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2018: Foundations for the Future (But Not the Future Itself, Yet)

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2018: Foundations for the Future (But Not the Future Itself, Yet) Image Credit: DigitalRoute

Annual predictions all too often involve striving to identify the likely next quantum shifts in the telco industry, tagging the big stuff that will change the world, things like 5G, IoT, content-driven business models and so on.

But really, those sorts of predictions are rarely on the money in the short term. For one thing, they ignore the fact that change in business is almost always evolutionary, not revolutionary. Big bangs in short time frames are no more likely than Tier-1 telcos throwing out their entire application infrastructure and starting again, all within a twelve-month period! Most often, that sort of prediction may get the prognosticator his or her 15 minutes of fame but no one looks very smart in the end. 

Lars Månsson
VP of Global Pre-Sales
and Solutions, DigitalRoute

#1. The point is that good headlines and sounds predictions tend to work against each other. While everyone wants to be the guy who saw the next big change coming - the guy who backed the 50-1 outsider that won the horse race (the horse was called ‘Walled Garden’, by the way) - real change (and accurate predictions, rather than spectacular ones) tends to be pretty dull; not the stuff of headlines at all. The truth is when it comes to progress you’ll find the devil, as ever, in the details. And Prediction number 1 for 2018 is that it will be the year of details, for sure.

#2. Headlines are more exciting than the stuff beneath them but it’s the stuff beneath them that enables them to stand up. When it comes to next year and the progress of 5G, IoT and Cloud for example, the real story will be in the foundations for progress which, in 2018, will continue to be laid in a serious way.

Telco infrastructure is getting, and will continue to get, more and more complicated. For instance, the extant supporting system landscape (OSS and BSS) resident at most telcos is a mess in so far as it’s ill-equipped to support the would-be DSP as things now stand. That’s why next year should (or even will) be the year for telcos to decide on - and start building towards - a new operational infrastructure that is long-term fit for purpose. Using old approaches and siloed applications to address new operational requirements won’t work. Rather, a new lean and agile environment will be required (further down, we’ll predict what it might look like).

In the same vein, 2018 will be the year telcos recognize that 5G, IoT, Cloud et al are about how, not what. Today, the issue isn’t about things like the rise of content but what infrastructure content will rise on. If you’re distracted by the big picture at the cost of failing to address the small picture first, well, good luck. You risk ending up with the right prediction but no way of delivering it. A digital business requires an entirely new digital business strategy, particularly for IoT.

#3. This means - Prediction Number 3 - come as you are, but decide what you are first. That’s a decision that ought to be taken across the industry in 2018, or at least thought about. What is my business going to be? Recognize that generations of technological progress mean there’s really no such thing as a ‘traditional telco’ anymore. Telcos don’t have a common goal. Across tiers and geographies each has different aims and different business models for both now and, particularly, the future. But whatever these are (from pipe provider to content supplier), they need to be defined before they're pursued; denude and expose business processes, then re-invent how you execute them. The outcome will have to be pursued according to the decision made rather than in some universal, best practice, one-size-fits all way. Telcos cannot, for instance, be both Systems Integrators and transport companies (though they may have a choice of being either). Digitization puts many options in play; juggling more than one isn’t the route to success. Some telcos will climb verticals. Some will stay true to their roots and provide smart connectivity. As these choices are, made a new competitive landscape, far more diverse than before, will emerge.

#4. Prediction Number 4 is a sort of anti-prediction prediction. This: It is time telos accept that in their transition to DSP they will have a hybrid new environment for a long time. The exciting headline (the emergence of the new DSP) has disappeared over the horizon…2018 will see the jigsaw puzzle pieces of what being a DSP actually means emerge. Among other things, this will be seen as new software emerges but for now operating in the old network infrastructure. Thus, disparate applications will have to coexist and a communications system will almost always be a chain of parts comprising hard and soft elements. Expect the next twelve months to be time spent evolving how these sorts of details will work.

#5. Mediation in the new infrastructure will be much more integral than many are used to. Why? Data aggregation has come to mean ‘everything from everywhere to anywhere’, not ‘billing mediation’. A 360 degree view of the service experiences means you HAVE to aggregate data in mediation; data from the old world and the new world, related to both performance and usage. Expect to see systems that do this begin to prevail in 2018.

This will lead to another thing the start of which we’ll see next year: Operators need to - and will thus begin to - start structuring their businesses differently, to think ‘horizontally’ and not just architecturally. Today, each part of an organization typically owns and operates within a silo. Few parts take a horizontal approach to infrastructure building but instead own pieces of it. Telcos must organize themselves according to the new world of support systems, not the old one which means things will, because they have to, start to change.

#6. Which brings us to a last Prediction: You might want to believe that money, money, money is just around the corner from the network and services revolution but it isn’t. Particularly when SDNs take root, new business models will follow. But questions such as how can new partnerships within ecosystems be monetized still remain. For instance, what will be the new charging models? It will take time for the answers to emerge…we won’t wake up one day next year with all of them in place. For instance, LTE broadcasting is being heavily invested in – but telcos need to be able to make money out of it – for the end subscriber but also for the partnerships involved. Telcos need to decide how they will make it all work.

In the end, in 2018 telcos will likely decide that the best way to meet complexity is with simplicity. Networks are becoming more complex but the answer to managing things is not to throw more people at the complexities. Automation is needed. And that needs to be driven from all the places you have network data that can be collected. Expect investment there. At the same time, and causally related, expect network quality issues to increase. In the context of automation it is essential to pinpoint quality issues. Since networks are becoming more and more complex, multi-layered mediation is likely to play a key role in automation.

In 2018 telcos will need to learn new tricks but we don’t know what all the required tricks are yet. For instance, telcos need to know how to support Big Data initiatives and in 2018 they’ll start figuring this out. For one thing, it means they’ll need to recruit data scientists. But this is a bigger challenge than it sounds, not least because they have to realize that data scientists can only be effective if they can get hold of the correct data in the correct way.

2018 is, in my view, likely to be a year of considerable progress in building a new foundation for the telco industry. But the excitement will in many ways be below ground level, out of view. We’re entering an important year. And an exciting one, but not in the way many predictors seem to think.

About The Author:
Lars Månsson is VP Global Solutions at DigitalRoute. Previously the company’s Chief Technical Officer, he now focuses exclusively on leading DigitalRoute’s growing solution offerings to the market. Lars has spent almost a decade with DigitalRoute, enjoying positions such as Sales, Head of Product Management and CTO. With a strong engineering background he has extensive experience as architect and business analyst. More recently, he has veered towards the business and solution management side of technology, defining its value to customers.

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