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Driving SME growth with 5G power

5G is set to be the key driver of the next evolution step in hybrid work environments

Published Sun, Apr 11, 2021 · 09:50 PM
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Today, we are in the midst of a telecom revolution that offers significant dividends for Singaporean businesses, especially for the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) space. The new 5G technology is more about ultra-reliable connectivity everywhere rather than just lightning-fast speeds.

5G supports up to a million devices per square kilometre, and provides instantaneous response times for apps. This opens up immense business opportunities, especially in areas like the Internet of Things (IoT). The need to realise this potential drives the Infocomm Media Development Authority's (IMDA) cutting-edge 5GSG programme.

IMDA's efforts ensure that Singapore is set to be a global leader in terms of full-fledged 5G stand-alone (SA) usage. Its vision is to have 5G SA coverage in at least half of Singapore by end-2022.

The objectives set forward by IMDA create radical innovation and revenue-generation opportunities for Singapore's businesses. To start off, IMDA has identified six strategic clusters that can witness major transformation with 5G adoption - Maritime, Urban Mobility, Smart Estates, Industry 4.0, Consumer Applications and Government Applications.

IMDA initiatives such as the Tech Skills Accelerator (TeSA) promise a 5G-specific technical talent pool for businesses. IMDA's 5G test beds like the PIXEL innovation space will develop cutting-edge R&D programmes and start-ups in this domain.

All these developments bring us to the important question - what does 5G offer for SMEs? Let's start this discussion with a quick look at the business challenges faced by Singapore's SMEs at the moment.

An evolutionary revolution

A cornerstone of Singapore's business ecosystem, SMEs have seen severe setbacks due to the ongoing pandemic. The National Business Survey 2020/2021 undertaken by Singapore Business Federation (SBF) indicates that over 70 per cent of Singaporean businesses affected by Covid-19 expect to take at least a year to recover fully.

As Covid-19 rages on globally, demand uncertainty, rising employee costs and travel restrictions create severe business bottlenecks for Singaporean businesses. SMEs also face the dilemma of catering to digital-savvy customers who demand exceptional online service experiences.

Our SMEs overcome such challenges using agile business models that often rely on work-from-home (WFH) models, demand-based addition of remote workers, and flexible processes. Just consider the fact that more than 40 per cent of Singaporean businesses now offer remote-working arrangements for over half of their teams (up from 18 per cent in pre-Covid days), according to Cisco's Future of Secure Remote Work report. This trend gained momentum during the circuit breaker period when businesses increasingly relied on video conferencing, virtual workspaces and other remote-work enablers.

In the new normal, SMEs must create world-class immersive customer experiences that are on a par with those offered by titans like Amazon or Google. Digital transformation (DX), branding and marketing strategies will become critical enablers if businesses have to achieve these objectives.

Flaky Internet connectivity creates productivity losses for employees and support staff in such scenarios. This is where remote-working platforms along with low-latency 5G makes life easier for your workforce.

From desks to hotdesks

AIBI International's ongoing initiative that relies on 5G to transform its traditional one-person-one-workstation model is a great SME success story. The health and fitness market leader relies on StarHub Mobile Office's potential to create a suitable hotdesking operating model.

Single workstation-bound physical offices now make way to "any place, any device" operating models at SMEs like AIBI. StarHub's Mobile Office enables AIBI's workforce to stay productive while using features such as SmartUC Mobile and Microsoft 365 Business Standard. The team can respond to customer calls from anywhere even while on the move - without call drops or fixed office lines - thanks to S and Microsoft 365 Business Standard. The team can respond to customer calls from anywhere even while on the move - without call drops or fixed office lines - thanks to SmartUC Mobile.

Even the heaviest of work files (including those containing videos) are updated in real time so that employees can seamlessly switch over from working on their mobile devices to laptops. Seamless video conferencing on Microsoft Teams and instant streaming of heavy video files are other advantages that the AIBI team looks forward to from 5G.

Introduction of 5G applications like Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) further sweeten the deal. FWA makes it possible for SMEs to instantaneously set up superfast 5G connections for pop-up outlets, temporary retail presence or even office relocations.

Ever pervasive presence

Industries such as logistics and transportation will be significant beneficiaries since 5G architectures largely eliminate network blackspots. This is especially advantageous for requirements like live consignment tracking and smart shipments, which pose challenges for logistics players.

Logistics applications using 5G and IoT range right from warehousing operations and freight transportation, all the way up to last-mile delivery. A case in point is the use of autonomous vehicles or drones controlled via 5G links for consignment delivery. Figure: Advantages of 5G use in Logistics outlines several such benefits that 5G can bring to the industry.

Differentiate without breakoffs

Singapore's events and retail sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic's aftermath. Interestingly, these sectors were among the first to innovate using technology.

Facebook streams of live events, virtual showroom visits and product launches are now commonplace. Yet, older cellular technology often plays spoilsport with network issues that result in frozen video streams, buffering or glitchy audio. 5G networks will make such niggles a thing of the past with simultaneous streaming of 4K video streams.

Next-generation possibilities like augmented reality (AR) makes it possible for SMEs to drive rich media-powered, highly interactive customer experiences. It will accelerate the use of 360-degree video content, live in-stadium experiences and even futuristic 3D holographic displays. Verticals like fashion can now seamlessly organise realistic fittings and fashion shows online using technology such as virtual presence.

Unmanned retail outlets such as Pick & GO and Cheers will benefit significantly from 5G in terms of seamless customer checkouts. For example, capabilities such as smart shelves, app overlay-driven shopping experiences and smart grocery robots can be augmented by live video-chat support with 5G connectivity.

Growth avenues of the future

SMEs power Singapore's entrepreneurial engine, and will continue to sustain this momentum. The only change is that this growth will rely on digitally driven business models.

Companies of the future will emerge using enablers such as process automation, increased collaboration, IoT and advanced analytics. Our SMEs must break the physical boundaries of traditional offices to profit most from the ongoing shift.

Rapid digitalisation is the first step of this long, yet highly rewarding, journey. It's imperative that SMEs properly execute this transition to succeed in the days ahead.

Robust, fast and reliable connectivity forms the underpinnings of remote workforces and productive workplaces. Needless to say, 5G will be the key driver of the next evolution step in hybrid work environments.

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