Enhancing and maximizing the retail experiences of today and tomorrow will depend on private networks, a mobile edge computing platform and on-demand technologies
In today’s digital world, retailers face many challenges when it comes to disconnected systems and siloed data. Perhaps more than any other industry, retailers are continually looking for the “next big thing” that can help them get a leg up on the competition. It’s widely accepted today that customer experience is the top brand differentiator, and many experiences are enabled by good quality network connectivity.
During a recent analyst webinar, Verizon discussed the role that 5G can play in enabling retail transformation. They kicked off the session by talking about the importance of “enterprise intelligence,” which shifts the focus from theorizing about the network to real-world deployments and use cases of Verizon’s 5G solutions. Specifically, the wireless network operator demonstrated private 5G networks that provide high-speed, high-capacity, and low-latency connectivity outdoors and indoors; a mobile edge computing platform for businesses; and on-demand offerings that combine multiple technologies in a single solution.
The shifting to use cases is important as it helps retailers understand what’s possible by seeing it in action. Almost every CIO and many businesses leaders I talk to have an interest in 5G but when I ask how they would use it to change their business, I often get shrugged shoulders in return as how to use any advanced technology until one sees it. Use cases “prime the pump” and creates more use cases.
One of the key points Verizon made is that if 5G is to be successful, it requires the service provider to offer more than just the network. The company emphasized four key areas beyond the network:
- 5G mobility. Connectivity is the foundation of a 5G enabled digital experience. Verizon used the webinar as a way of providing an update on its network buildout. The company claimed to be ahead of schedule on its C-band spectrum deployment, which is expected to be completed by the end of this quarter. Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband will be available to nearly 200 million people, reaching potential peak download speeds of 2.5 gigabits per second (Gbps) by the end of 2023. On the retail side, approximately 50 percent of Verizon’s customers have moved from 4G to 5G. This allows Verizon to support a number of devices that stores need to enable advanced apps like virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) and wayfinding (digital systems that guide people through physical stores). Instead of using static maps, shoppers could use devices with a wayfinding app for easier navigation.
- Fixed wireless access (FWA). A high bandwidth last mile requires fast backhaul and one and FWA can deliver that. Verizon is increasing its network capacity to support mobility and fixed wireless access. It’s offering higher capacity services at lower price points with FWA, a type of 5G or 4G LTE wireless technology that enables fixed broadband access using radio frequencies instead of cables. One of the use cases Verizon shared included the following: A major automotive retailer partnered with Verizon to deploy a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) with LTE business internet to 1,600 stores initially and another 1,500 stores the following month. Since retailers have to move quickly to redesign stores, this particular Verizon customer was able to roll out FWA to 6,000 stores within 10 months of deploying a completely new network — without missing a beat operationally.
- Private mobile edge computing (MEC). Also known as multi-access edge computing, MEC brings computing resources like processing power and storage closer to end users, devices, and apps, Verizon has a new solution that it developed internally for its own warehouses, which is now being sold to its retail partners to improve warehouse efficiency. For retailers that are experimenting with emerging concepts like the metaverse, MEC and 5G will be a gamechanger in enabling virtual environments where people can interact with brands. Retailers will need networks with extremely high speeds and low latency to provide these enhanced in-store experiences. At the most recent Mobile World Congress, almost all the demonstrations of 5G I saw, from Verizon and other network operators leveraged edge computing. 5G and edge go hand in hand.
- Network as a service (NaaS). Retailers are replacing their legacy systems with technologies like SD-WAN and cloud-based solutions. A new pay-as-you-go consumption model is emerging where retailers are no longer paying a flat fee every month for different services. Examples of such services include virtual contact centers with chatbots and push-to-video capabilities, which allow video calls to be made directly from a website to a local store.
“These are some of the things that are a big focus for Verizon in 2023. We’re really investing in 5G, and we think it’s the future for retail,” said Katie Riddle, Verizon’s global retail strategist.
Retail experiences utilizing the metaverse and Web3—a decentralized internet built on distributed technologies like blockchain—cannot happen without 5G as the core infrastructure component, according to James Hughes, Verizon’s retail chief technology officer for EMEA. Hughes envisions a future where a shopper’s journey throughout a store is completely frictionless, whether it’s a luxury brand like Louie Vuitton or a mass market brand like Walmart. He also sees new use cases emerging, powered by 5G, such as using holograms in instances where people can’t be physically present or to showcase new product features.
Another key focus area for Verizon this year is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, specifically PCI DSS version 4.0, which will go into effect in the spring of 2024. Major card brands (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) each have their own set of regulations and security requirements that customers (merchants, banks, etc.) must meet to minimize credit card fraud. Version 4.0 addresses emerging technologies and provides a transition period during which Verizon is helping its retail customers.
Verizon’s research shows that retail customers have failed the same controls year after year. If companies can’t accept credit cards as a form of payment, it’s difficult for them to stay in business. Verizon has qualified security assessors that offer validation services on behalf of customers. The network operator then aggregates all the collected data, performs assessments, and provides analysis to customers struggling to meet their PCI requirements.
In summary, the retail industry is in the midst of a digital transformation. Verizon is helping retailers by providing them with 5G network connectivity, protecting customer payment data, and promoting enterprise intelligence by leveraging data that allows retailers to make smarter decisions.