This byline was originally featured on Spiceworks.
While it’s encouraging that most U.S. consumers have reliable internet access, new challenges are emerging in an increasingly connected world that threaten to undermine progress and create a further divide.
The digital divide is not a new concept, and for many years, the communications industry has focused on bridging this gap. According to recent research from Amdocs, most U.S. consumers (89%) claim to have reliable internet access. However, nearly two-thirds (61%) of these same consumers are consumers of new technologies like the metaverse, AR and more will increase the divide due to unreliable or slow Internet speeds.
With this, the industry faces a new challenge – the experience divide. One where even with an access gap closing, it’s not enough to keep pace with our hyperconnected future inside and outside the home.
So, what happens now?
Simply Providing Access to the Internet Is No Longer Enough
In today’s world, consumers have more connected devices than ever, and this is only set to grow. Households with more than nine connected devices have increased by 50% since 2021. The global consumer IoT market is predicted to have a compounded growth rate of almost 25% by 2027.
And there’s more coming; with Apple predicted to launch its mixed-reality headset soon, we might see augmented reality and mixed-reality headsets reach a tipping point. According to our research, consumers are eager to try next-generation augmented reality and mixed reality experiences in their everyday lives. For instance, half (49%) are interested in AR for gaming, and a third want to use it for workouts, shopping (28%), education (21%), managing social life / real-time messaging (22%) and real-time GPS (23%).
As we eventually adjust to mixed reality headsets that can always be worn (like the ahead-of-its-time Google Glass), constant connectivity will be an experience “maker” or “breaker.” In fact, half of the consumers told us they were interested in a mixed reality headset that came bundled with an embedded 5G connection to ensure an always-on approach.
As new technology like the metaverse, cloud gaming, and augmented reality headsets become more affordable and widespread, the demand for connectivity will only increase. This presents a significant issue for communication service providers (CSPs) to address; having a network for everyone to have these experiences equally.
So, how can CSPs manage this challenge? The answer lies in having a ubiquitous network that can handle the increased demands for connectivity no matter where a consumer is and what network is currently available. Several wireless connectivity technologies are available today, but they all have limitations. For instance, WiFi suffers from congestion and high latencies once multiple devices are added. Wireless networks can be inconsistent depending on location. Satellite broadband is emerging but in the early stages.
To provide ubiquitous connectivity, CSPs must act as aggregators for different types of networks, allowing consumers to not only switch seamlessly from one to another, but also have backup if something goes wrong with their connection. This is where AI and network governance will become increasingly important in managing the different types of networks.
The Dawn of Standalone 5G Networks
As our digital society becomes increasingly hyperconnected over the next few years, it’s essential for communications service providers to remain agile and competitive to meet the moment. Otherwise, other, new digital players could swoop in and make CSPs less relevant, causing destruction to revenue streams, reputation and more. This might sound dramatic, but it was a reality for many IT providers at the beginning of the pandemic. Those who could not move fast enough to evolve their businesses for our new reality regretted it.
To meet the needs of tomorrow’s content-rich services, CSPs must embrace the latest technology and infrastructure to provide the right connected experience. One crucial development is the advent of standalone 5G networks, which offer the flexibility and scalability necessary to support future demands, closing gaps, providing dedicated coverage and more. As an industry, we’re already seeing success here, including use cases in agriculture, manufacturing and smart cities, as well as closing connection gaps on college campuses.
To fully leverage the potential of 5G, CSPs must also consider “cloudifying” their networks. By centralizing functions and leveraging cloud-based technologies, they can scale their operations and provide services at the network edge. This approach is critical for delivering ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC), a capability that 5G uniquely offers. With URLLC, the network can process vast amounts of data with virtually no delay, providing an unprecedented real-time experience for users.
The importance of URLLC will only grow as new experiences demand higher throughput and better quality of service (QoS). CSPs must prioritize the necessary steps to ensure that their networks can provide the ubiquitous connectivity required to meet these needs. By doing so, they can effectively manage the QoS, deliver unmatched service, and monetize their digital assets to stay relevant and competitive in our fast-evolving digital landscape.
Even With a New Gap To Consider, Access Must Still Be a Priority
Even with most consumers now having an internet connection, we can’t forget the remaining 11% who claim to not have reliable access. As the next wave of technology creates new experiences, the dependency on faster, more stable connectivity will only grow, further dividing those who have access and those who don’t.
To manage this, the communications industry, technology leaders and the government must come together to address broadband as a critical part of our needs pyramid moving forward. Coupling government-mandated affordable connectivity, along with ubiquitous connectivity efforts, will ensure this is a group effort and not the responsibility of a single party.
The Experience Divide Will Only Become More Complicated
CSPs must prioritize the development of standalone 5G networks to address the new challenge the Experience Divide poses. The metaverse is set to arrive soon and will require a network that can handle the demands of our future connected world.
CSPs must act now to embrace the cloud and accelerate 5G rollouts to stay relevant and secure their market share. By doing so, they can enable consumers to have a seamless end-to-end customer experience and bridge the Experience Divide once and for all.