5G And Smart Cities: A Boon For Tech Entrepreneurs

Smart cities will be big business for the mobile operators. But how will the little guys get a look in?

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Smart cities will be big business for the mobile operators. But how will the little guys get a look in?


5G And Smart Cities: A Boon For Tech Entrepreneurs

Smart cities will be big business for the mobile operators. But how will the little guys get a look in?

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Right now you can’t move for stories about 5G. Like so many things in the mobile world, being first to market with the biggest, fastest and greatest is dominating the headlines.

Operators from Vodafone in Australia, through Telecom Italia, to Japan’s NTT Docomo, are all testing network capability and speed. The next super-highway race is well and truly on.

A lot of people are baffled by this when 4G hasn’t really taken off, despite the £2.34bn spent by operators on licences. Average revenue actually dropped by 8% after the launch of 4G and it seems that only 19% of mobile data traffic is on the mobile network. We love our wifi too much and we’ll use it at home if we can.

So why the rush to 5G? In a word ‘things’. The smart city future can’t be realised without it. It has very little to do with whether you want to sit on a bus and watch Game of Thrones. Instead it’s about changing our lives from using drones to deliver critical medicines to automatically ordering the groceries from an Amazon ‘Dash’ button.

But none of this can be achieved without applications, and operators are absolutely dependent on the developers and integrators to make the internet of things happen. It’s not a capability they will are prepared to cultivate in house – too costly at this stage.

The opportunities for IoT entrepreneurs are therefore massive. But inevitably there will be winners and losers. So how can you influence operator strategy and delivery?

Shinkansen train

5G will connect the cities of the future

It boils down to developing technology that is exceptional in the experience it delivers and telling a story to consumers that isn’t lead by the technology. If there is one thing to learn from 4G it’s that people really aren’t interested in the technology they simply want to know it works when they need it and they won’t be overcharged for it.

That said, you still need to get in with the operators. Here are my five pointers.

Identity - Customer first, tech second

Having some really cool and super efficient technology is not a point of differentiation that operators will worry about when they select a partner. You need to be very clear on your identity and the customers’. Who will buy this – is your ideal the same as the operators?

Don’t forget that some operators are stronger in certain markets or sectors. If you want to target the government or business market then a partnership with BT/EE or Vodafone is probably going to serve you best, whereas if it’s millennials it’s better to knock on O2 or Three’s door.

But don’t go knocking unless you’ve really thought through the proposition. It has to be easy to communicate. I can’t stress that enough. If you need to explain it then you’ll never succeed.

But above all it has to work, by which I mean it has to just plug in so don’t underestimate how much automation will need to be involved. If I have to work it out to get it running I’m not interested, and the operators won’t be either – it costs too much to put customer help services in place.

Insignificance - Your size doesn’t matter

In fact your size is what the operators will like. You’ll be fast, innovative and in a position to deliver something they can’t. Don’t’ take that for granted and find yourself in a position where you talk down your value to get the deal.

They need to get the money back on the crazy sums of money they will pay for the licences - generosity won’t make you money only them.


Corporates love to partner with small, agile businesses

Interference - It’s a good thing

You’ll go out of your mind when it comes to implementation. You’ll have hurdles galore to jump over to get the product to market from data protection, to cyber security to quality standards.

Don’t let it get to you. It’s part of the deal and it will get you noticed for the right reasons in the long run. It all adds up to the value your product will deliver to customers and the operator. And when you deliver something impeccable other operators will notice – not just in the UK but across the globe.

Intolerance – corporates are old school

The other thing that will drive you mad is how slowly things will move. Rigorous, but dare I say it, out moded project management processes will be followed by the operator and they will come with an extraordinary amount of politics.

Be tolerant and understanding that when they go quiet it’s usually because they’ve hit a roadblock internally, technically, financially or operationally, and they are trying to unravel it. Be supportive and establish how you can help. Collaboration and partnership are the words of the day.

Infancy – reputations and fortunes will be made

Entrepreneurs have everything to gain at this stage of the market’s development. Don’t get distracted by all the things you could do. Stay resolute on what you want to be famous for and how you can help the operators become famous.

It’s so important for operators to be first. But they can’t afford to get it wrong with a sub-standard execution. Your role is to make them look good, better than good even, and show the world that IoT was the strategy their shareholders were waiting for.

Which begs the question - what are you waiting for?

James Gray is founder of Graystone Strategy

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5G And Smart Cities: A Boon For Tech Entrepreneurs

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