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Podcast

CX Decoded Podcast: 5G's Impact on Customer Experience

22 minute read
Michelle Hawley avatar
CX Decoded caught up with Verizon's Frank Boulben to discuss the impact of 5G on customer experience professionals.

View all the CX Decoded podcast epidsodes.

According to a recent Statista report, the economic impact of 5G on the U.S. gross domestic product will hit $484 billion by the year 2030. 5G is faster, more reliable, has more capacity and less latency than the previous 4G wireless technology — and has the capability of completely changing how brands and consumers will think about the internet in the future. 

But what exactly is 5G, how does it work and what type of impact will it have on gaming, shopping, business and customer experience? 

Frank Boulben, the chief revenue officer of Verizon Consumer Group, has watched as each new wireless generation has come into being, and he caught up with CX Decoded to help us drill down how 5G might be used in consumer and B2B cases. 

We caught up with Boulben for our latest CX Decoded Podcast.

CX Decoded Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Michelle Hawley: Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of CX Decoded. I'm Michelle Hawley, senior editor at CMSWire, and I'm joined by my co-host, Dom Nicastro. Welcome, Dom. 

Dom Nicastro: Glad to be here. Michelle, how you doing today? 

Michelle: Doing good. Just enjoying another hot summer day. Dom, who have we got here on the podcast today? 

Dom: All right. I'm excited for this one. Frank Boulben. I pronounced his name like that because he told me to, but his wife calls him Frank. So we're gonna stick with that one. He's the CRO of the Verizon Consumer Group. Frank, how you doing today? 

Frank Boulben: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me, Dom. 

Dom: Yeah, it's great to have you. You know, we're going to talk a lot today about 5G and its impact on customer experience. And Verizon is obviously sitting in a good spot there. But before we get into that, we'd just love to know a little bit about you, Frank. You know, tell us a little bit about your role there, how you got into it, a little bit about your background, and hey, you know what, you're human being, give us one fun fact too, Frank, about yourself. 

Frank: So, I'm French, I'm not sure that qualifies as a fun fact. But to give you a bit of background, I was trained as a scientist and engineer. And I came into wireless a bit by accident at the beginning of the '90s. They were the first wireless startups and I joined one of them. And since then, I've stuck to the industry working in Europe for Orange and Vodafone, if you know those names, and in North America for Rogers in Canada from BlackBerry, and I've been with Verizon for the last five years now. So that's my story in a nutshell. The fun fact is when I was 16, I was drafted as a professional soccer player, but I didn't go in that direction. Otherwise, we wouldn't have that conversation today. 

Dom: Ah, France very much in the mix for the World Cup every year, the Euro Cup. My friends in Italy, though pulled out the last one Frank, the last Euro Cup. However, they followed it up pathetically by not making the World Cup. They didn't even advance, my Italians. What happened? 

Frank: I'm half Italian. So {laughing}

Dom: Michelle, let's get into the topic at hand. I think you have the first question. 

Michelle: Yeah, sure thing. So today, we really want to drill down on 5G and its impact on customer experience. Now clearly, Verizon has an interesting vantage point there. Tell us first Frank, since we want to accommodate all of our potential listeners out there. What is 5G?

Frank: So 5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology. As I was saying a minute ago, it started really in the '90s, where you had the second generation, the first digital generation of wireless technology, and then 3G, 4G, LTE and 5G. So what is important to know about that fifth generation is that unlike the previous ones, it's not an incremental improvement. There is a change that is at least one order of magnitude in all of the key features, speed, capacity, latency, reliability. So that's why and I'm sure we're going to discuss that there is really a rupture, the disruption in what 5G enables versus the previous generations. 

Related Article: Edge Computing Is the Road to Customer Experience Nirvana

How Customers Will Benefit From 5G

Dom: Yeah, and what would be some of those highlights there, Frank? Because if I'm a customer experience leader, I'm thinking alright, how are my customers, how are my prospects going to benefit from 5G? You know, and what would you say the real big gotcha was from the move from 4G to 5G, like 4G just didn't have this, 5G has it now. 

Frank: So you need to distinguish them between consumer-use cases and B2B-use cases.

So if we focus on the consumer side of it, I would say the very first use case that consumers are benefiting from is the fact that now if you are in a crowded place, let's say you are on Times Square on New Year's Eve, and the ball is dropping. You can upstream live what you are experiencing on the social network. And even if there are 500,000 people around you, it will go through. So that's the fundamental change that 5G brings along enormous capacity, bandwidth and speed, even in crowded environments. So whether it's Times Square, or it's football stadium, or a railway station or concert venue, etc., you will have the ability both ways up and down to stream as much data as you want. So that's the first one for consumers.

