In a recent interview on the topic of 5G with Mobile Europe, Giovanni Ferigo, TIM’s CTO was quoted as saying ‘My personal nightmare is around security’. As we approach Halloween, it got me thinking about some potential 5G nightmares and what’s keeping CTIOs awake at night. As CxOs approach year-end and are defining their strategies for 2019 and beyond, the impending doom of losing customers to OTT providers and the equally worrying prospect of declining revenues are by far the scariest prospects. Telecoms organisations and, in fact, the entire industry, are looking to 5G as the Holy Grail and the catalyst to change these ever-growing trends. CTOs and CTIOs are tasked with a massive challenge to not only build the business case for 5G, but to ensure they monetise the associated assets effectively. Ultimately, such leaders need to ask themselves ‘what will my organisation look like in 5 years’ time and how can I monetise my network?’ Breaking down this wider question, I have collated some CTIO challenges and how they can potentially go about answering them.
- How can I ensure maximum return on investment from 5G?
One of the top challenges that CTIOs have is 5G’s impact on the bottom line. Bloomberg estimates the industry cost of upgrade to 5G at $200 billion a year from 2020. Without a strategic and innovative plan to generate a return on that investment, the business may be left with empty pockets and a shiny new network that simply isn’t generating enough value to justify the cost. The key to realising the value of such investment lies in strategy, planning and business case iteration. As organisations progress through their 5G journey, lessons learned along the way should be documented, discussed and ultimately fed back to the business in order for maximum benefit to be realised. Furthermore, new business models can be enabled by exposing network capabilities to 3rd party partner applications, as strong and well defined partner ecosystem will be key to ensuring maximum ROI on your investment.
- How am I going to manage the complexity of massive number of devices and the complexity of massive amounts of throughput?
In addition to growth in the number of connections per subscriber, the industry has seen an influx of new devices in recent years. In addition to traditional phone connectivity, telcos need to be able to support a myriad of connected devices. Deloitte estimates that the average number of devices and connections per capita in North America alone will grow from 7.14 in 2015 to 12.18 by 2020. With 5G comes additional complexity and scale, requiring automation of network operations to effectively support this. Machine learning and AI, therefore, are likely to play a significant role in in the management of network operations in the 5G environment.
- How do I simultaneously manage my legacy network as I prepare for 5G and what new skills do I need to acquire to effectively monetise this asset?
Another frightening challenge for the CTIO, is the management of their legacy infrastructure whilst simultaneously migrating network resources to a 5G environment. In a recent article by Total Telecom, the CEO of Northstream highlighted that “Integrating new technologies with legacy network equipment, processes and systems is a hugely complicated process, and a huge challenge for CTOs to tackle”. What this means, is that the CTO as well as possessing strong competence in traditional telecoms, must today also be knowledgeable and well-versed in IT and transformation programs,". Since 5G will enable a software-defined, programmable network, successful network teams will need to include skilled software engineers.
This highlights the need for organisations to fully prepare for the challenges ahead, not only from a technology perspective but also in terms of associated business processes. Virtualisation, maintenance of security controls, transformation of legacy BSS/OSS and focus on cloud-based technology are key support factors for addressing these challenges.
- How do I engage with customers to sell the benefits of 5G?
Not only do CTIOs need to possess new skills with respect to transformation programs and IT, they are increasingly required to think like CMOs and become customer obsessed. In a recent article, TMForum highlighted the fact that 5G is a technology, or more accurately a collection of technologies, not a service or a revenue stream. On that basis, for 5G to live up to its hype and improve the bottom line for communications service providers (CSPs), technology must be turned into services, and services into revenue. Digitising customer journeys and employing analytics to deliver relevant and personalised services will be key tools to leverage the power of 5G and better engage with your customers. The goal to create new services, enabled by 5G, which truly have an impact on customers’ lives should be the common and primary focus of every CSP/DSP.
- How do I automate all this?
We have already highlighted automation of network operations as one of the key success factors to realising the benefits of 5G. However, once the CTIO has defined the organisation’s 5G strategy, in addition to what services they will offer, what new business models they can potentially monetise and what skills are needed to achieve all of this, the question that follows is ‘how do I automate all of this’?
Automation of process is one of the primary benefits of 5G, with the potential for knock-on cost savings. However, this is no easy task. It is important to consider the fact that with automation comes defunct roles, in addition to a significant need to acquire resources with new skillsets. Hays, a leading global recruiter, estimate an ever-increasing demand for 5G-ready telecoms engineers, with an estimated 22 million roles to be available by 2035. In addition to such resources, expertise in the remits of machine learning and associated algorithms, electrical engineers (to support the scale of connected devices), and GPS and IoT designers are already seeing increased levels of demand. This not only puts pressure on the CTIO of an organisation to fill associated roles, but demands that the impact on existing resources and culture urgently needs to be addressed.
5G is here. The potential to re-invent the telecoms industry is huge. But the potential problems will also be huge, so knowing them up front and having a plan in place to ensure that nightmares don’t turn into reality is essential. Otherwise, some CTIOs could be in for some sleepless nights ahead.