How can 5G be a powerful catalyst for collaborative action in Canada?

By Rohit Puri

EY National TMT Industry Sector Leader

Not your average telecom strategist. British-born global citizen, focused on the development of the telecoms industry. Fluent in all things Bollywood.

5 minute read 24 Mar. 2021
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By building an ecosystem around innovation, and collaborators being open to working together, 5G can redefine what any business can achieve.

We know 5G is very different from anything the world’s seen before. So the way we unlock its potential should be different, too. Making the most of this exceptional technology will require exceptional collaboration among Canada’s governments, telcos and the broader business community.

Looking back, 3G was operator driven, consumer focused and network heavy. Then came 4G — operator enabled, big tech and social media focused, and consumer driven. Now, 5G represents a marked shift. This is the moment when connectivity becomes truly enterprise driven. Use cases abound. Potential proliferates. We need to stop wondering what 5G can do and start asking: how do we unleash its power? It’s got to be constructive, disruptive and creative to work. This creates the need for an ecosystem where governments, telcos and businesses work together to fuel the future.

Where do we begin?

The role of government in fostering an integrated digital infrastructure

The right regulatory environment can cultivate the right innovation environment. The piecemeal approaches to Canadian connectivity of generations past won’t work going forward. Municipal, provincial and federal governments need to converge around the outcomes and services they want — and need — to deliver. That holistic view should fuel one cohesive strategy that brings these forces together instead of breaking them apart.

There are glimmers of hope to suggest we’re headed in the right direction. The Canadian Government launched the $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund late last year to help connect 98% of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026. That’s a significant step forward, but only one of many more to come.

A future in which businesses can truly use 5G to its full potential cannot come down to individual cities and towns working to build out small-scale networks in the face of increasing demand. We can no longer afford to silo teams and departments, leaving them to tackle the same issue from separate islands. Let’s move away from patchwork solutions to create real momentum. We need all levels of government to come together around a well-articulated digital infrastructure strategy. This is about getting clear on priorities, cutting back red tape, and cultivating a spirit of innovation in government itself. That will help enable businesses to tap into 5G in scalable ways.

Telcos must embrace this opportunity for collaboration

Bringing a more integrated government approach into the mix and then encouraging telcos to play a similarly influential ecosystem role can drive real traction. It may not feel intuitive for telcos to change the way they collaborate. It will take some serious changes. Chief among them is letting go of the way it’s always been and getting comfortable in a reimagined network where telcos work more closely with governments and other businesses.

That push-pull may not feel easy. Telcos have always controlled the value chain here, from creation to delivery to service. But the chain itself has changed a lot in recent years. Tech giants, app writers and social media platforms are redrawing the lines. Pushing back against that perceived lack of control, though, limits any telco’s ability to deliver efficiently.

Canada has some of the best infrastructure in the world, full stop. Telcos that embrace this moment to actively collaborate with players of all shapes and sizes – including governments and other companies – won’t lose their piece of the pie. They’ll help create a bigger pie to work with. Enabling stakeholders — like a municipality willing to fund infrastructure— to build on progress with telcos strengthens the ecosystem and allows everyone to innovate faster and better.

Change is hard. Legacy control isn’t easy to give up. At EY, we’ve often said telcos must start evolving their approach to sales and service as technology itself advances and businesses use it in entirely new ways. That’s even more important as we stand on the precipice of 5G. Doing it while simultaneously getting closer to other stakeholders fosters an environment where organizations, companies, cities and others can improve what they do, and how they do it, by doing it with 5G.

Successful businesses will view 5G as an enabler, not a technology

That innovation is precisely why businesses themselves need to play an active and collaborative role in the ecosystem alongside governments and telcos. It’s time for Canadian companies to view 5G as an operational enabler capable of spurring new solutions and bold ambitions. Look at your business. Find out where your operations are hampered by network capacity, high latency or unreliable signals. Start asking how 5G can go beyond problem solving to usher in net new capabilities, services and offerings.

Maybe that means mining companies ramping up safety with underground security cameras — powered by 5G’s ability to channel vital data from below ground reliably and quickly. Autonomous vehicles in the oil patch pivoting to avoid an obstacle, because stronger connectivity enables instant course correction from a remote source. Facilities teams mitigating a burst pipe and instantly redirecting water flow before damage occurs, thanks to 5G’s low lag time and dedicated capacity. Utility companies leveraging consistent 5G to understand how an individual customer consumes electricity and personalizing the customer experience with tips based on specific needs.

As organizations try new things and share those 5G use cases back into the ecosystem, they create a ripple effect. Fast followers can leapfrog the innovation shared and then feed more 5G ideas right back into the system for others to benefit from. And that’s just the beginning.

The normal we’re headed toward won’t be a mirror image of the one we’ve left behind. Remote working. Virtual learning. Online shopping. These are more than just pandemic fads — they’re fundamental changes to the ways we work, learn and live. We’re moving into an era more reliant than ever on strong signals, consistent service and low latency. That’s where 5G has the power to shine, not just for consumers, but also for companies.”
Rohit Puri
EY National TMT Industry Sector Leader


Taking down barriers and building up connection points will feel new for many of this industry’s stakeholders. But maybe that’s the point. The magnitude of 5G merits a unique approach. Not only because it can help businesses operate better, but because those businesses can apply 5G to innovate around the world’s toughest problems. That’s powerful. A collaborative ecosystem where governments, telcos and other businesses come together to drive progress represents a new direction for Canadian innovation. It’s most certainly worth a shot. 

About this article

By Rohit Puri

EY National TMT Industry Sector Leader

Not your average telecom strategist. British-born global citizen, focused on the development of the telecoms industry. Fluent in all things Bollywood.

Related topics Consulting