The second one is that 5G is also an alternative to your wireline internet at home. We call that 5G home. In the technical lingo, it's fixed wireless access. But think of it as an internet connection for your home without a wire coming into your home. And that is an alternative to a cable service. So that's enabled again by 5G, because of the enormous capacity that we have in in 5G networks.

And then 5G has also the ability to provide extremely low latency. So if you are playing a real-time game, for instance, a few milliseconds of difference means you are still alive or dead in the game. With the 5G latency, you cannot tell the difference between the player using a wireline connection or a wireless connection. So gaming will be big on 5G.

And then if I go beyond and I've touched upon it, we can change also the experience in a venue. So think about an NFL stadium. And having the ability at any point in time to watch the action from seven different camera angles on your smartphone. This is a live application that Verizon provides in partnership with the NFL.

If I go beyond what 5G will enable with the combination of the network and what we call mobile edge computing, meaning the computing app running at the edge of the network, you will be able to have real-time AR/VR applications. So that's really the fundamental new paradigm for consumers.

Today, we have a lot of applications in our daily life that are depending on to the 2D map with 5G we'll be able to access in real time, a 3D map of the world. And the information will be rendered to you in real time, leveraging AI algorithms.

So let me give you a couple of concrete examples. You're working in the streets of New York with connected glasses. And you say to your glasses, hey, connect me to my real estate application. And then you will see with augmented reality, which windows of which building, I've got apartments for rent. And then you can be connected directly to the broker.

Or you walk into a grocery store. And you say put on my gluten-free filter. And you will see on each product you look at whether it's gluten free or not.

I could go on and on. But to enable those applications, you need a 3D map of your environment, you need real-time recognition of that environment and then processing at the edge of the network to render the information to you. And I think that new platform, combining the 5G network computing at the edge of the network, and a 3D map and applications will be a game changer. And we'll see a proliferation of new applications in the coming years. 

Related Article: How IoT, Automotive and SmartTV are Changing the Digital Customer Experience

5G's Impact on Customer Experience Professionals

Dom: Thanks for painting that picture, Frank. Now dialing it back to the brands at CMSWire we talk to VP of customer experience, you know, chief customer officers. These are people that are charged with collecting customer data with putting it all together, managing it, and creating good experiences on top of all of that, and making sure they have good data to do so. Take me to their vantage point and the impact 5G has on someone like that like a brand that is actually, like is there something you think that they could not invest in before, something that they should at least be looking at now something that's changed in their jobs? Because of 5G from the brand perspective? 

Frank: Yes, absolutely. The first example that comes to mind is how the retail experience is going to be transformed. Thanks to 5G. So if you stay with the parodying I was describing earlier, that combination of the network and the 3D mapping, you can do that already. Today with what we call private mobile edge compute, and you can imagine that in a store, when a customer enters the store, either they're using their smartphone or you give them connected glasses. And all of a sudden, while they are walking around the store, the experience is personalized for them, they can be recognized and see personalized promotions, floating like a Pokemon GO, and they can grab them.

So the analogy with the game works very well. Or they can look in a particular direction toward a particular product. And they'll have information displayed to them via augmented reality filters. You could even have a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality inside the store. So making it a much more immersive environment, and personalized at the same time. So that can be transformational for the retail experience. And obviously, on the back office side, everything that has to do with inventory management, etc., could be also made a lot more productive with with 5G-use cases. 

Dom: Yeah, and I know you run the consumer group too over there at Verizon, but from a B2B standpoint, have you looked into that in terms of how companies are using this or case studies in the business-to-business sense as well? Because I could see that happening too, you know, like a major shipping container kind of thing, and you might invest in it, but you don't know what it looks like, that kind of thing? 

Frank: Yes, absolutely. The example you mentioned is per turn, we have already real-life B2B customers, ports, port authorities that are managing every year, millions and millions of containers. And they are equipping or tagging those customers with 5G-capable devices, because 5G enables also the Internet of Things. At a very large scale, the 5G network can manage millions of connected devices on a square mile. And so you can manage the logistics of a sport of report and those millions of containers much more effectively with 5G. So that's a very good use case.

Another one is having a completely wireless manufacturing plant, leveraging 5G with the capacity, the bandwidth, the reliability and the latency I was talking about. This is not possible with Wi-Fi. But with 5G, you can think of fully wireless automated plant. So manufacturing is also another use case we've discussed retailing, you have a number of industrial applications, mining, precision agriculture, the list goes on. Actually, there are more use cases, industry verticals than in consumer.

Related Article: What's Next for Artificial Intelligence in Customer Experience?

