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Telecommunications, Media & Technology

Why Distributed Work Could be 5G's Big Break

Apple’s release of the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 lineup has helped make the technology more mainstream in the minds of many consumers. But we believe 5G’s best use case will likely come from businesses, as companies consider adopting 5G-enabled workplace solutions to help employees boost productivity while working from home and as the idea of distributed workforces gains momentum around the world.

So far, 5G’s customer value proposition has been faster speeds, but as many people remain under lockdowns, home broadband speeds are more important than mobile bandwidth. Consumers can also stream video to their existing phones and devices with HD quality with little or no issue. Moreover, with 5G rollout focused on urban areas, it may be many years before all U.S. consumers, especially rural ones, have reliable access. Without a killer value proposition driving adoption, carriers won’t see the return on heavy investments they’ve made in 5G.

Distributed work could drive 5G adoption

Reliable 5G connectivity to cloud-based computing and storage on low power devices could untether workers from desks, fundamentally changing the workspace in ways we’ve yet to fully appreciate. The tools that employees need today to be productive in a distributed workforce — email, Microsoft Office or its equivalents, remote communications such as Zoom and collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams — are already cloud-enabled with user experiences at or near parity with heavier desktop-based versions. Companies are used to storing data in the cloud from document solutions such as Box and Dropbox to SaaS solutions such as Salesforce. Knowledge workers have migrated from using clunky desktops and workstations to laptops. Publicis Sapient’s Rapid Response Teams are already engaging with some of our clients to model the tools and support the requirements of a fully distributed workforce.

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No killer app for consumers — yet

For businesses, we see a broad application of 5G, cloud and AI technologies that will unlock value for industries. For consumers, we also see nascent use cases in areas such as cloud gaming, education and entertainment.

We’ve become accustomed to looking for the killer app that unlocks the potential for innovation. Many view the iPhone as the killer innovation of the mobile revolution. However, while the iPhone and iOS made mobile technology more accessible to consumers through a convergent device with an impeccable user experience, the real killer app for mobile devices predated the iPhone by five years. BlackBerry set the stage in 2002, by creating mobile's second killer app (behind voice on the first cell phones): mobile email. Suddenly, everyone wanted a BlackBerry to stay in touch with the office through email and text messages on a device that did not require you to be in front of a computer all the time. Everyone understood the value of a smartphone, although it took Apple to refine the experience and make it ubiquitous.

Just as a productivity use case around email opened the door to the consumer mobile revolution, a similar one could open the door to consumer adoption of 5G. With iPhone 12, the global economic crisis due to the pandemic could delay the adoption curve of the new phones. However, more likely, Apple’s natural upgrade and obsolescence cycle means that within the next year there will likely be a significant number of consumers walking around with 5G capabilities. Some analysts are also predicting a “super cycle” for the iPhone as 30 percent of iPhone users currently have a device that’s at least three years old. With more people buying 5G phones for personal use, the demand for 5G-enabled workplace technology will likely grow.

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Is work the killer app for 5G?

COVID-19’s effect on the world cannot be understated. However, it is during such a societal inflection point that innovations can alter the landscape. For 5G to be a catalyst for transformation, the technology itself is only the start. Transformation will take place only when companies identify and monetize innovative services on top of the 5G network. These services must align with consumer value and meet the needs of the customers of today and tomorrow. Breakthroughs in telehealth, driverless transportation and even consumer technologies and appliances are all possible with the convergence of 5G, IoT and cloud technologies. Nevertheless, the average consumer will adopt 5G by changing how they work and collaborating with colleagues.

The global remote work experiment brought on by the pandemic is likely to keep growing when offices eventually reopen. As more businesses adopt new work patterns, 5G and cloud technologies will be a key enabler. Employees are already comfortable with tools for remote work, and as the pandemic blurs the line between work and home, changing work patterns will likely morph consumer expectations of all other experiences. Like the BlackBerry two decades ago, distributed work will be the spark for widespread 5G adoption.

Raj Shah
Raj Shah
Telecommunications, Media & Technology Lead, North America

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