Senior Research Analyst, Mobile and IoT Services
Group Vice President, IDC Retail and Financial Insights
Retailers have faced an avalanche of change in the past few years, from economic shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to revolutionary technologies now available to help digitize the customer experience. In the current difficult economic environment, retailers are evaluating every element of their businesses.
While digital commerce experienced significant double-digit growth during the pandemic, retail businesses are the focal point of innovation, as blended digital and physical engagement for store associates and customers becomes a top priority.
The most successful retailers are implementing wireless technology solutions to help solve many of their biggest challenges.
Retailers need to secure and capitalize on the data generated from their operations. Purpose-built private 5G networks provide dedicated connectivity for their businesses. The networks offer several advantages compared with other connectivity solutions, including network flexibility, control, and security that many retailers require. They also are more robust than Wi-Fi networks, allowing a retail location to control its data and other critical features such as security and coverage. For retailers that lack the resources to build and manage a private network, working with a telco that has advanced 5G infrastructure can provide the ability to leverage the advantages of 5G without the cost of private infrastructure.
There are a variety of 5G private network models. A 5G private network can be fully owned by the business, allowing the retailer to solely control access, security, and other network features. A service provider can also own the 5G private network and lease the network to the customer usually for a monthly fee through a managed services model. Finally, 5G private networks can be established using a hybrid ownership approach, whereby the retailer owns the on-premises infrastructure but connects to a public network for wide area coverage, as necessary. Figure 1 shows the technologies and services in a private mobile network that retailers find most relevant.
Combining managed, customized 5G networks with multi-access edge compute (MEC) offers even more possibilities and supports a new set of low-latency use cases reliant on edge compute. The deployment of edge compute with private networks will provide the necessary ingredients, namely high bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and compute capacity, to support real-time applications such as intelligent logistics, automation for checkout and order pickup,
n = 390
Source: IDC’s North American Enterprise 5G, IoT, and Private Mobile Networks Survey, August 2022
Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are made up of hardware, software, connectivity, and services that can be applied to a range of vertical markets and use cases. IoT connectivity, essentially how an IoT device or sensor transmits data from the device to the IoT platform where it is analyzed, is critical to an IoT project.
The value of connectivity to IoT projects can’t be overstated. Cellular IoT connectivity is one type of IoT connectivity that leverages commercial cellular networks integrating generational cellular technology standards such as 4G (LTE) and 5G using licensed radio spectrum for both wide area coverage and private networks.
Managed IoT connectivity services are offered by mobile network operators (MNOs) and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), as well as other third-party providers. Typically, vendors and mobile operators offer capabilities for enterprises and organizations to integrate these solutions with other systems — such as a customer service application — as well as create custom rule sets.
IoT connectivity management platforms (CMPs) are part of managed IoT connectivity services and help keep cellular-oriented IoT deployments up and running. These products provide data on IoT network connectivity and device status, allowing retailers to effectively monitor, manage, and secure IoT device rollouts. Managed IoT connectivity services help reduce the complexity for IoT projects by allowing a retailer to manage an IoT deployment through a single pane of glass.
Fixed wireless access (FWA) service provides a reliable and cost-effective option for a retailer’s internet connectivity requirements. FWA, in conjunction with 5G technology, is a scalable high-speed broadband option. Most FWA service speeds are more than sufficient to provide primary connectivity in support of a retail location and key applications (e.g., point of sale, digital signage, kiosks), or the service can be used as a backup connection to ensure 24 x 7 connectivity. With self-install options, FWA service can be set up by an onsite employee in less than an hour. Many providers offer unlimited data plans, which allow a retailer to control costs and avoid unexpected charges. Generally, there is no up-front hardware cost, only the monthly service plan charge.
Many trends in the retail sector signify a continued and growing reliance on wireless technology. Retailers will increasingly rely on collecting and analyzing data and then applying what they have learned to engage with customers and automate processes more intelligently. The way forward requires absolute focus on the consumer. About 50% of consumers told us via IDC’s Retail Consumer Survey that they will abandon a store or shop elsewhere if expected services or transparency to inventory data, orders, loyalty, coupons, and so forth are not available. Retail brands know this.
It is no surprise that customer retention is one of retail’s top 3 objectives right now (source: IDC’s Global Retail Operating Models Survey, August 2022). If retail brands want to keep a customer, they need to anticipate customer needs to proactively engage in meaningful experiences. Current consumer journeys need to be facilitated by utilizing insights drawn from shopping patterns to drive next best actions prescriptively, proactively, and autonomously.
The top 3 areas of innovation for retailers are all dependent on data and insights to drive greater customer satisfaction and operating efficiency — 62.5 % are focused on the innovation of store operations, 50.9% on marketing, and 48.2% on customer experience (source: IDC’s Global Retail Operating Models Survey, August 2022; n = 800).
The combination of private mobile networks, MEC, and IoT technology are powerful tools to help navigate the changing retail landscape and allow sector-specific solutions, and retailers are investing accordingly (see Figure 2).
n = 503
Source: IDC’s Global Retail Operating Models Survey, August 2022
Mobile network operators have deep-rooted experience working with businesses to address their needs, often using managed services models. Managed service providers have developed comprehensive vendor ecosystems that allowretailers to select different hardware and software vendors to build its network. The service provider can then deliver an end-to-end network incorporating all the tools the retailer requires with one bill and support point.
Managed service providers can also assist in managing who has access to the network, issuing SIM cards, and monitoring network performance to identify and correct potential problems before those problems impact network performance. They can also provide managed IoT connectivity services to track IoT devices and ensure the best network connectivity and pricing models.
T-Mobile for Business offers a portfolio of solutions to address connectivity needs for retailers. The operator’s Advanced Network Solutions (ANS) provides advanced connectivity through a private or hybrid network that incorporates MEC. T-Mobile’s Advanced Industry Solutions (AIS) offers IoT connectivity, including global services through the T IoT service in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, a business internet service that offers a high-speed broadband primary or failover option for retailers, and a portfolio of solutions specific to retailers that includes sensors, video, fleets, and asset tracking options.
Retailers can address many of their challenges with the help of these wireless solutions. These technologies provide the connectivity to determine metrics for walk-in foot traffic, temperature monitoring, window display effectiveness, tracking goods, converting passersby into customers, determining queue length, detecting objects, and more. The metrics can then be measured and analyzed to ensure a successful retail operation.
The retail market will continue to face challenges as consumer needs and the economic environments continually change. Wireless technology, including private 5G networks, MEC, and cellular IoT connectivity, are tools that retailers can leverage to gain advantages over their competitors and improve customer experience. Managed services offer a cost-effective and unintrusive way for retailers to take advantage of available wireless solutions. T-Mobile for Business is a trusted partner for retailers looking to implement wireless technology as an option to turn the various retail challenges into opportunities.