Telecoms industry remains optimistic despite everything - Telecoms.com

Seven out ten respondents to the 2021 Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey are largely happy with how this year went and more are expecting a strong 2022.
It’s been apparent for a while already that telecoms is one of the few sectors of the global economy that have had a “good” pandemic. The industry has not only withstood the surge in demand for communications during the beginning of Covid-19 but has also derived new opportunities from the severe challenges. The success has helped the industry’s confidence in the future. While 72% of respondents to this year’s Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel telecoms has had a good year, over eight out of ten have a positive outlook for the industry in 2022.
When it comes to investment focus areas, 5G, including both initial deployment and densification, tops the list, indicating the industry is still in the ramp-up phase of rolling out and upgrading the latest generation of mobile technology. The industry sees plenty of new opportunities in the next phase of 5G, as Sameh Yamany, CTO of VIAVI Solutions, enthused, “There are exciting opportunities introduced by 5G SA Core, which is being developed to utilize cloudification, NFV, and SDN. In turn, new opportunities are coming for automation and monetization for service providers and enterprises.”  Meanwhile, Mr Yamany also warned against taking anything for granted. “Achieving these opportunities, however, will be neither trivial nor plug-and-play,” he emphasised.
Also high on the investment focus list is an evergreen topic: Digital Transformation. It seems that the more telecoms transforms and enables other industries to transform, the industry practitioners see more benefits of digitalisation, especially the new capabilities enabled by 5G. Niall Norton, General Manager of Amdocs for 5G and Networks and CEO of Openet, commented, “Momentum is gathering as operators plan and implement 5G standalone (SA) mode, which will realise the real transformational benefits of 5G, which will open up the ability to develop multiple partnerships to drive innovation and monetisation of the 5G network.” Mr Norton also believed that “the next 12 to 18 months should see gathering momentum towards the monetisation of 5G and innovative 5G service as the leading CSPs continue their digital transformations at pace and launch 5G SA.”
Demand for reliable and secure broadband connection has been accentuated during the pandemic and is showing no sign of abating. Survey respondents believe bandwidth-hungry applications like video streaming and gaming, as well as remote work and virtual classrooms will continue to drive the growth of broadband. One of the clear messages coming out of the survey is that, to satisfy market demand of today and tomorrow, there need not only continuous technology innovations but also strong investment commitment including public funding support.
“Three-quarters of respondents believe government funding for broadband is insufficient. We agree that more needs to be done, and it’s important that network operators have government support and investment when it comes to improving rural not-spots,” commented David De Craemer, VP of Telecom Sales Europe at CommScope. “Advances in deployment technologies can also play a part in helping improve the speed and cost of fibre network deployments. The latest technology can also arm field technicians and engineers with better data to reduce time-consuming decision making and potential for human error,” Mr De Craemer added.
One of the most hotly debated topics in the industry at the moment is Open RAN. Survey participants have shown both high level of enthusiasm and palpable concerns about the technology. While over half of all respondents have either already deployed Open RAN in their networks or are planning to do so in the next few years, almost equal number of respondents have significant or highly significant concerns for Open RAN’s security credentials.
It is, therefore, encouraging to see the industry practitioners addressing the concerns head-on. “Open RAN is essential to making 5G work – while Open RAN might raise security concerns, it can definitely be successfully deployed provided that the required engineering, integration, deployment orchestration, intelligent network operation and a well-thought-out operating model transformation are set in place,” said Aurelio Nocerino, Managing Director of Technology Strategy & Advisory and Global 5G Delivery and Capability Lead at Accenture. “Open RAN framework must address end-to-end security concerns relating to core of the business, the network, the data protection, the users’ security and privacy and the governance,” Mr Nocerino added.
VMware, active in the Open RAN market and a partner of Accenture, concurred. “VMware had been collaborating with our ecosystem partners and Accenture to promote and demonstrate the growing array of benefits emerging from Open RAN adoption,” commented Stephen Spellicy, VP of Marketing for the Service Provider and Edge Business Unit at VMware. “We believe the access, flexibility and freedom afforded to vendors by Open RAN will drive faster product release cycles and performance leaps as the network transitions from hardware to software. Data now available to developers through the RAN Intelligent Controller will help unleash innovation through big data analysis and AI, with massive cost savings through areas like spectrum optimization and monetization opportunities such as precise location services. These features will help Open RAN eclipse incumbent technologies while affordable COTS hardware will continuously and rapidly improve performance,” Mr Spellicy reiterated his confidence in the emerging technology.
The survey has also covered two specialised topics: BSS modernisation and customer service automation.
Operators’ business support system (BSS) has been evolving over the years as network capabilities keep advancing to enable operators to offer increasingly more sophisticated services. While operators needed to upgrade their BSS to handle new services when expanding their offers from voice and text messaging to richer content in 3G and 4G, telecom operators’ BSS will face a different challenge when they aspire to play a more active role in the enterprise market after making significant investment in 5G.
“The services that CSPs design for their chosen enterprise 5G verticals will be complex, requiring integrations, assurance, discounting, notifications and the ability to bundle together telco and non-telco products. This will be a challenge for CSPs more familiar with providing consumer and simple B2B services and that operate with a traditional, converged stack,” Steve Bowen, CEO at MDS Global observed. “To succeed in the enterprise 5G world, CSPs will need a clean, separate BSS stack that is designed to meet the complexities of the enterprise market, without impacting the existing customer base,” Mr Bowen stressed.
Customer service is a domain that doesn’t often stand at the front of the queue when telcos invest in automation despite its key role in the success of telco’s business. It shouldn’t be treated just as a cost item on the balance sheet. Instead, by delivering customer satisfaction, customer service is contributing directly to the company top line and bottom line. This will be especially true when telcos aim to better serve the enterprise market, which has higher demands for speed and lower tolerance for errors, making automation all the more critical.
“The one thing we know for certain about tomorrow’s increasingly interconnected world is that it will break. And CSPs will be judged by what happens when it does,” warned Andreas Jörbeck, CEO of Subtonomy. “Investing in chatbots is not a customer service panacea in itself. CSPs need to ensure their bots are able to utilize the same network performance data they’re providing to self-service and to their CSRs to ensure all their customer support channels stay aligned,” Mr Jörbeck added.
In general, this year’s survey has seen enthusiasm, commitment, and confidence from telecoms professionals, as well as a clear recognition that any promise of new opportunities will not become reality without the industry first overcoming certain challenges, some in technology, some in operation, and some in corporate inertia.
The full 2021 Annual Industry Survey report including all the survey data can be downloaded for free here.
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