5G Meets Low-code: Innovation Backbone for the Post-COVID World, Part 1

Roland Alston, Thought Leadership Program Leader
June 3, 2021

In the spirit of the iconic poet Carl Sandburg:

5G mobile, Trend Maker for the Post-COVID World,

           Speedy, powerful, revolutionary,

             Network of the Big Shoulders;

                 Innovation multiplier for business and industry,

                   Backbone for the decade of change:

They tell us 5G is the future. Where business and consumers are going. But the fierce battle for early adopters is already underway according to Peter Linder, a notable 5G evangelist and Head of 5G Marketing for Ericsson in North America.

(Side note: 5G is shorthand for fifth generation cellular network.)

“Early adopters are getting on board right now,” says Linder. “About 54 million Americans will purchase a 5G phone by the end of 2021. It’s not like ‘build the network and they will come’. They’ve already come and bought the devices,” says Linder.

The global number of 5G subscriptions is expected to top 600 million by the end of 2021 and 3.3 billion by the end of 2026 according to Ericsson. But the complexity of deploying and scaling 5G infrastructure—not to mention staying digitally connected through the pandemic—calls for more and better process automation. Which is why leading network operators like TELUS, and T-Mobile have prioritized low-code automation as an essential tool for winning in the 5G world.

To put things into perspective, the race for 5G is already bigger than the moon race that put America’s space program on the map. The three major U.S. wireless companies reportedly spent a record $81.2 billion at a recent wireless-spectrum auction that may dramatically reshape the telecommunications industry for years to come. By comparison, Congress spent $25.4 billion for the Apollo program, roughly $145 billion, according to The Hill.

It’s also worth mentioning the 5G revolution comes at a time when infrastructure investments in traditional enterprise connectivity are stagnating, according to research by Ericsson and Arthur D. Little which forecasts revenue from basic connectivity will grow at just 0.75% annually through 2030. The same research reveals value-added digital services will see double digit growth over the next decade, representing a revenue opportunity of a whopping $700 billion.

The global number of 5G subscriptions is expected to top 600 million by the end of 2021 and 3.3 billion by the end of 2026 according to Ericsson. But the complexity of deploying and scaling 5G infrastructure—not to mention staying digitally connected through the pandemic—calls for more and better process automation. Which is why leading network operators like TELUS, and T-Mobile have prioritized low-code automation as an essential tool for winning in the 5G world. 

"5G is an innovation multiplier. It will accelerate development of breakthrough products and services and enable new revenue opportunities across all industries."

-Michael Heffner, Vice President, Solutions and Industry Go To Market, Appian

Speaking of opportunity, the nation’s wireless providers are expected to invest $275 billion to build out 5G networks across the country, with one estimate projecting 5G will pump a staggering $12 trillion dollars into the global economy by 2035, and add 22 million new jobs in the United States alone. All of which makes the following remix of the Appian World 2021 telecom customer panel that much more relevant.

The panel’s expert commentary cut through the hype with real-world use cases and pragmatic insight into the forthcoming roll out of a new generation of high-speed 5G mobile technology. The panelists included Wayne Floyd, Manager, Product & Technology at T-Mobile, and Michael D’Itri, a Senior Systems Analyst at TELUS. Floyd broke down how T-Mobile quickly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis by enabling their customer care agents to work remotely instead of in call centers, a huge deal for a massive wireless carrier with over 100 million subscribers.

“So, first and foremost, we’ve had to change how we do business because our main focus is on how we treat our customers,” said Floyd.

“Our care operations had to be completely reworked from a care-call-center model to people working remotely in a care environment. And so, we made significant changes in our internal corporate networks as well as in ensuring that our care employees can work from home.”

Floyd said that T-Mobile changed business processes behind everything from retail store operations to getting products into the hands of consumers. The company also expanded its work-from-anywhere product offering based on what it learned from improving its own internal remote-work capability during the pandemic.

“One thing the pandemic highlighted more than ever,” said TELUS’ D’Itri, “is the importance of having access to telecommunications services. It’s no longer just a nice to have. Our entire society relies on the internet at home and on the road. At the beginning of the pandemic, we faced two big hurdles. First, we had to ensure reliability and stability of the network for emergency services such as hospitals and police and the rest. Second, we had to manage shifting services from city centers to residential areas.”

The fact that TELUS already had a strong work-from-home culture made the transition to remote work that much easier according to D’Itri. He also talked about the need to stay focused, amid all of the uncertainty in the pandemic, on leveraging technology to support society. For example, beyond emergency services, the TELUS network helped to maintain human connection via video, chat, and other connections which also helped people get through the lockdowns. D’Itri had expected TELUS to put its 5G plans on ice because of the volatility surrounding COVID-19. But the company accelerated its pivot to 5G instead.

As with any emerging trend, there are a lot of misconceptions about 5G connectivity, and D’Itri reminded us of them.

 “Many consumers think 5G is just a faster network. But it’s more than that. It’s not just about speed and low latency. And it’s not just another mobile network.

“We’re basically building the backbone infrastructure to help industries innovate in areas such as self-driving cars, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things.” And that’s just scratching the surface.”

“But the big question is: What does all of this mean for the telecom industry?

“From a technology perspective,” said D’Itri, “we’re going to leverage high-bandwidth frequencies which will ultimately enable us to be closer to the customer. Practically speaking, 5G means the telecom industry has to build a lot more cell sites. (Called densification).  So, we’re using the Appian Low-Code Automation Platform to drive our business thinking around process alignment. Once you do that, you can start thinking about integration of systems, applications, and leveraging automation to make the pivot towards ‘exception-based’ work,” said D’Itri.

Which means TELUS didn’t automate every task behind their business processes. Instead, they automated everything that doesn’t require human intervention. But it was the sheer volume of work involved in deploying 5G, said D’Itri, that drove TELUS to the Appian low-code automation platform. This included the challenge of grappling with a 10x increase in work volume with the same number or even fewer people. D’Itri said that TELUS decided to go with Appian for its automation capabilities, and because the platform wasn’t just a niche product for a specific kind of deployment.

Watch this space for the final episode of: 5G Meets Low-code, expert commentary on how 5G telecom leaders are leveraging low-code to pave the way for cross-industry innovation. To learn more about T-Mobile's and Telus' 5G journeys, as well as additional information on how Appian is helping innovation across the Telecom sector, visit our resource center.