Total Telecom Congress 2019: 5 thoughts…

1. 5G isn’t easy

The opening presentation at Total Telecom Congress in London this week was entitled “Saving the Industry from 5G” – perhaps not the most upbeat and positive of titles for an opening session of a CSP focused conference. But it did recognise the challenges of 5G that service providers already face – and there are many.
Alexandre Fonseca, the CEO of Altice Portugal, didn’t hold back with his criticism of his local regulator stating, “We are behind on 5G purely due to the inadequacy and incompetence of our regulator”.
But criticism wasn’t just limited to regulators. A panel discussion on the OTTs was very interesting and was a subject discussed throughout the conference. “There are 3.7 billion people that are not connected to the Internet,” said Digicel CEO Nikima Royer “However, it is important that every single entity within that space including the regulators and including the OTTs pay and play their part in continuing to innovate. OTTs should no longer be allowed to utilize our extensive, expensive infrastructure for free.”
Other challenges were more technology-specific. For example, the lack of standards for IoT especially around APIs and certification processes, the continued lack of trust within organizations to use AI and to implement automation, the multiple challenges around logistics and physical rollout of small cell sites as well as the lack challenges of being able to fully deliver end-to-end orchestration and service assurance.

2. 5G – How much and why?

Listening to a lot of presentations and roundtable talks, it was obvious that the clarity surrounding both 5G and IoT business cases is not yet well defined. The huge amount of investment that is needed for CSPs to deploy 5G infrastructure is a major concern and I didn’t hear anyone at the conference present a detailed business case that stacked up for the amount of investment that is and will be needed in these areas. I would summarize that the industry has all the technology it needs but doesn’t yet have a clear set of use cases that will drive mass adoption. Until they get this, the commercial risk of deploying new technologies is high, leaving only the bigger market players able to take the chance.
That is not to say there aren’t already some good examples of IoT applications and progress being made with non-standalone 5G deployments. KT presented a very impressive overview of progress with their network rollout and their aggressive short-term plans. Telefonica, Sprint, Elisa, Orange and BT all presented how they were rolling out new architectures and technologies, but the killer use cases and applications that will lead to mass adoption for both 5G and IoT were still not obvious.

3. Culture Changes

With the massive technology changes going on in the industry with 5G, IoT, edge computing etc., it is easy to forget that the companies attempting to sell and deploy this are commonly long-standing, traditional CSP organizations with more a history of selling phones, mobiles and data plans. Compared to the OTT providers and hyper-scalers, the Telco’s are monolithic in their thinking and processes. In order to compete and survive, they need to change to think more like the hyper-scalers – agile, cloud and software based, customer focused, dynamic and efficient. Not easy changes to make.

The good news is that, from the discussions and presentations at the conference, the providers know that changes are needed, and they are well underway with their digital transformation programmes.

4. Customer experience is king

It’s very easy at these sorts of events to focus on the shiny new technologies and lose sight of why we are talking about it. I heard plenty of discussion about technology, but I didn’t hear a lot about what the end users and customers actually want and need. The tail appears to be wagging the dog (again)!
I found one of the best and most thought-provoking presentations of the conference was entitled “Why customer experience is the future of Telco”. Presented by Fabian Metz from solvatio AG, he summarized that customer experience is based on speed, cost, convenience, customization and quality. He summed up that access technologies will become commoditized to a point that the only differentiator between service providers will be brand and customer experience. A rather sobering thought, but an accurate one I believe. The biggest challenge for CSPs is not only technical, its actually how can they differentaite themselves and their services beyond the level of utility.

5. Using data-driven technology is not optional

At the conference, I heard a lot about the challenges of rolling out 5G and IoT and the need for a change in culture and business focus. But theres was also a lot about the need for data-driven technologies to help achieve the required transformation. One great quote I saw was “AI is the new UI” which seems to sum up the current focus on all things Artificial Intelligence at the moment. The use of AI technology is no longer an option. Taking away the general confusion over AI, we can summarize the current domains where AI is bringing most benefit to CSPs as natural language processing, computer vision, gaming, and data pattern and correlation identification.
At Federos, we are heavily involved in the latter domain. Our Assure1 solution uses unsupervised machine learning to identify anomalies. Combined with other correlation techniques such as supervised event correlation and topological analysis, in what we have termed RCA3, allows Assure1 to produce accurate actionable outcomes which, in turn, can be automated.

In Summary….

There is a lot of change going on in the industry and much more to come. This is being mainly driven by the industry itself rather than a mass demand for new services from enterprise or consumers. Assuming that the mass demand will appear eventually, the preparations for it by the service providers are well under way. However, the challenges faced by the industry are huge – cultural, technological and commercial.

Federos are proud to be playing a part in solving these challenges for our customers and would be delighted to discuss how we can help you as well. Please contact us at info@federos.com or have a look at our solutions on our website at www.federos.com.