By Kevin Billings, Director and Communications Industry Principal, Pegasystems
For the communications sector, COVID-19 has been transformative in many ways. With the shift from office to home working, broadband has undoubtedly been the lifeblood of businesses and consumers over the last year and increased home working looks to be the norm for the future. However, the pandemic has also served to uncover major weaknesses in CSPs’ ability to meet increasing customer expectations. As we begin 2021 with hopes for a better year, what changes are likely to stay with us from the last twelve months, and what new trends are likely to emerge?
CSPs will pander to the needs of streamers
The popularity of streaming has skyrocketed this year. Looking at specific platforms, YouTube now has over 2 billion users each month. In North America, we are already seeing gaming and esports growing in popularity and this year a similar trend will be replicated in European markets. For CSPs, they will have to deliver improved connectivity and low latency internet that viewers expect to support this type of content. For this, the adoption of edge computing in conjunction with 5G will be their primary strategy. In addition, Telcos will start regularly teaming up with established cloud providers such as Google Cloud and AWS, which will enable them to easily move their services to the edge.
Telcos turn to network-as-a-platform
5G promised a lot, but so far, it is not yet delivering the returns CSPs need to justify the high investment. In 2021, the advent of a ‘Network as a Platform’ style service will come to the fore. With 5G as an enabler for emerging new IoT (Internet of Things) services and other enterprise solutions, network-as-a-service will be a key area of growth for CSPs, with a roadmap going up to dedicated 5G network slices for specialised requirements offered as a service. This strategy will also help them compete with OTT players who are doing their best to take the lion’s share of the market.
Increased pressure to deliver improved broadband, on budget
The dramatic shift to home working has put huge pressure on providers to deliver top speed broadband in areas that never even needed it before. With the speed and quality of the internet in home working environments now critical to the enterprise, CSPs are focusing more on how they can deliver an improved service. However, rolling out the infrastructure to support this is both costly and will take time. In order to fund this trend throughout 2021, the rate of M&As between CSPs will increase where organisations will consolidate their different services (in fact, we are already seeing the likes of O2 and Virgin getting the ball rolling). Or, we will see CSPs spin off network-related infrastructure into a separate entity, in a similar way that Vodafone has done with Vantage Towers, thus unlocking funds required for network upgrades and expansion, while meeting shareholder dividend commitments at the same time.
Data gets unlimited
Where unlimited 5G data is currently reserved for only the highest paying customers, this year we will see a shift towards unlimited data models (in a similar way consumers currently pay for home broadband). The catalyst for this change is that the number of digital products and services that consumers are using has skyrocketed as a result of COVID-19 – most of which consume more data than ever before.
Retail will be robotic
Although the wheels were already in motion, COVID-19 accelerated the closure of Telco’s retail stores, but the question for 2021 is how permanent will it be? We are likely to see more Telcos shift to the Apple model of having flagship, ‘experiential’ outlets that will combine self-service stations and human customer service representatives. Where there will be fewer stores, this will force a change in the channel-mix. To reduce dependency on stores and customer service centres, operators will do all they can to get customers’ issues resolved online through self-service technology.