After all the build-up and anticipation, 5G arrived in the UK with EE’s recent rollout of services in six cities. It’s not often we see ‘disruptive’ technology stories that could benefit High Street retail ahead of online, but the recent launch of the UK’s first 5G-enabled mobile networks offer enormous potential for the future of physical retail.
On the journey to widespread availability, we’re much closer to the start than the end, but a pathway is emerging for 5G to change the face of High Street retail. In the meantime, what can retailers do right now to benefit from high-speed wireless connectivity using today’s advanced 4G LTE technology?
Tried and Tested Connectivity
4G LTE is a familiar and trusted technology that has allowed us to work, relax and connect in ways that were not have been possible in the 3G world. It leverages many of the same technologies that are forming the foundation of 5G and has created new business models that have allowed the likes of Uber and Facebook to become hugely influential.
Retailers have led the way in using 4G LTE to process payments, provide better connectivity for peak selling seasons and to provide day-1 connectivity for remote or pop-up outlets. They use network management tools to monitor and control connectivity for hundreds or thousands of locations, often with lean and agile IT teams. There’s also a big role for wireless internet today to help protect retailers against unplanned connection downtime, which can have an immediate impact on retail revenue – if a retailer can’t process payments, the whole outlet can grind to a halt.
The operational effect of 5G will be very similar. Many retail organisations are already moving towards wireless as their primary connectivity with 4G LTE. This has been central to the popularity of pop-up stores, which are enabling retailers to collaborate, innovate and offer interesting new experiences to customers. By the time 5G arrives, this shift will be accelerating drastically. Wireless carriers have been investing in aggressively upgrading their LTE infrastructure to deliver even faster Gigabit-Class LTE as part of their own pathway to 5G.
80% of the Value Today
So, while we all wait for 5G’s wider rollout, what can Gigabit-Class LTE can offer today? For retailers that want to extend the reach, reliability, and speed of their stores without all of the complex challenges of traditional wired connections, Gigabit-Class LTE can today provide as much as 80% of the value of 5G.
Combined with the arrival of unlimited, ‘no overage’ data plans, Gigabit LTE has bridged a gap for many retailers that have been thinking about replacing wired access links for wireless at their outlet locations. LTE has already carved a valuable role as the go-to connection for failover and Day-1 connectivity for pop-up outlets, but now, it’s is a viable option for primary network connectivity in main branches as well. This allows organisations to ‘cut the cord’ and replace multiple fixed-line providers – often stitched together to provide a branch network – with just one or two wireless providers. As well as being more cost-effective, this can also realise a significant improvement in connectivity uptime.
Network Uptime Is Critical to High Street Innovation
For retailers, this issue is extremely important. Research carried out in May at RetailEXPO revealed that the industry is still facing major challenges with network downtime. Three quarters of those surveyed said they are still experiencing unplanned network downtime and outages impacting business during peak hours.
Unplanned network outages can impact both revenue and reputation significantly. The issue also is completely at odds with the emphasis high street retailers will be placing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things (IoT). The research revealed that 72% of retail professionals believe those technologies will be their organisation’s biggest IT challenges over the next five years.
Given the potential for AI and IoT to revolutionise the industry, transform the customer experience and drive footfall back into bricks and mortar stores, it is perhaps surprising to see many retailers have still not adopted the right technology solutions to mitigate the risk of downtime. And herein lies the problem; for those retailers who have still not implemented reliable connectivity, it will be impossible to take advantage of these emerging technologies set to transform the retail industry in the coming years.
Retail Is Heading For A Wireless Future
Looking back at recent tech history, wireless has repeatedly been the technology to replace fixed-line connectivity. Cordless phones have pretty much killed off corded ones – that’s if your home phone has not already been replaced by your mobile phone. Wireless speakers and Bluetooth headsets are rapidly displacing more awkward wired options. And, wireless LANs usurped wired Ethernet in the office and public spaces over a decade ago.
5G is on course to deliver the biggest communications transformation since the Internet, and the wireless WAN wave is now upon us. It’s difficult to overplay the importance this technology could have for retailers – particularly when it comes to physical stores. For any retailer building a wireless edge strategy, acting now is important and having a built-in pathway to 5G can help ensure they are ready for the future.