Wireless connectivity is critical to the pop-up economy, which is the future for businesses seeking to thrive in the shadow of COVID-19
The changes brought on by COVID-19 will not simply disappear once social distancing restrictions are eventually lifted. Businesses will have to make a number of operational adaptations, all of which will become part and parcel of the ‘new normal’. Footprint expansion and mobility, for example, are two of the business imperatives that have risen to prominence during lockdown and that will continue to play a major role in the weeks and months ahead. For this reason, it is necessary to take a closer look at the more flexible and agile business models being championed by businesses in the “pop-up economy”.
Businesses in the pop-up economy take advantage of the speed and relative simplicity involved in setting up temporary or mobile facilities. These are fairly commonplace in the retail and entertainment sectors, but the potential for pop-up models to spread to other sectors was perhaps best exemplified by the growing number of pop-up testing, treatment and pharmaceutical units that were deployed in response to COVID-19. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, these facilities can be set up in 20 minutes and provide patients with their results in as little as 48 hours.
With added mobility, the burgeoning pop-up economy has been given the opportunity to prove itself, with transformational effects in every sector, from expanding geographical footprint to ensuring products and services reach the most vulnerable, the isolated or those with issues of mobility.
Obviously, the role of technology cannot be understated in facilitating this mobile vision of the future, with cloud computing, the Internet of Thing (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and edge-computing all playing a crucial role. But none are quite as crucial as the fabric of wireless networks that connect them all together.
The pop-up economy – today and tomorrow
The rise of the pop-up economy is a trend that most of us have probably witnessed at some point while walking around town centres, airports, stations, museums and anywhere else where passerby footfall is high. Businesses in the retail sector hold the lead in taking advantage of pop-up models, using 4G LTE to make their payment, stock and inventory business applications mobile.
So far, the main objective of businesses looking to take advantage of the pop-up economy has been to increase reach, tailor experiences to specific demographics, reduce costs and, ultimately, drive revenue. But as the example of temporary healthcare facilities demonstrate, the benefits of such a high and wide-touch model are not limited to businesses in the consumer sector.
One prominent example is the transformation of vehicles used by field-based workers – anything from lorry drivers to travelling salespeople – into fully operational mobile workspaces. Already, in-vehicle mobile connectivity has been rapidly integrated into vehicles in the emergency services, logistics and transport and utilities sectors.
But by integrating additional technologies like inventory control using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, live data streaming and automated information exchange, businesses are further solidifying the vehicle as the workspace of the future. As the sudden shift to remote working has shown us, the future of work is being driven by greater flexibility and mobility, both of which will feature prominently in the pop-up economy.
Should we wait for 5G before diving into the pop-up economy?
According to analyst firm IHS Markit, 5G will contribute $13.2 trillion of global economic output by 2035. Forecasts like this one have fed the notion of 5G being a golden-egg opportunity for businesses, but time will tell how its disruptive potential will manifest. After all, the 4G revolution arguably fulfilled predictions that it would lead to the creation of new business models, but few could say to have foreseen the rise of Uber, Airbnb, Lyft and other companies that the tech-enabled.
It’s also important for businesses to realise that 4G is still unlocking new use cases today. Gigabit-speed connectivity over 4G LTE and ever-cheaper unlimited data plans have granted users remote access to high-demand business applications regardless of their location. In fact, with speed and bandwidth now mostly comparable to wired connectivity, businesses are increasingly looking to “cut the cord” and leverage the flexibility and agility of enterprise branch connectivity over a private LTE network. Again, this is fundamentally changing the way we look at the workplace itself, especially in light of the new relationship between workforce and workspace that will emerge out of the ubiquitous working from home paradigm.
The technology behind business mobility
With gigabit-speed 4G LTE coverage more widespread throughout the United Kingdom than ever before, and with the trend for operators to offer unlimited data plans continuing to grow, aspiring pop-up businesses may be tempted to use consumer MiFi devices or even simple smartphone tethering to underpin their mobile connectivity strategy. However, not only does this lead to greater complexity later down the line, the lack of inherent security and reliability qualities within consumer-grade network infrastructure could eventually pose a real threat to the business itself.
Enterprise-grade wireless connectivity, therefore, must be the bedrock of any pop-up business model. This means airtight security parameters through in-built VPN or parallel networking, total visibility and the ability to launch mass configuration updates via an integrated cloud-based management platform, and advanced orchestration and automation systems needed for a scalable WAN edge that can expand, contract, adapt, move, and evolve as business needs dictate.
In simpler terms, enterprise-grade connectivity meets high levels of availability, manageability, interoperability and security. With these imperatives in mind, pop-up businesses immediately launch sustainable operations and create revenue opportunities on a site-by-site basis, regardless of the scale of their footprint or the diversity of connected objects.
Pop-up healthcare: a blueprint for the future of business?
By partnering with WiFi and broadband provider UK Connect, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s (DIO) training camp – a key asset of the Ministry of Defence’s COVID-19 strategic response – was set up with a secure, reliable and scalable broadband infrastructure in only 12 hours to an army camp with only 48 hours’ notice. The building of pop-up medical facilities in response to COVID-19 marked a watershed moment in terms of mobility and rapid deployment in the healthcare sector. As we prepare for a new normal in which social distancing and working from home remain strategic priorities, businesses should look to this example to think about their own pop-up capabilities.
Among a forecast of uncertainty within the business world, it can safely be said that characteristics such as digital connectivity, mobility, flexibility and agility will continue to be crucial considerations for all organisations moving forward. Keeping up with the demands of the new normal requires businesses not only to be cognisant of technological change, but to take advantage and champion the ability to adapt. By embracing the pop-up economy, businesses will be best positioned to unlock new operational efficiencies and offer new experiences to customers, both of which will be key to sustained growth in a post-COVID-19 world.