As the telecoms industry bravely soldiers on into the digital 5G/IoT era, the main hurdles in their way include serious trust and security issues, and possibly underestimating just how big the IoT is going to be.
That was a key takeaway from a leadership panel during the opening plenary of the CommunicAsia 2017 Summit in Singapore on Tuesday.
Asked what are the most important factors holding back progress on 5G and IoT, Kireeti Kompella, CTO-JDI of Juniper Networks, said that the greatest challenge he saw was the security challenges that arose from number of devices that were connected which will outnumber the number of humans in the world. Recent DDoS attacks carried out by botnets using infected IoT devices clearly illustrate the importance of security, he said, and as the number of devices capable of launching an attack goes up, networks will need to become self-defending networks powered by AI.
“A human cannot counter attacks from the next generation of botnets without having AI on their side,” he said.
Dr Magnus Ewerbring, CTO of Ericsson Asia-Pacific, agreed that security is the key factor holding the industry back. Virtualization and cloud is easy to say, he remarked, but when you look at those who are actually implementing it, suddenly the task is huge and will take a lot of effort and a lot of time.
On the other hand, he added, trust and integrity are key factors that telcos have in their favor going forward. Put simply, digital services are not always known for integrity, as they just want your data, but traditional operators have traditionally had a track record in in integrity and trust.
“If you don’t know who regulates it, do you know who you complain to? No, you don’t. But for traditional players you do. There will be a lot of development in trust, integrity and privacy [going forward],” he said.
Another challenge is predicting the future, said Kompella of Juniper, particularly in regards to anticipating network demand. As growth is exponential, just a small change in the exponent would mean the difference between 16 billion and 100 billion devices if you are looking at building networks in a 5-10 year timescale.
Rohit Talwar, futurist and CEO of Fast Future, took that a step further, noting that telcos aren’t good at predicting the amount of bandwidth demand coming down the track, and as a result are drastically underestimating the size of the networks they’re going to need to support IoT, for example.
“You have to take human creativity into account,” he said, citing greeting card companies and clothing manufacturers as examples of companies already thinking of ways to connect their products to the internet. “Suddenly we are looking at not tens of billions but hundreds of billions of connected devices, and no telco is looking at building a network of that size.”
Talwar also said he was bored with telcos having the same conversations offering excuses why they can’t innovate and then trying to deal with problems that they should have dealt with five years ago. “I find it more interesting to talk to Salesforce and Facebook because they can innovate at industry speed. You have to be able to think five years ahead, not be ten years behind.”
Mike Van Den Bergh, CMO of PCCW Global, took issue with that view. “There are those who can do, and those who can’t and just talk about it,” he quipped, adding that telcos do innovate, but they have to do that whilst making sure their existing services continue to work day in and day out, and still make money to pay for those innovations, which is why more telcos are trying to move up the value stack.