Every year at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the top technology companies showcase their latest products and outline the future of technology. This year’s theme was “Intelligent Connectivity,” and 5G was portrayed as THE connectivity solution for years to come.
5G will certainly bring performance and connectivity improvements, as well as enable new applications and business models. But it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t apply to all industries, verticals, or applications.
Is 5G the Future of IoT?
There is no doubt about 5G’s impact, but IoT solution providers should be cautious when chasing the latest trends—as technology alone won’t solve all of today’s product challenges.
Many of the professionals I talk to suffer from analysis paralysis. They are concerned about building a solution with today’s technology, only to find that technology has become outdated. As a result, companies delay releasing products because they don’t want to miss out on the next big tech trend. I often hear things like, “We are delaying six months because we need to go to Blockchain,” or “Once we incorporate 5G, our product will fly out the door.”
As Product Leaders, it is important to keep an eye on the future, so we can leverage technology trends when the technology is mature enough and when our product can actually benefit from it. We must also stay focused on the present, understanding that our customers have current problems that need solutions right away.
Making the right technology decisions for our product is important, but most IoT applications that fail in the market, fail because they lack product/market fit. The problem is seldom related to shortcomings of the technical solution.
Thinking about 5G (or any cutting-edge technology) as the sole key to product success is misguided. For most IoT applications, having higher data throughout or reduced latency, won’t provide any additional advantage from a product/market fit perspective. Even having AR or VR (enabled by 5G) to create immersive experiences might not be what your customers want or need.
So how should Product Leaders balance these seemingly conflicting priorities? On one hand, you need to deliver value to your customers today, while on the other, you don’t want to become obsolete.
My advice is to divide the roadmap of today and tomorrow into two different tracks. You can leverage the three horizons framework from McKinsey. Horizon one focuses on applying today’s technology to solve your customer’s current problems, allowing you to pursue product/market fit and start gaining market share. In parallel, horizon two or three can focus on leveraging tomorrow’s technologies to provide better/faster/cheaper solutions to your customer’s problems.
For this strategy to work, Product Leaders need to work closely with Engineering counterparts to build modular solutions that allow swapping today’s components with tomorrow’s technology. For example, you can plan for modular architectures that make it easy to swap your device’s radio from 4G to 5G when the time is right.
In addition to this modular approach, Product Leaders must partner with future-looking companies with platforms that leverage the technology of tomorrow. The right partner can help us hedge our bets and allow us to focus on the components that add differentiated value to our customers, while they provide the infrastructure that future-proofs our products.
The Bottom Line
As we saw at MWC19, the future of technology is promising. Cutting-edge developments like IoT, AI, and 5G, will continue to empower the digital revolution and change the world as we know it. As technology leaders, we need to be ready to capitalize on this revolution, while still providing value to our customers, company, and society today.