The Future of Telecom: New Era, New Opportunities
Our entire world continues to move online. More of us work from home, go to school from home, and stream new-release movies from the comfort of our living rooms. We live in smart homes, wear smartwatches, and use smartphones to control our lives. Connectivity is key. This should indicate that the telecommunications industry is growing exponentially, right? Not exactly. When it comes to telecommunications, growth is about more than just increased demand for connectivity. It’s about creating added value by coupling that connectivity with the devices, technology, and trends that enable a provider to innovate, monetize, and meet new sustainability standards.
So, is the telecommunications industry growing?
The telecommunications industry isn’t just growing, it's evolving. With business value being created beyond the network, providers realize that offering a base layer of connectivity may no longer be enough. To find success, providers need to unearth new opportunities and position their companies to take on a greater role in both the B2B and B2C value chain.
What is this new role? These new opportunities? And most importantly, the future of telecom? Growth depends on a provider's ability to optimize the existing business while branching out beyond the traditional connectivity-based business model. Going forward, as the industry evolves, so too do the paths to growth. This means that success will come to companies that are able to reimagine the ways in which they:
- Increase revenue through innovative services.
- Use technology to reduce costs.
- Comply with growing pressure for sustainability reporting and progress.
Set your company up to take advantage of future growth opportunities with an agile, scalable platform.
Uncovering New Ways to Increase Revenue
The telecommunications industry is at a turning point. Traditional high-value services like multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), short message service (SMS), and video are being replaced by software and over-the-top solutions. The price of data is dropping faster than demand is growing, mobile growth has peaked in many markets, and the value chain is evolving. All this is pushing connectivity toward commoditization. Adjacent businesses — technology platforms, marketplaces, hyperscalers, social networks — continue to use networks and other services from communications service providers to grow their businesses. Meanwhile, the telecommunications industry stagnates. Was Marc Andreessen right? Is software truly eating the world?
This rivalry with large technology and cloud players is forcing communications service providers to grow, adapt, and rethink their business models. A willingness to think outside the box will allow providers to drive and achieve business growth. In the absence of this type of innovation, providers will be unable to effectively transition from their legacy business models into growth models that capitalize on new technologies and opportunities. The good news is that “as-a-service” business models are not new and there are many lessons learned and best practices that can be applied.
Reimagining business models requires that providers modernize their networks. Legacy infrastructures weren’t built to support 5G and fiber services. Modernizing IT and infrastructure requires an investment in new capabilities and solutions that allow providers to maximize all the possibilities a network provides. This will enable providers to meet future needs, offset declining revenues from older technologies, and provide a foundation on which they can continue to grow.
There are two main areas of focus: fiber rollout and 5G monetization.
An easily accessible, reliable internet connection is a necessity. Despite the challenges with return on capital (which has stalled many projects throughout the last few decades) providers can no longer put off the ability to offer fiber-to-the-premise. Both private and public enterprises are investing big money to make this a reality. So much so, that last-mile fiber is projected to grow to $24 billion globally by 2027.
Why fiber? Fiber is the best choice when it comes to wired connectivity. It’s faster and more reliable (and more sustainable) than copper/cable. More recently, players like government, energy and utility companies, and community investment groups are getting into the game, hoping to take advantage of the fiber opportunities. However, with their experience and expertise, communications service providers are better positioned to move fast and maximize their market share. Employing the right technology and tools to integrate all customer data into a single view will allow service providers to leverage insights to optimize build-out locations, better manage complex projects, automate processes to be more efficient, and provide more personalized customer experiences.
5G opens a world of opportunity. It offers faster data throughput, low latency, enhanced reliability, increased network capacity, and greater connectivity across people, machines, and devices. Ensuring that the promise of 5G actually translates into tangible growth requires that providers both find and create effective monetization strategies. While there are many consumer-facing models, the bigger opportunity likely lies in business-to-business (B2B) offerings that generate new categories of usages.
These categories include:
- Network as a Service (NaaS) – Both an architectural framework and a business model, NaaS allows providers to offer customers on-demand access to network resources that satisfy specific business needs. It gives providers the ability to lease resources, such as a multisite virtual network, to their customers.
- Internet of Things (IoT) – Communications service providers can offer a platform to connect the growing number of IoT devices to the 5G network. This would enable providers to monitor equipment performance, use live location tracking, and pinpoint problems before they happen.
- Network Slicing – A provider could implement value-based charging for a dedicated “slice” of the network, offering fixed access, for a specific purpose, for a set period of time. For example, an event planner might buy a “slice” of the network to set up a short-lived drone operation.
