MWC Shanghai: Co-creation and collaboration becoming the new buzz of 5G

Buzzwords are nothing new to the telecoms and tech space, but 2018 is starting to see the rise of a few more; co-creation and collaboration

In most cases, vendors and telcos use tech-orientated buzzwords to dazzle, amaze and confuse customers, but this is a new type of euphoria. Its softer, less tangible and more acute. Co-creation and collaboration are necessary aspects of developing the digital economy, but purely by the flexible nature of the concepts, the buzz-bending, hype-escalating PR ‘gurus’ of the industry are going to have some fun here.

The definition and application of the two words are relatively simple on the surface. 5G can potentially take telcos beyond the realms of connectivity utility, providing an opportunity to become more of a consultative service provider. Instead of selling SIMs, telcos will be able to evolve offerings to be more than connectivity for enterprise customers. This means solutions which can proactively improve the efficiency of business operations.

Think of intelligent factories, smart cities or autonomous vehicles. In these examples, connectivity can be used to enhance the business, instead of just making it work. But before this dream of new revenues can be realised, the business needs to be transformed and new solutions need to be imagined.

This is where co-creation and collaboration comes into play. Telcos cannot simply knock on the door of a customer with a 5G offering and say ‘here you go, have come capacity, bandwidth and latency’, a solution specific to the industry, or the individual business, has to be created. It is a different type of business model.

One company which is taking this approach is NTT Docomo. Speaking during MWC Shanghai, CEO of Docomo Beijing Labs, Lan Chen told us the team now has more than 1400 industry partners, with plans to continue to grow. Chen said each of the partners were working with the Docomo research team to create products specific to industry, whether it would be AI-driven taxi solutions which predict demand or virtual assistants which are contextually aware. These partners range from technologists in enterprise organizations, to the internet giants like Baidu, as well as academic researchers. The point is they have experience in building services and products specific to the verticals.

Docomo is defining this research as co-creation, and there are already examples of services in the real world. Chen said there are several taxi companies working in Japan and China to hone the predictive demand service, and while it is not perfect, progress is certainly being made.

Elsewhere on the agenda, Intel had the chance to beat its chest and declare how collaborative it is. Robert Topple, GM of the 5G Advanced Technologies group, pointed to the work the team is doing with operators around the world to discover the future benefits of 5G.

“Important thing about 5g is the need to focus on scale not speed,” said Topple. “When you architect, it’s important that you build the foundation for bigger ideas in the future.

“Need to be software defined, virtualised wherever they are, but also built for the use cases of tomorrow. 5g is not about today.”

Looking at the R&D work, in Sydney the team is working with Telstra and Ericsson to use 5G to support eSports. This is something which is very unique; gamers can become content creators inside the game as opposed to linear content platforms of the past. This impacts the way in which you build 5G for gaming. In Japan there is work with Docomo applying mobility concepts into vehicles. The need here is to make sure an effective handoff between base stations and radio heads occurs, while also maintaining the experience. With autonomous vehicle the environment will change from a cockpit to passenger experience, which Topple highlighted changes the way which we need to think about connectivity and engagement.

Other projects included drones in China for maintenance of the Great Wall of China, an initiative with AT&T in the US for create wireless networks to support 4K video content and smart mining projects in Estonia with Telia. Each of these examples build the case for collaboration.

A final example is a conversation with Jane Rygaard, Head of 5G Marketing at Nokia. Rygaard pointed to the development of 5G networks and Bristol is Open as a great of example of where collaboration can work brilliantly. In Bristol, the initiative has evolved into a mish-mash of university academics, the local authorities and private industry all collaborating with the aim of making 5G accessible and successful for the digital economy. It accounts for different perspectives, ultimately making connectivity more useful.

Bristol is fast becoming one of the most technologically advanced cities in Europe, but it pales in comparison to some of the Asia metro areas. Bristol has a population of roughly 450k, which allows for some interesting PoCs, but China has 120 cities with a population of more than one million people. The scale, should collaboration be done effectively, offers great opportunity to apply variables on PoCs and collect mountains of data to hone models and services.

Collaboration and co-creation might seem like a simple idea, but the foundations of the telco business need to be sturdy and thorough. Such practices need a new structure and external contributions to be a success, something which is starting to catch on in Europe now. That said, the Asian telcos are miles ahead.

Walking around the exhibition floor, the industrial use cases were clear. Almost every stand had elements of enterprise emblazoned on the temporary walls and stacked high in the marketing literature. Asia has been thinking about this evolution for some time, adapting business models, moulding the ecosystem and liaising with external partners to create a more fluid and innovative environment. Industrial applications, the solutions and the communication strategies to engage customers are much more mature.

Collaboration and co-creation might seem like fluffy buzzwords which can fuel the lofty ambitions of creative PR powerhouses, but there is substance to the claim. Those who genuinely embrace the fundamental changes to business which collaboration demands will find themselves in an attractive position to reap the rewards of the enterprise connectivity game. Those who simply use the buzz to empower the marketing department will soon be found out.