Article | 21 March 2022

Wireless in the transformation of retail

Cera 1
Written by
Cera Koh, Global Head of Sales Operations Singapore

The three-star chef’s festival pop-up. The sales promotion counter in your local shopping mall. The town square summer gaming event. Ever wondered how they get their connectivity?

As anyone who’s used it knows, public WiFi works fine … until it doesn’t. (Once someone else’s router cuts out, you have no backup plan.) You could rely on your staff’s 5G phones, but that suffers from the same issue: it’s someone else’s network, subject to the ups and downs of supply and demand on that day. And unless your name’s Musk or Bezos, you don’t even want to think about the costs of a private LTE network.

The ideal solution has to combine several plus points. It needs the advantages of SLAs and guarantees typically associated with wired networks, but with the flexibility and speed of wireless. And it needs to be built for business—able to exchange data and perform transactions as securely and smoothly as any office WAN, no ifs, no buts.

In this blog, we’ll show you how to get it.

The broadening of retail

As physical and digital have morphed and merged—with real-world retailers expanding online, and e-tailers seeing the benefits of bricks-and-mortar—the whole definition of “retail” has changed.

There’s Click and Collect, where customers buy online then pick up in-store. Or dropshipping, where the retailer acts as a middle-person between manufacturer and consumer. Even in a typical showroom store, wireless connectivity remains vital: think of sales staff checking inventory without a trip to the back room, or Amazon’s cashier-less shopping downtown. And that’s before swinging in the ideas of experiential marketing, like stores-in-stores, booths in the middle of the mall, and pop-ups introducing a brand to a new audience.

The good news: 5G can help. Just not the 5G you may be used to. It’s the same set of technologies your phone makes use of. But LTE/5G, Blue Wireless' bread and butter, is built for doing business, not doing Wordles.

Retail 2

Three non-negotiables for retail connectivity

A focus on retail is important, because there are several factors that perhaps matter more than in more location-tied enterprises.

  • First, retailers need flexible and fast setup. Every retail location has a natural lifespan, from a single weekend for a pop-up to a few years in a mall. It’s not the ideal situation to be locked into long-term contracts, nor where you want connectivity constrained by cabling.
  • Next, networking that just works. Reliability matters: your customers won’t wait around if a transaction freezes—even five minutes means sales lost forever. Retail connectivity has to be as real-time as a spoken conversation.
  • And third, geography-neutral. Wouldn’t it be great if next weekend’s pop-up could connect to your SD-WAN without issues, even at that festival in a rural farmer’s field far from network coverage?

Wireless answers all these use cases. But what kind of wireless?

Secure wireless connections riding public networks

While it might be tempting to go shopping for mobile data hardware (or source it from stock if you are selling tech yourself), there’s a great difference between DIY wireless and what a managed solution can bring.

For example, with a homebrewed setup, you might find “cold spots”: areas where your devices simply can’t connect. Managed solutions—like those from Blue Wireless—make an initial site survey part of the answer, ensuring antenna and router placement serves all your stuff.

And if time is the issue, it shouldn't be. The flexibility of LTE/5G enables your network to be up and running in just a few days, on time for your store opening – no wiring needed, no permits or long-term contracts, no hassle.

And reliability? While it’s 5G wireless, like the phone networks, a managed solution offers guarantees of service availability and speed. And with signal traveling through the air, as opposed to wires, wireless is less prone to physical failures making it ideal for failover services. And that’s backed up by smart hardware: antenna and routers “boost” the public 5G signal from those networks, even if you’re in an out-of-coverage area.

This boosting answers the third challenge: maintaining connectivity in out-of-coverage areas. Blue Wireless installations are delivering for ships 50km from the coastline. Remote mining operations far from population centres. And across chaotic industrial sites where normal 5G would suffer constant blips and drops. So offering wireless connectivity to stores-in-store, pop-ups outside the mall, or EV charging stations along the road in the middle of nowhere is well within the service envelope.

That said, there are some similarities with your phone contract. Blue Wireless LTE/5G contracts are month-to-month, letting you match your wireless capacity to your physical network even if you’re opening and closing hundreds of locations a year. Without cabling, you can bring connectivity to wherever it’s needed—fast. And because it makes use of public networks, it can scale from the largest retail group to the humblest taco truck. (Mmmm, tacos.)

Wireless connectivity fit for the future

But perhaps the greatest benefit is more technical. 5G standards are a well-established technology roadmap agreed on worldwide, meaning the hardware and software—in Blue Wireless’s case, top-rated tools from Cradlepoint and Poynting—won’t leave you in the lurch in five years. When you decide your business needs self-help kiosks, IoT deployments, or smart signage trumpeting your brand via phone alerts, the connectivity infrastructure is ready today. Even if you’re a loooong way from network coverage.

Conclusion: omnichannel, omnipresent, omni-useful

In summary, retail has come a long way from the corner shop—and wireless LTE/5G lets you take full advantage of it with no cables interrupting your customer’s experience. Buildings are moveable feasts; brand values can be projected far beyond the aisles; and experiential marketing enables virtual brand-building, out-of-location events, and national-scale promotions, in a connected customer experience that doesn’t stop at the store exit.

It’s all possible with a managed wireless solution.

Would you like to learn more? Check out our retail solutions or let's talk.

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