5G Is a Whole New Platform for Reaching Customers

Michelle: It's really interesting. It sounds like from what you're saying that 5G is going to kind of revolutionize the way that we even think about the internet. I did a little research prior to this podcast because I have to say that I live in a pretty rural area. So 5G hasn't popped up here too much.

Dom: Michelle's got Zero G.

Michelle: Yeah [laughing]. And from what I'm reading, it sounds like 5G is promising to be up to 10 times faster than 4G. And that means brands are going to be able to give their customers information faster than ever before. And for brands that want to really tap into that and to provide their customers with that information — that fast information. How would that look in practice? What could these brands do to implement that? 

Frank: I think that's where you're going to touch to one very topical subject, which is the metaverse. 5G will be a key enabler of the metaverse whether it's augmented reality, as I was describing earlier, or hybrid between augmented reality and virtual reality or full virtual reality. 5G will give the bandwidth to real time, provide the applications or information to your point to customers. So that's the change of parodying exactly how it will take shape for a brand particular service. I think a lot of it still to be tested or created. But it's a new platform for brands to reach their audience. 

Learning Opportunities

Dom: Yeah, it sure is. 

Michelle: I was just curious. Do you see any brands doing it yet? You touched on the metaverse? Have you seen brands successfully using 5G to implement the metaverse and their strategies? 

Frank: To date the most active brands are the tech companies. So for instance, we've worked with Snap to deploy heavy or data hungry filters via our 5G ultra wideband network, we are working with Meta on virtual reality. So you see those tech companies being very involved today. You see also a lot of gaming companies, I was mentioning Pokemon GO earlier, we've been working with Niantic and other gaming companies that are the first to take advantage of 5G in the in the consumer space. So those are the pioneers in the space. But as more and more brands are gamifying, their customer experience, they will also be able to leverage those features that 5G brings in terms of capacities, speed, latency, etc. 

Related Article: Providing Experience in an Omnichannel World

Omnichannel and Personalized Experiences for Customers

Dom: Frank, I think Verizon knows a thing or two about the communications business. One of the huge things that we write about and talk about with CX practitioners is how to communicate better with your brands. Are you reaching them in the right channels? Are you in the channels they want to be? How are you responding? Is your message connected? You know, if I walk into the brick-and-mortar store Verizon, is that going to be similar experience to the one I had over the phone 20 minutes ago, and they're going to know about that. Connecting all those experiences is top of mind, I'm telling you that they are so focused on that. So my question as it relates to 5G, you know, how is this going to sort of increase bandwidth, you know, will this enable better two-way communication and interaction with brands and customers. 

Frank: So what you've described, in general, is really at the core of how, at Verizon we manage our customer interaction. So two things we are trying to achieve is an omnichannel experience that is seamless, and at the same time, a personalized experience.

And so what we want is as a customer, if you start your journey on digital, and then you call our customer service, or you visit the store, you can pick up your journey where you left it, you will have the same personalized recommendation, whatever the touchpoint you are using. And more and more, the primary vector of that communication is the Verizon app that you have on your smartphone.

And so we are constantly improving the experience in that my Verizon app, so that you get that truly personalized experience recommendation, whether it's in CX term, the next best communication, the next best offer, the next best service, etc.. So if as a brand, you are trying to implement an omnichannel, personalized experience, the smartphone of the consumer and your app, or your mobile web is going to be critical there. And if that's the case, you can leverage 5G to make it a richer experience. 

Dom: It seems like 5G is going to open up a lot of new opportunities for brands, but like any new technology, I think it's going to come with its challenges for brands and customer experience leaders to adapt to everything. Do you have any practical suggestions on how CX professionals can prepare? Should they increase their bandwidth or hire more experienced staff? You know, what should they do? 

Frank: I think I would start and look where it's happening first, which is in the gaming space and making sure that your brand is connecting with consumers via the gaming experience. And you have multiple different ways to do that in the gaming space from a console game to e-sports, etc. Because those are the players already leveraging 5G. And so learning alongside those gaming companies is probably the best way to build your capabilities and develop insights early on. 

Dom: Yeah, and these experiences that you're talking about Frank metaverse, AR, VR, as cool as they sound, what it does also bring is more data right into companies. And that sounds like a great thing. I mean, it really does. Right. Oh, Mike, we got more data of where our consumers are, what they're doing, who they're talking to where the talking to them. And that's great. But that's that comes with its own set of challenges, too, right?

I mean, managing all that data, and figuring out what to do with it having good systems to support that data infusion, and not to mention privacy. Right? I mean, that is such a big part of this data management and privacy. Those are the things that our readers, our listeners are thinking of, oh my goodness, how we're gonna manage all this. Have you heard from any brands on how they're approaching privacy or customer data management? Or one or the other? Or both? 

