Mobile networks of the future will be at the heart of tomorrow’s society. By 2020, one in five vehicles, or about 250 million vehicles globally, will be connected[i]. Surveillance cameras, health monitors, home automation systems, fleet trackers, sensors on mining and manufacturing equipment, soil, water and air quality analyzers, retail carts, drones, microwave ovens, heating and lighting equipment and a near-endless assortment of other things will get connected and relentlessly ship data between themselves and their users.
By 2020, today’s 7.3 billion SIM cards and 4.9 billion connected devices will grow to 10 billion SIMs and 20 billion connected devices. The number of mobile app downloads will double to 284 billion.[ii] And from contributing US$ 3.1 trillion to global GDP in 2015, mobile ecosystems will contribute US$3.7 trillion by 2020[iii].
This extraordinary growth, unprecedented in the history of any technology, will make mobile networks the cornerstone of every growing economy. This is great news, but it comes with a word of caution: networks that were designed with voice as the primary service will be saturated by the explosion in data. They won’t be able to meet the rising expectations of customers with respect to service options and the quality of service (QoS). If these networks don’t get on the path of modernization now, they will wither all the way to irrelevance.
Preparing for the future – which is just around the corner – may not have been difficult had it not been for the fact that the coming change is monumental. Consequently, no telecom operator can afford an incremental response.
There are clear signs of hurry in the industry. Even before 4G has been fully rolled out, South Korea wants to implement 5G for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.[iv] South Korea has already begun to call it the 5G Olympics. Japan wants to follow with super-fast data communication of over 10 gigabits per second, response time (latency) of less than 1 millisecond and a vastly higher number of simultaneous sessions than possible today, before it hosts the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020[v].
Even though the standards for 5G are still being debated, the advanced 5G network technology is being spoken about in the same breath as futuristic hydrogen-powered autonomous taxis, mag-Lev trains, algae-fueled aircrafts and man-made meteor showers that Japan will showcase during the Olympics.
It will not be long before we see a global race-for-space type of situation where telecom operators around the world will begin to make a spate of investments in infrastructure, technology and applications in an effort to meet the needs of their customers (incidentally, not all investments need to be directed at completely displacing and replacing existing infrastructure with 5G).
Key concerns for telcos
The primary concerns for networks charting a course into the future are predictable. Given that legacy networks may not remain sustainable for long, a major concern is keeping investments in advanced high-speed and high-capacity infrastructure under control and with a clear eye on ROI.
The second concern will be around creating a blueprint for the path to migrate from legacy networks to the networks of tomorrow (Hetnets / Hybdrid Legacy-NFV). Aside from being fast and prepared for the data deluge, these networks are expected to be green (using less energy) and soft (using software to define, control and transform functionality). Both Legacy and NFV would coexist for a considerable time and the Netops function need to learn to manage the hybrid world while adoption of NFV is on the rise.
Finally, dazzling customers with exceptional user experiences is going to be at the top of every telecom operator’s agenda. How to achieve this within the constraints of revenue pressure and increasing network costs will be the challenge.
These are real anxieties. They call for a strategic overhaul of existing approaches to operations, performance management, thinking up fresh revenue opportunities and managing customer expectations.
Looking at the future
Astute telecom operators must consider building a rapid scale, leaning towards virtualizing their network resources and adopting analytics. The focus should be on:
Transforming Operations through
- Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)/ Software Defined Networking (SDN)
- Self-Organizing and Self-Optimizing Networks
Driving Efficiencies with
- Network densification by leveraging the right mix of macro, micro and small cells
- Assess periodically the network to ensure delivery of next generation services and robust passive infrastructure management
- Predictive Analytics for operations
- AI / Machine learning based tools for optimization
Accelerating Revenue using
- B2B market enablement for B2C players
- IoT solutions
Enhancing customer experience adopting
- Customer Experience Management (CEM) tools
- Network optimization
- Optimizing TATs through process re-engineering & automation
The road ahead
From a telecom operator’s point of view, this can be an overwhelming task and can distract the organization from its primary focus on creating products and acquiring/ retaining customers. They must therefore look for a competent technology partner who is OEM agnostic (to avoid getting forced and locked into a product) and demonstrates quick adaptability to the complete OSS ecosystem in order to transform your operations. The partner should have expertise in transitioning to SDN/ NFV, possess competencies to maintain hybrid networks and be able to harvest revenue opportunities in the complex and bewildering IoT landscape. Finally, aside from possessing the tools for customer management and platforms for predictive and behavioral analytics, the partner should also have the ability to scale based on business demand.
The trend is not going to turn back. The demand placed by data and applications on networks will continue to grow as even more complex real-time analytics, contextual responsiveness, augmented reality, virtual reality, cognitive systems, etc. find their way into telecom networks. The immediate future looks very exciting. It could be threatened as well. But, with the right strategy and decisions, the coming future can be turned into one of the most significant opportunities for growth.