The telecom sector is becoming multidimensional, with telcos donning several hats to cater to their customers in a digital era. The emergence of digital lifestyles has opened up new avenues of growth for telcos, which are keen to expand their role beyond traditional connectivity providers and become digital enablers. Over the past few years, telcos have moved beyond traditional voice and data connectivity offerings to build a strong portfolio of digital services. Telcos now have a strong play of offerings with over 50 key services across connectivity, digital, analytics, security solutions, cloud, XaaS, IT/ITeS, IoT, blockchain, Industry 4.0, payments, augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), etc.

The Covid-19 pandemic has acted as an unexpected growth lever for the telecom industry, accelerating the digital transformation of telcos. With building blocks such as 4G connectivity, high speed broadband, security and collaboration in place, telcos have proved to be the biggest enablers of social engagement amidst this crisis.

A look at the trends that are shaping telcos’ journey of reinvention…

  • Network agility and versatility: Telcos are scaling up to build secure networks to provide improved services. They are embracing open ecosystems to control network resources better. They are looking at AI and automation to help with cost optimisation. During 2020, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel announced partnerships with IBM to enhance their data analytics and network deployment architecture.
  • Evolving through partnerships: Co-creation and collaboration are becoming the order of the day. Telcos are teaming up with strategic partners to offer a complete suite of solutions in a short span of time and at competitive prices. This is happening in synergistic industries such as financial services, healthcare and e-commerce. Through its recent strategic partnerships with global tech giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Qualcomm and Intel, Jio has made major headway in this space.
  • Orchestrators of digital: Telcos are at the nerve centre of the digital play, with most services being built around their infrastructure, and can thus serve as orchestrators across the ecosystem of connectivity, platforms, hardware and services. Strategic service bundling can help telcos in building a valuable platform that can be used to offer their own services as well as monetised by bringing on board new partners. In fact, active collaboration with partners and open ecosystems will be crucial for service providers to leverage the opportunities arising from new technologies such as 5G.
  • Building capabilities for new revenue streams: Healthcare is one of the most promising areas of growth for telcos. It presents both consumer as well as enterprise use cases. Telcos can get involved by offering IoT solutions across a spectrum of hospital functions such as to manage crowds and ensure hygiene regulations. Meanwhile, there is significant traction in Industry 4.0, which, until now, has been in the proof-of-concept stage. It is expected to gain momentum in the post-Covid-19 era.
  • Telecom-tech convergence: The rise of digital, particularly, cloud, data and connected technologies, has brought the telecom and IT industries closer. Telcos are forming partnerships and collaborating with tech players and IT giants to bring a consolidated package of connectivity and technology to their enterprise customers. Global consulting and research firm Analysys Mason in its annual predictions on telecom, media and technology, for 2021, has stated that Covid has brought market opportunities at the intersection of cloud and connectivity into clear view, and telcos will strive and compete to launch cloud-based solutions by combining unified communications, security and remote access.
  • Focusing on right product mix: Telcos enjoy long-term relationships with enterprise customers; this allows them to sell additional services, complementary to their traditional connectivity services. A research by Openet claims that 73 per cent of consumers are open to purchasing more digital services from the telco that they are subscribed to, than going to multiple players. Telcos, thus, can focus on providing uniquely bundled services that are over and above mobile and fixed communication services, including cloud computing and storage, IoT and SD-WAN.

The way forward

Telecom, as we know it, is slowly becoming a thing of the past. The rise of digital has significantly changed the way customers consume telecom services. While reliable, high quality broadband connectivity will continue to be the foundation of a telco’s business, it will be areas such as cloud, security and 5G that will fetch it higher revenues and ensure business growth. Adding value on top of connectivity offerings will help them stay relevant in the ever-changing networking landscape. Going forward, all telcos will have to pivot from being connection providers to end-to-end digital players to achieve long-term success.

By Akanksha Mahajan Marwah