected consumer will come in many forms, Inskeep noted. The flashy expansions and technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), autonomous robots and the like catch a lot of attention, but the really fundamental change that is blurring the lines between verticals is much more subtle.

And it is important to keep in mind just how early we are in a process that will itself be highly interactive going forward, Inskeep told Webster. This is an idea that is still very much under construction, and the enabling technology will create the playing field for innovators’ ideas. When building a real city, the grid goes in before the skyscrapers are constructed. And the same is true of a smart city — the enabling technology is the grid. The skyscrapers will go up as different entities begin iterating on the grid infrastructure to build the next iteration of the connected world.

“People get locked in on the parlor tricks, the sexy object or the widget that sells the idea,” Inskeep said. “But there is no sexy app here that’s going to prove the case. It’s how the infrastructure creates experiences, regardless of the user. That’s the new concept that you’re talking about and looking to invest in it. Then the ideation around how to share data becomes easier.”

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