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Where do strategic partners fit in the race to 5G?

In the swirl of hype at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2018 (MWC18) around 5G, something rather interesting happened. One by one, executives from all the major mobile operators — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile (soon to be one) — took to the podium to announce that they, and certainly not their competitors, would be first in the race to 5G.

A sampling: AT&T announced it would deploy 5G in 12 markets by the end of 2018. T-Mobile reported it would deploy 5G in 30 cities by 2019. And Sprint promised “5G-like” performance in six cities in the very near future, heralding this as a “significant milestone toward launching the first 5G mobile network in the U.S.”

It’s no surprise that all the major providers are jockeying to be “first,” but something about the bigger picture becomes clear from all of these announcements. That is, in the race to 5G, the company that gets to market first and fastest will be able to capitalize and lead the way in customer acquisition.

How can mobile operators power themselves across the finish line faster? And when they get across the finish line, how can they be prepared to deliver the ultimate customer experience to both new and existing customers alike?  Let’s look at these two questions in greater detail, since they dovetail with important questions about the role of strategic partnerships in driving innovation and transformation in this space.

The real winner in the race is the consumer

There are a number of challenges facing mobile operators as they work to build and support 5G networks, chief among them are financial in nature. Pure and simple: the upgrade to 5G is expensive business — but it’s not just about the cost of the technology upgrades. Mobile operators know the challenges well (heck, they haven’t made it this far from 2G with the stroke of a magic wand). But as the networks have evolved from 2G to 3G to 4G (and now 5G), so too have their customers’ expectations for service levels that are both immediate and personalized to them.

When mobile operators get everything right, the real winner in the race to 5G will be their end customers. Not only will they gain faster, better and more complete wireless connectivity—but they will also be on the receiving end of the best customer service available in the industry today. How?

How can strategic partnerships help mobile operators — and their customers — win?
For starters, the right partner (or partners) can help ensure that a mobile operator’s road to business process transformation is not diverted by the race to 5G — but rather accelerated to better support it, both from a backend business-processing standpoint and from a front end customer experience standpoint as well.

A few examples where partnerships now can make a big impact include:

Customer Interactions and Experience: Arguably, the most important aspect of the upgrade to 5G is new customer acquisition – and with new customers comes added pressure to keep them. Working with a digital experience provider that specializes in supporting today’s new consumer expectations for omnichannel service delivery—whether via chat, social media, mobile, live associate support or self-help—is a crucial component in any customer retention strategy.

Procurement: Automating procurement aspects and exception negotiations is important to mobile operators and providers in the industry—but much of this work is manual today. Streamlining these processes with technology can have a huge impact both during the 5G transition and through every future transaction.

Legal and Compliance: Contracts, contracts, contracts — and regulations (oh my!).  Though mobile operators have pros in Legal and Compliance, there’s an opportunity to offload some of those non-core tasks to a strategic partner who specializes in these activities so that the operator’s core team has more time and money to devote to its most important pursuit — their 5G upgrade and beyond.

When these and other mission-critical functions can be offloaded (either partially or entirely), the road to 5G and beyond will be paved with cost savings and happy(er) customers.

With so many players in this space and pieces in motion, mobile operators will need to be smart about their partnerships. Otherwise, they’ll likely struggle to transfer the immense hype, excitement and capabilities around 5G into enduring gains on the balance sheet.