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  June 20th, 2024 | Written by

The Global Telecom Wireless Evolution is Speeding Up: Are Retailers Ready?

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The rollout of 5G technology over the past five years has been slow. But there has been a recent uptick in implementation with over 7.9 billion global 5G connections expected by 2028.

Read also: Telecom Retailers Can Improve Customer Experience By Embracing Integrated Solutions

While 5G is still being implemented, the international telecom industry is already preparing for 6G development. The United Arab Emirates has built a roadmap with plans to launch 6G in 2030. Nokia is teaming up with Indian companies to research 5G and 6G communications. In North America, NVIDIA is building an AI platform to ramp up 6G development, also with a 2030 commercialization date.

To put things in perspective, 6G technology could be commercially available in about six years. That may seem like a long timeframe, but if 6G development keeps up the pace, six years may not be long enough to speed up telecom retail operations. Currently, the demand for 5G devices is increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 40%. 6G technology implementation will warrant devices that offer higher-speed connectivity, and even better performance and capacity. All attractive propositions for customers that will translate to high demand for 6G devices.

Telecom retailers need to begin organizing their operational policies and their point of sales technology from now to address the upcoming demand for 6G devices.

6G expectations for telecom retailers

6G implementation will result in an increase in demand for faster and better smart devices. Video streaming requirements alone are pushing customers to buy 5G mobile devices and even 5G home internet. With 6G’s better speeds promising even more powerful devices, should wireless retailers expect to grow their sales revenue?

The answer is complicated. On the one hand, yes, there will no doubt be customers who want the latest 6G-enabled premium smart device. On the other hand, we are seeing a trend towards longer lasting devices, as well as a customer preference for cost-effective devices. Retail sales teams have observed a significant decline in how often customers upgrade their devices. Instead of once every 18 months, customers are upgrading their devices once every three years. Since 6G devices will be expected to last even longer than 5G devices, it could possibly translate to fewer sales. Even though retailers will be positioned to charge premium prices for higher rate plans, it may not be enough to offset the loss from fewer overall sales.

The answer lies in diversification. Wireless retailers need to diversify their inventory in anticipation of decreased sales. Sales of smart home devices and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are projected to grow over the next couple of years. Retailers should be stepping up now to address customer needs for smart home devices. By the time 6G devices enter the market, retailers will have a well-diversified portfolio of products that will enable them to maintain their revenue generation channels.

Customer experience should take priority

For telecom retailers, even having a large inventory of the newest 6G devices may not convert into an equal amount of sales if customer experience isn’t improved. There are numerous lessons that can be taken from the rapid expansion of prepaid retail stores in the US.

Device activation in telecom retail has traditionally been difficult and slow for everyone involved–operators and sales associates, but more importantly, customers. In 2023, the average device activation time was 30 minutes, with some customers experiencing up to 60 minutes’ wait time. Progress has been made to reduce activation costs and customer wait times. But it’s not a one-time fix, rather an ongoing process. Telecom retailers need to be constantly aware of customer pain points and address them swiftly.

While the aim for telecom retailers will be to stock and sell more 6G device sales, there are a host of other uses for 6G technology behind the scenes. For example, 6G connectivity can speed up data analysis, ensuring sales associates have customer data and sales patterns as and when they need it. Faster access to data will enable associates to upsell more accurately. Wireless retail operators will also be able to offer personalized customer experiences across multiple channels, thus strengthening customer relationships.

Beyond data, 6G technology can improve logistical and operational inefficiencies, leading to a reduction in customer wait times, as well as better employee retention.

Key considerations for 6G implementation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being heralded as an important tool in the development of 6G networks, especially for equipment and resource optimization. But AI is already in use now in the telecom sector. Most industries will attest to having more data than is humanly possible to analyze. Which is where AI comes in. AI can be employed by the wireless retail sector for collecting and processing customer data and suggesting better rate plans.

However, there are numerous ethical considerations when using AI. AI technology needs human intervention, not only because of the human biases involved in programming AI, but because AI hallucinations, where AI makes things up, can have a negative impact on businesses. Additionally, businesses still need to get consent to collect customer data, and they need to put in place policies for how and why that data is used.

Another key consideration for 6G implementation is the need for sustainability. Developing and operating 6G networks must not add to the billions of kilograms of e-waste the planet is already generating. As companies like NVIDIA and Nokia go full steam ahead in building 6G networks, they must take into account how that building process, as well as maintenance and recycling, will impact the environment.

The 2030 timeline is uncertain, and use cases have not been determined

There are still a few challenges in the way of 6G implementation. While the telecommunications industry has learned quite a few lessons from the roll out of 5G, that doesn’t necessarily mean the issues that plagued 5G operators won’t impact 6G technology. 

Certain issues have been resolved. For instance, the 5G rollout was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which should not be a concern for 6G implementation. Additionally, the heavy network boxes that were used for 5G deployment have already been reduced in size. Vodafone recently launched 5G network-in-a-box, which could pave the way for a smoother 6G installation.

However, 5G operators struggled when private individuals used unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrums, a problem that could arise again for 6G deployment. 5G C-Band transmissions have had the aviation industry concerned about interference with GPS and navigation that are still in the process of being resolved. 

Certain issues around 5G implementation could have a detrimental impact on 6G deployment. The short wavelengths of 5G have made it difficult to penetrate interiors and prevented it from covering larger distances. Population density has also affected 5G rollout–numerous Asian countries have had a better 5G rollout than North America, due to having a far denser grid of mobile sites. Even if 6G technology is developed faster than expected, the actual coverage area may not be sufficient for telecom operators to recoup the costs of implementation, let alone generate profits.

Given these uncertainties, the real priority of telecom retail operators should be to strategize around the macro-trends identified above, which are much more certain. At this stage, it’s less important to plan for the possibility of 6G, and far more urgent to plan for current consumer trends that collide with emerging technologies, such as retail diversification with IoT products, and enhancing operations using AI. 

Wireless retail success, with 6G products or otherwise, requires interconnected technologies

Omnichannel retail experiences have become the norm across industries, and telecom retail is no exception. The growth that 6G devices promises will mean little in terms of revenue, if those omnichannel experiences aren’t optimized.

The retail industry now requires systems to talk to each other in real-time without users, usually sales associates, having to deal with clunky interfaces or multiple different software. That need can only be answered by adopting integrated technologies.

Starting now, telecom retailers can opt for a holistic software that ties their disparate systems together and enables their staff to manage processes easily. Whether its HR systems, business operations, tax management, or inventory management, an Interconnected Commerce approach will ensure retailers are ready for 6G or any other challenge.

About the Author

With a career spanning 15 years in wireless telecommunications, Jason Raymer is Senior Vice President of Revenue & Client Experience for iQmetrix, North America’s only provider of Interconnected Commerce solutions designed to power the telecom retail industry. Jason spent the early days of his career navigating the intricacies of consumer electronics retail, which quickly evolved into revenue and operations roles at Tier 1 and 2 North American telecom carriers. These experiences have proven invaluable to his current leadership role, which has a focus on strategic vision that propels organizations to new heights. Jason’s expertise lies in crafting revenue-generating strategies, leveraging technology to help telecom retailers optimize their operations, and fostering strong client relationships. As a seasoned industry expert, his commitment is driving iQmetrix’s success in an ever-changing landscape, and propelling the company to the forefront of the telecom industry. Jason is a champion of initiatives that harness the power of emerging technologies, ensuring iQmetrix solutions remain agile and competitive in a rapidly evolving digital ecosystem.