Hyperscalers and Marketplaces
Hyperscalers (companies with the ability to scale computing resources on demand) bring a large portion of network demand, but this represents only a fraction of the demand that likely exists. One of the lessons from the last two decades of digital business transformation is that platforms often pave the way for marketplaces (any platform that connects buyers and sellers of goods/services with one another). Now that networks are being modernized and made accessible via APIs, the challenge becomes attracting developers who know how to build and connect applications with devices. These developers may also bring unique knowledge allowing them to not only operate these devices but also tap into the analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) that enable them to learn from and automate them. Furthermore, creating a self-service marketplace to onboard these solutions and commercialize them will streamline the ability for market-first movers to take advantage.
As we look into the future of telecom, many of the emerging opportunities may also involve strategic partnerships with hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services and Google. Hyperscalers are more adept at delivering infrastructure as a service (IaaS). They can do it better, faster, and cheaper. Partnering would bring new sources of revenue (such as app marketplaces, referral business, and access to new customers), and cost savings as well. It would negate the need for a telecommunications company to make broad investments in areas like hardware, tooling, and maintenance. Multi-access edge computing (MEC), as a concept and in practice, also lends itself to lasting partnerships with clear mutual benefit.
Using Technology to Reduce Costs
Analytics, AI, and Automation
In the same way that providers need to find new solutions for driving growth and increasing revenue, they also need to explore innovative ways to reduce costs. Cost reduction requires that companies find ways to improve efficiencies and increase productivity both internally and externally. Employing analytics, automation, and AI can help achieve this by:
- Reducing the size of product catalogs
- Minimizing the number of IT stacks
- Replacing manual processes to make employees more efficient
- Standardizing processes to reduce mistakes
- Organizing data so employees can easily access the information they need to make smarter, more-informed decisions
We often hear about the value of providing great customer experiences, but research has shown that the employee experience is just as important. Automation and AI enable faster, more efficient service. They free up time so that employees can focus on more valuable and complex work. This type of investment in employee growth allows providers to attract and retain a better, more dedicated workforce. This is especially important for an industry that often struggles to attract the top job candidates.
Eighty-one percent of people attempt to fix a problem themselves before seeking support. This saves time for both the customer and the provider. However, better self-service requires providers to invest in the tools that enable them to meet this demand. People expect connected, friction-free experiences anytime, anywhere, on the channel of their choice, that pick up wherever they last left off.
While many service providers already offer some form of self-service; it’s not robust enough to meet consumer demands. People want more than the ability to pay a bill online; they want everything from granular account management to troubleshooting to installation support to service changes. Tools like remote support assistance, self-service portals, and data-powered customer service operations can help providers create the personalized experiences people have come to expect from the companies they interact with.
It’s also important to keep in mind that individual self-service capabilities can only do so much. Self-service needs to be fully integrated so that the provider can obtain a 360-degree view of the customer. This means that human-to-human interactions are informed by digital touchpoints and vice versa, so that a customer is never left having to “start at the beginning” or tell the same story twice.
Sustainability and Compliance
The telecommunications industry faces external pressure from investors, customers, employees, and regulatory bodies to report their sustainability progress. This means they need to focus on creating solutions that consume less sustainable power, while implementing tools that allow them to track and report where they are today. This is becoming increasingly important. Providers not only need to ensure “their house is in order” due to the upcoming need to disclose greenhouse gas emissions, but also because it’s the right thing to do.
Sustainability initiatives also offer an opportunity for providers to show their commitment to ongoing environmentally conscious efforts. Network modernization offers sustainable solutions for the following reasons:
- Fiber is more efficient and sustainable than copper wire.
- 5G is more efficient than 3G and 4G with a fewer number of radios supporting an increased number of devices.
- 5G is often used to connect IoT devices, many of which are working to solve efficiency problems by only using power when it's needed — cutting out excess and overuse.
Emphasizing fiber and 5G offerings can help communications service providers display value by demonstrating a consumption of less direct power and enabling 5G networks to activate new sustainability businesses. Furthermore, the marriage of constant, continuous connectivity with smart technology works to power the ever-growing green revolution by allowing us to build smarter, more sustainable solutions across a variety of industries.
Next Steps for Future Growth
The future of the telecommunications industry is multifaceted. Many opportunities exist, but one thing is certain: The future lies in a communications service provider's ability to offer products and services beyond just a base layer of connectivity. These trends represent oportunities for service providers- whether they're acting as a frictionless service enabler or as a connected solutions provider- to participate more directly in the value being created on the networks themselves.
In order for providers to successfully take advantage of the evolving industry, they need a robust business support system (BSS) that includes a modern engagement layer offering the ability to attract, sell, and service at scale. Putting this vital digital capability in place will allow providers to easily partner with and help businesses create products and services, increasing growth and revenue potential going forward.