The telecom industry was put under immense pressure to provide quick solutions to the newly emerging retail pain points COVID-19 caused. The landscape underwent a fundamental change such that simply reopening doors, once it was safe to do so, was not enough. Today, the customer experience is even more important than ever before. Retailers have to be mindful of not just a customer’s needs and wants for products, but for the methods in which they prefer to purchase. COVID has forced a widening of retail channels, providing customers with every opportunity to shop, no matter what their preference is.
So, what can retailers do to meet rising expectations?
The answer is in omnichannel. What once may have just meant ‘e-commerce’ now envelopes an entire world of purchase possibility as omnichannel incorporates essential methods of retailing that are beyond the traditional.
Omnichannel solutions like buy online, pick-up in-store; reserve online, pick-up in-store; buy online, return in-store; curb-side pick-up; e-commerce; queue management; and anything in between is now a part of the omnichannel suite of solutions. Whether it’s return, buy, or pay, making it happen anywhere is the name of the omnichannel game.
Now, with a need for alternative purchase avenues at an all-time high, these retail opportunities have proven their worth. Understanding what practices are going to stick and which will evolve into a “new normal” is essential for entering the post-COVID era with confidence.
What is 5G?
5G is essentially the latest version of cellular network technology for wireless carriers. Many of the problems that wireless customers and businesses face are due to problems and limitations in the current 4G system. Leading tech companies partnered with wireless companies to help refine the current architecture into a new, more functional, and far more efficient system to run wireless networks.
Once deployed, 5G is expected to provide significant benefits to wireless customers. Enhanced speed and more reliable signals could mean increased efficiencies and faster operational processes with companies implementing 5G into their day-to-day. So, switching to 5G is an important consideration for many major businesses, including wireless retailers.
When Will 5G Be Widely Available?
Like any major system change, the switch to 5G will take some time. The new infrastructure design has to be deployed and tested in real-world situations before becoming the default system for wireless carriers. This gradual roll out process could take years to complete but the good news is that the first iteration of 5G is already being deployed in some cities.
The roll out for 5G began in April 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the city receives 5G coverage now, and it is serving as a testing ground to work out any bugs in the system and also to find an efficient way to roll out the new system to other areas. As the testing area expands over the next year, major wireless carriers are preparing their own system launches to get their customers onto the 5G network. Verizon and AT&T are already working on their roll out plans and are expecting a 2020 launch.
Benefits of 5G For Wireless Retailers
When launched, 5G is expected to bring major benefits to wireless retailers. Their clients will see a significant improvement in performance across several areas, with the most notable being the increased revenue potential. The 5G network will be compatible with 5G-enabled phones and accessories only; therefore, anyone wishing to access the 5G network will need a new phone or a way to enable their old phone. There is a lot of potential for retailers that distribute cell phones and related accessories to maximize profits as consumers begin the migration from 4G devices. However, the potential revenue also comes from the ability to do more business.
Since 5G is expected to be much faster than the current system, companies that rely on wireless systems will be able to do their work more quickly. 5G has low-latency performance, which reduces the time lag between the signals being sent and signals being received. This increase in speed will allow businesses to complete operations faster and, in turn, assist more customers in the same amount of time.
Another major benefit for retailers and their customers is higher bandwidth, or the amount of data that can be sent at one time.
Information is sent through wireless signals as small packets of information, and the system’s bandwidth determines the size of those packets. Higher bandwidth means bigger packets, less time spent sending them, and smoother signals. For retailers, that means customer accounts will be handled more effectively and in a shorter amount of time.
Also, the type of data being sent will be able to change. For example, it takes more bandwidth to send videos or large data files than it does to send a standard email or text message. If retailers need to send a lot of information, having higher bandwidth means the system won’t slow down, because it can send more of it at the same time. All of these changes lead to improvements in one key area: customer experience. Customers will have a better experience both in-store and while using the network in other places. The signals used on the 5G network are more reliable, so customers will have better connections in most places. This will reduce dropped calls, poor audio quality, and trouble finding signals — all things that create a bad customer experience.
While the full implementation of 5G will produce major benefits, there are several short-term impacts. Initially, the 5G network that is available will be overcrowded as more people switch to 5G early. This might be problematic for businesses — it slows down the network since it is being overused by a larger number of users than it was designed to accommodate. The increases in speed and efficiency will help, but customers will likely experience diminished performance. For businesses, this could mean slower transactions, among other issues. According to Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Operations for Wireless at iQmetrix, “not all retailers can survive the transition to 5G. Good operators that embrace the change and focus on customer experience, who can sell the right peripherals to customers who think they know everything and provide a seamless experience” will thrive.
There is also a fundamental misunderstanding of how 5G works, which means that customers and staff members need to learn more about it. But remember, 5G — for all of its possible improvements— is still mostly theoretical at this point. It is nearly impossible to predict how it will act when implemented on a wide scale. Another issue is that the different networks set up around the world may not resemble each other, making it harder for different devices to communicate with each other. Before 5G becomes an operational standard for retailers, there is a lot more that everyone needs to know about it.
One of the biggest long-term impacts is that it could take a long time before a full roll out of 5G is started. This is because the current infrastructure is not capable of handling the 5G system quite yet. In most areas, the number of cell towers and transmitters must increase to provide full coverage. Unfortunately, some regulations prevent the addition of new towers, and the approval process for new ones is lengthy. So, distributing 5G everywhere could take a long time.
Some of the existing infrastructures are changing as new construction projects are using the updated wiring and support systems needed to handle 5G signals. While this will help reduce the time needed for a full 5G roll out, new buildings are not built often, and many still use older technology.
Switching to 5G is expected to be a long and costly process, especially for the roll out to be complete. Many smaller companies will not see 5G until it has had a lot of time to be established across communities. Collin Prior, Research Lead at iQmetrix, says that “while technically 5G is on the way, it is going to take some time to get 5G to roll out and be economically viable. It’s best to first target big event spaces, like stadiums, where the demand for access is high.” That means that larger companies and high-traffic venues will see faster implementation of 5G than smaller businesses.
Regardless of the benefits, some entities want to slow down the implementation of 5G. The U.S. government is one of them as it wants to use 5G as a competitive advantage. “The race to 5G is the new space race,” says Prior. “There have been some political moves, such as sanctions, to try to slow things down to give the U.S. a more competitive stance.” Because of this, the roll out of 5G will likely take much longer than it needs to, especially in international companies and organizations.
How to Prepare
Preparing for the switch to 5G is simple, for the time being. For most companies and consumers, now is the time to do the research and begin saving for later investments. There is a lot we don’t know yet about 5G, including specifics of how to implement it and create the infrastructure needed. However, companies can start to try to understand how the technology works so that they can find ways of using it in their operations. This transition process within companies can be lengthy and require a fair amount of due diligence inadvance of committing to the change. As more information becomes available, it’s important to keep up with it to know where and when an area will be covered by 5G.
Companies can also begin to prepare for the transition by developing an effective customer service experience. For many customers, that will make the biggest difference in their decision. “Sprint has the most competitive plans but customers flock to other carriers due to their user experience and questions about the future of the carrier,” says Stacy Hamer. By working on their customer experience now, many companies can ensure that they can keep and attract new customers looking to switch to 5G.