Frank: Yes. So first of all, as a brand, whether you like it or not, the regulatory framework around privacy is becoming more restrictive by the day. It started with the GDPR framework in Europe, then you had CCPA, in the U.S. in California. Now, we are on the verge of having a federal regulatory framework around privacy. So it's going to happen.

And so I think as a brand, you better be proactive, and respect customer privacy, provide choice in the form of opting in or out on the data you want to share as a consumer, and for which use edge. So I think the direction of travel is clear. And I think anticipating it is probably the best bet for pretty much any brand. And to your second point. Absolutely. This will require a significant investment in AI and machine learning and data management capabilities. And probably many brands will have to recruit more data scientists to explore it effectively. And mine all the data about consumers that they're going to collect. 

Related Article: 4 Methods of Hyper-Personalization that get results

How the NFL Hit Pay Dirt With 5G

Dom: Frank, do you have one shining example of a brand? That's literally changed? I mean, they just totally upended their customer experience in a positive way. Because of 5G, like someone that is on a keynote stage right down the road talking about it. And here's what they did. Here's why they did it. This is where they invested, they took a risk, but it paid off. Is there anything like that that stands out? Or is it more like generic wins with 5G right now?

Frank: Again, I would say on the consumer side, we are still in the early stage. But I would point you towards what we've done in partnerships with sports brands. So we've made an investment at Verizon to equip all of the NFL stadiums with 5G ultra wideband capabilities. And jointly with the NFL, we've developed those applications that make it much richer experience for the fans in the stadium, and even for fans outside of the stadium because you can access it from home.

And so I see those sports brands, or our partner live nations for concerts are the first ones to really change the experiences they are delivering to their fans, thanks to 5G. So the entertainment world at large is probably where it's happening first. Alongside with gaming companies that I've mentioned earlier.

I think one thing we need to keep in mind, allow me to share with you an anecdote. I was saying I've spent a long time in wireless. I remember back in 1993 or 1994, I went to a technology conference about wireless and our seminar. And we were presented with a new feature that was going to be introduced in the mobile standard in 2G. And that was called a Short Message Service — 143 characters to write a text message. And I was with a bunch of fellow marketers. And the unanimous feedback we gave was that there will be no consumer demand for that service.

So fast forward to today, it's still the most used messaging service in the world. So I think with 5G, we see already concretely a number of applications. But there is so much more to come. And the way I want to think about it is that it's a platform on which you can create and innovate in terms of customer experience, new services, new ways to reach customer, new vertical applications, as we've discussed. So we are investing in that platform in the network in the mobile edge compute capability. Now we are starting to have a developers taking advantage of it. So I gave you the first examples, but I think we are at the beginning of the wave. 

Related Article: Can You Have Your Privacy-Personalization Cake and eat it, too? 

The Takeaway: 5G Will Revolutionize Connecting With Customers

Michelle: As a consumer, I'm really looking forward to these changes as well how it's going to change shopping and gaming. You know, as we wrap up here, I wanted to ask you for one big takeaway for our listeners for CX practitioners. What's one big takeaway for the move to 5G? 

Frank: The one big takeaway is that the way your consumers are interacting with your brand is going to change fundamentally, as that new platform I was talking about is getting implemented. So think about any time, any place, there will be a 3D map of the world, and the ability to recognize what your customer is doing, and to render relevant, personalized information to them real time, that new parodying, that new platform is in touching distance. So starting to think about what that can enable for your particular brand sector, how to test it with which partners, I think that should be on the radar of any CX practitioner. 

Michelle: Well, Frank, we always like to give our guests an opportunity to share some places where listeners can find you, perhaps connect with you on some thought leadership. So where can people find you at? 

Frank: The easiest would be on LinkedIn? I'm very active on LinkedIn. 

Dom: Everyone says that, you know, like I gotta check out this website, what is it called again, LinkedIn? We'll find you, Frank, We'll hunt you down [laughing]. Thank you. Thank you for all your time and energy here. I love the ending too, by the way, that direct message to CX practitioners. That is our whole business. What we're trying to do is talk directly to them. So thank you for that. Michelle, thank you. I think it's time to wrap things up. Frank Boulben from Verizon Consumer Group. We thank you so much for joining us today. 

Frank: Thanks for having me, Dom and Michelle.

Michelle: Yeah, thank you, Frank. And thanks for everyone for listening to another round of CX Decoded.

We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. And if you have comments or suggestions for a future podcast, we'd love to hear from you. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you may be listening to this. And be sure to share CX Decoded with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. Finally, be sure to follow us on Twitter at CMSWire.

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