The Telecommunications industry is undergoing yet another sweeping transformation – the biggest ever to hit this industry – Telcos, OEMs and NEPs alike – in over two decades. Telecom providers have to deal with a massive, demanding customer base in the “Age of Me”. They also have to deal with technologies such as IoT that seem to have sprouted out of nowhere to such a scale that they place a really heavy demand on bandwidth and networks. Thirdly, decreasing ARPU (average revenue per unit) has been a cause for concern for the last three years. In the wake of data taking precedence over voice around the world and OTT players generating all the revenue they can, this hardly leaves any direct benefit for telcos.
From a “big picture” point of view, customer experience, as provided by telcos, needs to improve further. However, improving CX based on the same old metrics – better voice plan, more data, better 4G coverage, etc. – will not create a point of differentiation for long as it is fairly easy to catch up with. Telecom providers have known this for years, and many of them around the world have tried to do something different i.e. venturing into new business models.
Heard of video streaming apps, or payments apps launched by telcos? You probably have. Did they work? Probably not, at least not as well as they aspired to. Only a handful few have held their own in these new markets as it was not the company's core business or expertise. This means, a combination of not being the best at alternate businesses and not being seen as a “bank/ payments brand” or an “entertainment provider” by their customers. However, we can tip our hats to them for attempting to reinvent themselves. Driving a new business model for a technology-centric industry that’s over a century old, is no walk in the park.
Adopting new technologies to improve their existing business model? Yes, that’s something that telcos have been adept at for many decades!
New technologies and generating innovative business models are on the rise. IoT and 5G have opened a new market segment. To service these market segments that are largely B2B2C and partly B2C, telcos need to adapt to a sudden surge in demand on network bandwidth and capacity. 4G/LTE alone have not realized their promised potential in many countries such as India while the world has already begun preparing for 5G! Such is the outside-in push from ever-changing market and technology forces that telcos are struggling to figure out the best way to transform their networks to meet this demand. They know that new norms, technologies and architectures driven by SDN and NFV are the touted heroes that’ll save their day. And if telco networks want to truly attain the state of operational nirvana, they must aspire to become the legendary “Autonomous Network”.
The Autonomous Network is a utopian being which manages (almost?) everything automatically. From planning coverage and capacity, to migrating or building the network, testing and running it, most operations are also autonomously managed by this intelligent system. This network knows a problem will arise even before it has happened and proactively takes steps to prevent it. Internal friendly access? Granted. Malicious breach by outsider? Already recognized and prepared to ward off the attack.
Bandwidth demand going high in an area? The Autonomous Network automatically adjusts capacity supply, and weans off when the demand is low. If the network has to unavoidably go to “nap” for maintenance in a small area, it then notifies all customers and devices in advance. It can understand when a dead zone has appeared in a cell, and takes necessary steps to eliminate it.
The Autonomous Network can understand when it is “bruised” in a certain area, and can notify the closest field engineer with the right equipment and correct skillset where and how to heal its wound. It can direct him to the point of distress in minimum time and specify its symptoms. If the problem is more complicated than can be handled on field, it connects the field engineer to the NOC engineer via video and the two can work together to fix the problem in the shortest time possible.
With all these magical abilities and many more, wouldn’t mobile customers be more content with consistent connectivity and speed? Wouldn’t businesses be worry-free, with almost zero downtime and no loss of productivity? With an Autonomous Network in a 5G paradigm, wouldn’t connected vehicles be one hundred percent connected and reliable? With every other industry in the world heavily dependent on communication networks for their enterprise, operations, business and other needs, almost everybody will be positively affected.
This wonderful, intelligent system can be the best friend a Telco COO could ever ask for. This will be like Rome in its prime, and as we all know, it wasn’t built in a day. The focus must be on building it right, more than building it fast. One must choose the team wisely and have the right "builders" build it, one brick at a time.