With the broader roll-out of 5G, 2021 will be the year of connectivity and its endless opportunities. At the same time, telecommunication companies are seriously exploring options to provide new service offerings to their customers, especially in the B2B context. In early January Plug and Play hosted a private virtual roundtable exclusively for the telecommunications partners in our ecosystem. Thought leaders, senior executives and innovation champions of our telco partner network met in a private 1-hour meeting to discuss 2021 challenges and trends, respective focus projects, and potential collaboration opportunities. Plug and Play strives to bring all telco partners close together across the globe and make this year the most impactful year of innovation in the telco industry.
The State of Telco
Connectivity is already the backbone of today's most important technologies and it will become even more important with the broader roll-out of 5G. As the primary provider of connectivity services, Telcos are at the center of emerging trends around the application areas of being connected. However, many of these companies are facing a myriad of challenges. Here are a few examples:
- Wireless revenue is at a stagnation as a result of unitary price deflation. While data usage volume has drastically expanded in almost every market, data pricing has declined at a similar rate.
- Ballooning capital expenditures and high complexity of capital deployment. The cost of rolling out a 5G network will be significantly more expensive than 4G as new network spectrums, small cell deployments, and other facilities will be needed on top of the existing 4G infrastructure.
- TMT (Technology, Media, and Telecom) industry convergence and increased competition across verticals. Deep-pocketed tech firms have expanded into vertically-integrated telecom domains in areas such as content creation, content distribution, and mobility services themselves.
To successfully deal with these challenges, telcos are forced to find new ways to grow and innovate in a challenging environment.
How Can Telco Corporations Embrace Innovation in 2021
Many telecom companies around the world are under pressure to evolve their business and incorporate innovation in all areas of their organization. We want to highlight three ways to innovate and create value this year.
- Diversify and expand into new business areas in order to increase revenue and reduce risk exposure.
5G will allow exponential growth of numerous applications across industries. A multitude of industries is building their business models on connectivity. How might a telco become a channel partner to adjacent industries or even tap into these opportunities themselves? How could telcos integrate startups to grow their business? Just4fun is a great example of a startup that has already started to leverage some of the 5G network advantages. It's a white-label cloud gaming platform that is piloting in partnerships with telecommunication companies. They offer a revenue-sharing model that implies a very low upfront cost for the Telco and high engagement among its users with outsourced management.
- Retain customers and increase customer experience with more intelligent interpretation of customer data.
New technologies will provide the customer edge that Telcos will need to go beyond their top-line objectives.
In terms of customer data interpretation, machine learning is growing exponentially and bringing personalization and customer experience to a whole new level. This technology will help companies connect with their customers on an emotional level, ensuring customer loyalty and increasing revenue.
In terms of customer data protection, telecommunications companies might experience technological challenges that new startups and new technologies will help them solve. For example, cybersecurity solutions will enable them to enter sensitive data spaces such as digital ID.
One of our ecosystem startups, Voixen has started to leverage machine learning technology to provide a better customer experience by transcribing and analyzing customer conversations from audio to text. Voixen software improves call centre performance, increasing sales by 25%, reducing handling time by up to 5%, and improving first call resolution rates by up to 10%.
- Cost optimization: new technologies enable unprecedented efficiencies in processes and operations.
New technologies make telco’s operations more efficient than ever. Site management, energy management, digital portfolio management, remote maintenance monitoring, and contract management are just some areas that telecommunication companies can benefit from.
Learn how our ecosystem startup, Caban Systems, teamed up with Ooredoo, an international telecommunications company, to create a more sustainable and efficient telecommunication site through solar energy and machine learning.
How is Vodafone Taking on Innovation?
During this telco roundtable, Julia Doll, Head of Innovation at Vodafone Germany, spoke about innovation at Vodafone Germany and what they are focusing on for the coming years. As Doll explained, the role of Vodafone’s innovation team is to look at and analyze new technologies to come up with concrete use cases for the Telco industry, that will lead to creating new business segments down the line. This year, Vodafone focuses on four different focus areas in innovation including 5G, augmented reality, health, and making sure everyone stays connected. Vodafone’s 5G efforts are mainly around finding new application areas and how to transport these services and benefits to companies and consumers. They partner with hospitals in Germany to revolutionize eHealth in clinics and medicine. Vodafone has a priority of figuring out how to keep people connected in the time of the pandemic. And augmented reality is an all-encompassing topic that is used with all of these units to significantly improve user experience.
Three relevant trends emerge for Telco companies that present an opportunity to grow business in 2021: teleoperations, remote work, and telehealth. In an open discussion, our corporate partners analyzed key expectations and concerns for the applicability in Telco companies.
Teleoperations In The Automotive Space
Teleoperations are the scenarios when a driver or an operator of a vehicle or machine is in a different place than the vehicle itself with a reliable connection that is used to control it remotely in real-time. There are multiple application areas in the automotive industry, but also the construction and manufacturing industry is making large use of these technologies. How might Telcos help these industries build out their teleoperations?
Currently, connected car platforms are usually operated with 99.9% reliability. This is by far not good enough. Only a combination of high bandwidth, ultra-reliability, and super-low latency together will function effectively for the autonomous age to become a reality.
- Joint investment
Telco platforms should join forces to control the environment in geo-fenced areas, applying the same concept as roaming. Bundling resources will not only avoid achieving payback on their own but also will benefit the consumer, providing better coverage.
The current pandemic forced millions of us to work from home and in the months and years ahead, experts say remote work will only become more prevalent. Zoom, Slack, and other engagement tools have become extremely valuable to companies in 2020. Although working remotely was initially seen as a temporary measure, it might take over the norm in the future. How can Telcos tap into this field? Which services will be crucial for them to make working from home more efficient?
- Security, support, and the ability to apply quality of service for businesses.
Enterprise, government, and high-scale establishments are extending their corporate networks out into remote locations. Telcos should be able to provide excellent services for business needs such as remote work, selling it at a very different price.
- Telco platforms should avoid playing just a single transportation role.
People may feel exhausted with a whole new way of work nowadays, spending their time in multiple virtual meetings. It will be interesting to see if providing a secure and stable connection, telcos could find a way to create a collaborative, engaging environment.
When it comes to telehealth, it’s clear that 5G needs to upgrade its infrastructure. In pre-pandemic times, hospitals were using telehealth about 2% of the time. That changed with the onslaught of the virus. The adoption of these applications increased to about 80% at peak and then dropped back down to 35-50%. Hospitals had to scramble to figure out their telehealth platforms and patients had to adapt to it. The biggest challenge for hospitals now is to find a more future-proof and long-term solution for telehealth. How could Telcos help hospitals boost their telehealth services?
- Continue to improve customer experience
There is always room for improvement for any application and telehealth tools will continue to adapt to new technologies. It’s important for network service providers and application owners to make sure the user has an enjoyable customer experience.
- Security is a key point
Security proved to be one of the biggest challenges in whole telehealth. It’s even more important than having more latency bandwidth and other issues 5G brings to the table. On the other part of the equation are the startups developing some of these new applications. They have to be aware of all the regulations and be able to work on the existing networks to make them work for the hospitals.
What have we learned from the event?
- To stay relevant in the market, Telcos will need to focus on business growth, customer retention and cost reduction at the same time
- Growing your business in a stagnating industry can be done by looking beyond core business -- adjacent industries provide a strong opportunity
- Entering these adjacent industries can be facilitated by startups that are already tapping into new products and services with new business models
Innovation in the telecommunication industry is happening. Don’t be left behind.
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