Suhale Kapoor, EVP and Co-Founder, Absolutdata

It is needless to say that the telecom industry has moved leaps and bounds from where it was a few decades ago, perhaps, even a year ago. This statement itself represents how dynamic the developments within the industry are and becoming more so with every year that passes.

The tech deployments in the sector have introduced modern communication channels to ensure speedy connectivity via internet cables and satellite networks. Now, it is not just confined to making calls but has wireless internet and TV services under its umbrella as well. This new technological boost has made the global telecommunication industry worth USD 1.7 trillion in terms of market size.

Of late, the telecom sector has had a tough time dealing with COVID-19 as it became central to the communication needs amidst social isolations. As per market reports, the overall network traffic surged by 10 per cent while streaming platforms witnessed a 20 per cent upswing in viewership. It is because organizations increasingly relied upon connectivity as employees moved off official premises, students left campuses to pursue tele-schooling from homes and remote locations, businesses had to keep their doors open, and digital outlets had to cater to an overwhelming demand for products and services. Last, but not least, people relied on the telcos even to socialize virtually and keep themselves entertained with OTT platforms.

So, it becomes integral to know what is the industry outlook for the coming year and the technologies that are expected to flourish.

5G

Thanks to remote working, video conferencing, digital collaboration tools, and pressing demand for streaming platforms, the need for stronger bandwidth and reliable connectivity is now a bare minimum. Our dependence on phones and smart devices – including an increasing number of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and actuators – necessitates a network superhighway. To address this rising demand, the leading handset manufacturers of the world, including Xiaomi, Apple, Samsung, and Motorola, are rolling out 5G-ready phones at different price points, with Qualcomm expected to introduce the technology to users next year at affordable rates. The 5G telecom technology will usher us into a new era of ultra-high-speed wireless communications, a development that will have its effect throughout the horizontal market.

Integration of smart devices

IoT has been touted as one of the most significant trends in the telecom industry, which took off in ways no one had expected this year. RPAs, industrial robots, and AI-based machines prove themselves effective in driving manufacturing even in times of lockdown. Industrial automation service providers such as ABB and Honeywell reported high demand for remote monitoring and operations services by their clientele in India during the lockdown. However, IoT is not limited solely to industrial processes.

IoT brings to life multiple devices and endpoints including smartphones, TVs, fridges, doors, and whatnot by interconnecting them over a network. From curbside ordering to touchless delivery at retail stores and food joints, the connectivity across places and devices are proving crucial for both business operations and residential purposes, especially in the current situation. The demand for new IoT applications will continue to rise with a surge in location-based and remote services. According to an estimate, there will be approx. 30 billion connected IoT devices globally by next year, which will also be an integral part of smart cities going forward.

 

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) explosion

AI has helped multiple businesses survive the wrath of COVID-induced disruptions. ISPs are investing heavily in AI as it is helping form a smart and much-needed layer within the telecom industry. The cognitive online chatbots that drive human-like conversations are one of its examples, while customer service and network optimization are its key focus areas. And, this is just the beginning. Its role is rapidly changing from good-to-have to must-have for increasing telecommunication efficiency and customer satisfaction, which is the prime goal of every business. As per reports, the global AI market is expected to see a CAGR of 42.2 per cent by 2027.

Deployment of more SONs on the field

A Self-Organizing Network (SON) is a mobile network solution that automates complex operations such as configuration and optimization to enhance network performance. It is designed to self-plan, self-configure, self-manage, self-diagnose, and self-troubleshoot network errors through automated configurations. The increasing demand for higher bandwidth spectrum and the rising mobile data traffic load on present networks have necessitated its adoption worldwide. The technology is now becoming indispensable for running mobile networks and will create a demand for more sophisticated applications soon. The global SON market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11 per cent during 2019-22, accounting for USD 5.5 billion by the end of 2022.

Enhanced use of Augmented Reality (AR)

AR is emerging as a critical component for troubleshooting across numerous devices and services. It is due to its ability to fetch relevant information instantly on the app. Imagine an engineer being able to detect a fault by simply holding a bunch of cables in front of a smartphone by using a specific app. This will certainly reduce TAT on tedious and critical processes such as repairs and fixes to make the entire process more efficient. Improved customer service and speedy redressals will lead to higher productivity and better revenues.

Multi-Cloud Expansion

Cloud is the next big thing. As much as it reduces the burden of infrastructure, it also introduces speed to various processes. A combination of public and private clouds, or say, a multi-cloud offering is the need of the hour. Connected clouds serve a plethora of evolving needs such as storage, security, networking, app deployment, and so forth.

The year 2020 saw tech giants associating with telecom players to expand cloud business. Airtel Cloud joined hands with AWS, Google invested in Telecom Italia, and Microsoft invested USD 1.5 billion in its Italian cloud business. As per a recent report, the telecom cloud market was valued at USD 21.93 billion in 2019 and is anticipated to grow to USD 62.68 by 2025, growing at a rate of 19.9 per cent during 2020-25. The APAC cloud market is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period due to rapid technological advancements and mandatory regulations by government authorities to embrace best-in-class technology and standards.

Development of Related Products And Applications

Telecommunication players must continue to add newer products and services to their portfolio, just like they’ve done in the past. One of the promising domains for them will be connected cars as they will call for higher bandwidth, low-latency, and omnipresent networks.

Presently, smart homes, or say, home automation is mostly driven by set-top boxes and Wi-Fi terminals provided by telecom operators. But, tech leaders like Google and Apple are also pushing for control with AI-driven OTT device management services and assistants that respond to verbal commands.

The road ahead

Regardless of the many challenges that the telecom industry faced, it has been thriving on the back of tech deployments. The increasing network traffic, stringent regulatory checks, and competitive environment may unfurl a superior experience for customers, tech behemoths, and telecom titans alike in the next year.

These were some of the top trends in the telecom segment that will dominate 2021. After all, we are stepping into an era of high growth and productivity throughout the horizontal spectrum of the market. Interesting times are ahead of us.