In these early stages, design quandaries take precedence over sourcing questions. “Many of our customers ask us for design support,” said Jabil’s Scott. “Even through the last six to nine months, we’ve had many conversations where telecom providers ask whether we can support them with the supply of components, market intelligence, design support, and escalation of materials handling. “
Image courtesy: Flex
These decisions, however, will ultimately effect sourcing. Designers are considering whether to process data on the edge of the network or transport it. In addition, designers must consider how to safeguard the data and how to leverage insights gained from it. “Streaming video is still expensive, but the cost of a data breach is priceless,” said Parikh.
Disruptive technologies like 5G also can magnify typical supply chain concerns. “Clearly, in getting new products to market, the components are often also new to the market,” said Scott. “Product yield becomes an important question, since, if you’ve never made it, it’s hard to know what yield might be.”
Organizations will need to build relationships with new suppliers and add new components down the line to their shopping lists. “From a supply chain perspective, it’s important to build the right relationships with suppliers to enable these types of products,” said Flex’s Lee. “5G is much different than consumer electronics. Wireless connectivity creates a complex design cycle and requires certification. There’s only a small subset of suppliers offering models and they don’t sell to everyone. Having a relationship with those providers and the silicon providers who supply them is crucial.”
It will take time for the product roadmaps of 5G silicon product providers to sync up with the product roadmaps of the products incorporating those devices. “In the 5G space, some customers are trying to be first to release a handset in 2019 but the major IC suppliers like Qualcomm, Intel and tier 2 suppliers have roadmaps that are in flux. Your supply chain needs to remain agile enough to absorb volatilities.
In this vein, organizations should think about the stability of their bill of materials (BOM), Scott said. “When you are looking at a new product, you need to know how stable the BOM is and how much runway you have until the product goes to market,” he added. “In these scenarios, the BOM is not 100% so it’s a work in progress and that’s a big challenge.”
In these early days, the talent supply chain is also a concern as 5G puts new demands on the engineering task. “In the electronics industry, we think in term of electronic components, but engineers and expertise to build 5G products are another type of component,” said Parikh. “Those are the longest lead times we have today. People will probably struggle with access to 5G talent the most.”
Being able to successfully design and roll out of 5G products will take considerable design talent, comfort with complexity and a variety of added certifications, Lee said.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN