As 5G continues to build and roll out, I’m confident that it will impact every industry, including retailing, healthcare, and manufacturing. Its technology and capabilities will delight consumers and bring companies who are prepared new growth and revenue streams.
While COVID-19 accelerated the need for improvements in network connectivity, bandwidth, and speed, a major benefit of 5G, illuminated by the pandemic, is the need to expand access to high-speed internet. Why?
According to the FCC, 19 million Americans still do not have access to high-speed internet. This can have devastating effects, especially for those working and learning from home. Interrupted learning is impacting the future of an entire generation. Reduced income translates to increasing debt. With 5G, carriers can provide faster, cheaper wireless internet than the landline alternative to more people in more places than ever before. And in major commercial centers, such as retail, healthcare, and manufacturing, we are just on the cusp of seeing what 5G can do.
5G can provide a more personalized retail experience
Shopping looks a lot different now than it did a year ago. Many of you placed your recent grocery order online or chose to buy online, pick up at curb (BOPAC). During the holidays, many retailers used BOPAC to keep sales strong.
While 5G in retail will improve online shopping, it’s also going to have a dramatic impact on in-person shopping. With 5G, faster networks allow for real-time data tracking of customer product preferences and shopping habits in stores. This data gives retailers the opportunity to create a more personalized customer experience, such as targeting emails about the deals that will matter to them most.
5G will also usher in new mixed-mode shopping experiences. For example, a customer begins by shopping online. After filling their shopping cart, the retailer guides them to a brick-and-mortar location. Retailers then direct the customer to the exact aisle and shelf to find the product.
Technology like smart shelves and smart fitting rooms ensure BOPAC inventory is accurate. Companies like North Face, Sephora, and Lowes have even introduced smart robots in stores to help consumers find products, check inventory, and assist with product delivery. These elements work together to allow associates to spend more time delivering exceptional customer care.
Augmented and virtual reality will also bridge the online and offline. Furniture retailer IKEA recently updated its augmented reality (AR) application, IKEA Place, to allow users to place multiple pieces of furniture in a room virtually before making a purchase. The app also allows a user to point their smartphone camera at a piece of furniture to search IKEA’s database for a similar-looking product.
Healthcare delivery will be optimized by 5G
In late March 2020 alone, there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits. As a result of the pandemic, many of us have used telehealth services, and more of us have considered it for the first time.
Faster 5G speeds will make for improved telehealth offerings. The speed and bandwidth of 5G will also usher in an era of improved patient monitoring services. For example, for health conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma or diabetes, a patient who does not live near a hospital could benefit from remote 24/7, ubiquitous monitoring. Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, for example, has a remote patient monitoring program for diabetes and hypertension. With more than 45,000 members enrolled, the program helps patients with diabetes and hypertension manage chronic conditions by monitoring blood pressure or blood sugar levels from their homes, and securely sharing this data electronically with their care providers in real time.
With the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine now in motion, business leaders need to be making a plan. 5G also has the potential to expand the capabilities of the pharmaceutical Internet of Things (IoT). Better connectivity among devices throughout the supply chain helps improve product tracking. For example, companies can track their products from production all the way through pharmacy delivery. This ensures the timely delivery of pharmaceuticals within the proper environmental controls (such as the COVID vaccines that require storage at -100°F). These are incredibly important considerations in an industry where time saved or wasted can be the difference between life and death.
5G’s impact on manufacturing: faster, safer, and more flexible
COVID-19 was a big disruption for manufacturing, one of the hardest-hit industries. More than 78% of manufacturers expect some financial impact.
5G will help manufacturing become more connected, faster, and more flexible. For example, 5G speeds and bandwidth will allow manufacturers to transmit more data, instantaneously, to analyze operations. By monitoring production machine performance in real-time, manufacturers can determine where to make improvements.
Like healthcare, an efficient supply chain will help manufacturers track parts and supplies. Live monitoring of equipment will improve uptime, saving resources and reducing waste. 5G’s wireless capabilities are able to reduce factory cables and increase agility in reconfiguration.
What’s more, unobtrusive, always-on pervasive 5G will limit the need for yet another wifi network. This, in turn, reduces radio frequency interference (EMI) and increases security. Remote video support can provide remote hands (also called smart hands) on the shop floor. This will amplify specialists’ productivity and help to upskill line workers. Sensors and real-time data transmission also mean less staff required on the floor, thereby cutting down on production costs. These sensors also allow manufacturers to implement responsive emergency shut-offs, helping to keep workers safe.
These benefits only scratch the surface.
While much work remains, COVID-19 has accelerated the race to 5G, and there is great momentum across several industries, including retailing, healthcare, and manufacturing. I’m excited to see how communications service providers and their partners continue to move forward to make 5G a reality.