2018 Telecom Predictions – The Traditional Industry Moves to the Back Seat

2018 Telecom Predictions – The Traditional Industry Moves to the Back Seat Image Credit: Dialogic

The telecom industry in the form of the service providers and infrastructure vendors have always been able to drive the way forward. Drive the networks, drive the standards, drive what subscribers see and can do with the network. But that has been changing over the past 10 years - networks today are data pipes, and the drivers of the industry today can arguably be seen as who you, as a subscriber, interface with the most - that is, apps and devices. And the industry as I described it above has been trying desperately to hang onto the wheel to continue to drive the way forward, so the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Apple don’t take the driver’s seat for the foreseeable future. But it’s inevitable to happen, and in 2018 we’ll see more of that, especially due to 5G, NFV, and IoT. With that in mind, I foresee the following happening in 2018.

#1: 5G

While 5G is all the current rage in the industry, and will actualize at some point in time, we’ll continue to see WiFi make inroads. According to the Cisco VNI, in 2016, 60% of mobile traffic was offloaded to WiFi with expectations to grow to 63% by 2021. WiFi hotspots are also expected to grow 6x to 541 million by 2021. Furthermore, according to the Cisco VNI, WiFi offload is higher on 4G networks (some have theorized it would be lower since 4G offers better speeds so people wouldn’t bother to offload) because of the data CAPS imposed by the service providers.

Due to the costs of implementing IMS/LTE and the relative dearth of service provider CAPEX these days, we’ve seen a lag on VoLTE pickup and we may never ever get to the VoLTE projections. It’s just too expensive for everyone to implement. Embracing WiFi and VoWiFi just makes sense. And when this happens, and continues to happen, then we get out of the realm of GSMA and that driver’s seat starts to look farther away.

#2: NFV

We’ve also been hearing for some time that the nirvana for the service providers will be NFV and software based infrastructure. Well, NFV and software based infrastructure are the not the same thing. “True NFV” means adhering to the standards (such as from ETSI) so that the telecommunications infrastructure software is in a standards-based framework, able to work with other software (even other company’s infrastructure VNFs) via NFV orchestration software, or running the infrastructure as a service in some public cloud. This takes massive effort. While many Tier 1 service providers like the concept of “True NFV”, true NFV also comes with some historic telecom baggage. That is, there are standards and specs to conform to as discussed above, and procurement processes via RFPs with pages and pages and pages of questions. All time-tested and historically useful to the service provider, but questions get raised and more standards come to the fore. The end result is delay in the process.

While this is going on, there are other service providers that just want infrastructure as a service. Give me an SBC that runs on some public cloud. Give me a media server that runs on some public cloud. Give me value-added services that run on some public cloud. They want the infrastructure to be able to scale up (and down), they want to move CAPEX to OPEX, and they want lower overall costs. In other words, they want the same benefits, the same end game, as “True NFV”, but obtain this from running an infrastructure Virtual Machine in a cloud such as Amazon EC2.

This is easier to do. It’s virtual machines, managed by the service provider. The NFV crowd will bring up legitimate issues such as that there is no structure to orchestrate different software together, the VM may not be optimized to run on the specific hardware underneath, clouds potentially are optimized for larger (i.e. video) packets as opposed to smaller voice packets and the voice packets may have to travel too far (both impacting quality), and clouds would lack geo redundancy.

All good issues, but if you go back to the benefits, it’s worth the move especially if you don’t need a gigantic all-encompassing network. I think we’re going to see more of this in 2018 because only the biggest and richest Tier 1 service providers can afford “True NFV”. And more service providers who don’t embrace True NFV, the less the industry can stay in that proverbial driver’s seat.

#3: IOT

Finally, let’s address IoT. IDC estimates that over 29 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. Cisco estimates over 50 billion devices. And these connected devices will drive new industries and revenue streams to the tune of over $1.7 trillion dollars by 2020. This is clearly a force we all need to understand, especially those of us in the communications industry, because communications as we know it will change.

Jim Machi,
SVP of Product Management and Marketing,

Prior to IoT, communications typically meant voice/video/messaging from person-to-person, or in small instances, person-to-machine. With IoT, voice/video/messaging communications will become part of a larger application where real-time communications becomes a necessary feature, not the focal point of the application. Many IoT interactions will also be M2M that require human interaction in a relatively short period of time (but not really real-time) such as sensor indicating low tire pressure which shows up on our car console (one most of us probably have seen in our car way too many times), a smart city or smart home water sensor measuring lower water pressure and thus a possible leak somewhere, or even a beer keg sensor measuring low beer and thus the need for delivery of another keg.

But there will be some M2M/IoT use cases involving real-time communications and real-time person activity. One that we all might have experienced is using your credit card outside of normal patterns. For instance, if you travel and use your card in a state you never have travelled to, you might have gotten your spend declined at the register, only to get a text message asking you to hit a number to approve the spend. This all was generated in the background by M2M interactions.

Now expand that out to IoT. Your connected car has a speaker because it might talk directions to you. It also has all kinds of sensors to detect when to brake, how your car is performing, etc. If your car stops suddenly and no brakes were applied, it might mean you got into a crash. If you have the right app, you might find your car talking to you through your vehicle assistance company to see if you are okay. Or an emergency services drone might be hovering above talking to you. All the wearables you have on will also be measuring and probing your health. Something might indicate to the right application that you have a problem. And if you did, you might also hear someone talking to you asking if you need assistance. Video would also be involved as well.

There are cameras seemingly everywhere. If a sensor picked up some anomaly, such as low water pressure, or high isolated temperature, someone could look at a camera first to see if there is an actual issue. This would all save time and expenses. These are simply examples I can think of for the marriage of IoT and voice communications, but I’m sure there are literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands more use cases involving voice and video.

In 2018 we’ll see these applications take more center stage. My point is that the “communications industry” can and will play in the IoT market with the marriage of real time communications and IoT. It will just be different than what built all our companies today. Wow, real time communications as part of a larger application, not THE reason for the application. Talk about not being in the driver’s seat!

The communications industry is in constant change. 2018 will be no different. Those that can embrace the change, and figure out how to navigate the change, will continue to thrive.

About The Author:
Jim Machi is Senior Vice President of Product Management & Marketing for Dialogic, responsible for driving the overall product strategy and roadmap and marketing strategy, programs and communications. Jim has been with Dialogic since 1998 when he joined as Director of Product Management, working to develop the company's IP telephony roadmap and strategy. Jim was recognized by Internet Telephony Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Voices of IP Communications” and by WebRTC Expo as a a “WebRTC Pioneer”. Jim holds an MBA degree from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a BS degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.


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