5G will soon become the new technology standard for cellular networks, and the benefits for business in general, and the supply chain specifically, are immense. In this conversation with SupplyChainBrain Editor-in-Chief Bob Bowman, Andrew Stevens, Senior Director Analyst with Gartner, discusses the long-term potential for 5G to foster new levels of efficiency and collaboration.
SCB: What are the big advantages that we'll see when 5G becomes fully implemented?
Stevens: 5G is not just another upgrade. It represents a major enhancement in service and bandwidth. It brings the ability to enhance data-processing power across machines and devices, and how you capture and share data. It's a significant upgrade in comparison to previous generations. There’s a real opportunity here, not only for supply-chain leaders, but for communication services providers as well, to collaborate.
SCB: What’s the value of 5G to supply chain?
Stevens: There are many key elements as to why 5G is very appealing to the supply chain. It stands to be a significant technology influencer, although there needs to be a certain evolution with regards to how supply-chain services evolve and are developed at that collaborative level. It's about the ability to enhance data speed and throughput across different types of applications, devices, and infrastructure. With the pandemic, organizations have had to look at more distributed networks, in and around remote working. So the ability to distribute bandwidth becomes much more accelerated as well.
SCB: I assume it’s much faster than 4G.
Stevens: 5G can significantly minimize or eliminate information latency. In healthcare delivery, for example, the ability to have critical monitoring and medical response alerts in real time for emergency situations would be extremely valuable.
SCB: How does the technology differ from previous systems?
Stevens: 5G introduces a brand new spectrum of different types of technologies. It will shape and influence a host of devices. It has the potential to be quite ubiquitous in any system or solution that catches, shares, communicates, or processes data. There's the ability to push a lot more data-processing power and capacity to edge computing. And it can enhance what we call the mixed reality spectrum — using augmented and virtual reality to better align with the user experience.
SCB: Do you consider 5G to be essential to the digitization of supply chains?
Stevens: I think it's a bit too early to actually state that. 5G can certainly be seen as a key enabler, not only in terms of new provisions of data services, but also in its ability to enhance or augment legacy systems. What I’m hoping to see over the next few years are very targeted or specific supply-chain solutions being delivered by communication services providers. As more use cases start to emerge, it will help users to visualize a broader role for 5G within supply-chain networks.
SCB: Do you see the coronavirus pandemic driving or accelerating the acceptance of this technology? Or would it have happened at the same pace anyway?
Stevens: When it comes to responding to COVID-19 realities, 5G networks can enhance your supply-chain capabilities. I think there's a broad amount of opinion out there about the role of 5G networks. They have been increasingly under a spotlight in the wake of COVID-19, yet their potential across supply chains is still widely misinterpreted across businesses. My belief is that there’s a great opportunity for embedding core competency, and maybe taking a very broad review of the application of 5G as it applies to business objectives.
SCB: Can you say more about how it will be used for this purpose?
Stevens: The response of companies will be quite unique. Each will probably assess the value of technologies and enablers slightly differently, depending on risk gaps, or objectives that have come to the fore over the last few months. At this moment in time, there are limited use cases in terms of supply-chain applications. Our recommendation is to start building toward a 5G center of excellence, initiating objective and balanced assessments of potentials and pitfalls, across a range of uses. The important factor now is the value of collaboration. From the perspective of supply chains, 5G is going to create quite a new paradigm in terms of technology deliverables.
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