TM Forum’s Digital Transformation Asia event – what to expect

Ahead of the forthcoming return of the TM Forum’s Digital Transformation Asia (Kuala Lumpur, 13-15 November), Tony Poulos caught up with the Forum’s CEO, Nik Willetts to get some insights into what we can expect.

Tony Poulos: Nik, it is good to talk to you, can you tell what we can look forward to at this event?

Nik Willetts: So, Digital Transformation Asia is the next instalment in our regional flagship event and this year we are focusing very much on the intelligent network edge. It is not a new topic, there is a lot of noise about it, but we believe that as 5G gets ever closer, this area will become increasingly important. We need to think about the network slicing capabilities and opportunities, but in terms of the more complex digital use cases. If we think about smart factories and smart cities, for example, the opportunities for telcos is enormous, as it is for other industries. We need, as an industry, to be ready to grasp them.

How do operators keep up with all this innovation, all this change? How do you, as a matter of fact?

So, it is a complex market that is for sure, but our focus is always on operation and management. Today, and traditionally in fact, we have been focused on how to monetise new technologies not necessarily how to build them. You look at network slicing and most of the focus is on building it, or on the radio side and so on, but we focus on operationalizing and monetizing it. We look at the Art of the Possible, in a world where multiple operators have to make advanced communications work across different geographies and other boundaries.

We also look at game changing technologies such as AI and Blockchain. They are fabulous and their potential is huge, but they are badly overhyped. You would be forgiven for thinking that they will solve world hunger. The problem is there is the potential for many companies to spend a lot of time and a lot of money chasing the wrong solutions. Our role is to give pragmatic advice and work out how do you win with technology.

Of course, Asia is a hub of activity in 5G and other areas of innovation. What will the impact of your event be, do you think?

The goal of the event is simply to bring the industry together. Asia is so important, so full of innovation and we can add value by enabling the industry to collaborate. For instance, we are launching some important new Catalyst projects – focused on how to make money out of new technology.

You have a unique format for bringing operators and vendors together to solve problems, presumably we will see a lot of that at this event?

Yes, absolutely. The Forum is unique. We provide and constantly create a level playing field for the industry and this enables meaningful conversations between operators and vendors

When you bear in mind that 70% of revenue that will come from 5G will require transformation of operating models and operating systems, you begin to see the imperatives and the urgency to collaborate. If you don’t collaborate, then you might have a fantastic 5G network, but be unable to make money from it. Without that ecosystem you will be playing catch up and working alone. Everyone in the chain needs to be lined up and ready to justify such a huge investment.

Why Kuala Lumpur, Nik?

We have established ourselves in Singapore and we wanted to take the event further, to provide a great venue with some excellent entertainment for our guests.

And, of course, there is huge innovation in the region. We are very lucky to have Telecom Malaysia as one of our hosts, as well as Axiata. Both are at the forefront of transformation journeys and famous for their innovation.

It will be a great event, and all of us at Disruptive Asia will be there with you.

You can listen to the whole interview on this podcast:


  1. I am getting a bit wary of opinion forming events. Because it is only opinions and very little facts. This is the story of many industry events and consulting reports whether addressing 5G, AI, Robotics etc. etc. As of right now 5G can only communicate in line of sight, meaning the thickest it can send signals through is nothing thicker than a newspaper page. This makes 5G, for the time being useless inside offices and in random outside environments. However, inside stadiums where line of sight can be maintained it can be useful. The question is, what competitive edge does the telcos have in such scenarios, and do they provide the value add, do they work towards forming a compelling value proposition that meets potential customers desirability based on fact findings.

    I am saying this as it seems to me that TMForum, large number of vendors and also consulting companies are in a state of offering opinions formed by surveys (nothing more than opinion poles) and technocrats. The latter are still in a feasibility struggle.

    The approach seems to repeat itself over and over; argue potential feasibility (technology is king), engineer desirability (what always has happened, hence 80% of new innovations fail) and totally ignoring viability (revenue is vanity, profit is sanity).

    • Good to see you are still alive Cato. Can’t say I disagree with you but we are living in an era of “fail fast” – come up with an idea, test it out and if doesn’t work out, dump it. Just count how many Google projects have come and gone in the last five years. Telcos generally don’t have that concept in their DNA and rely heavily on others, particularly vendors, to invest in R&D and present them with new technologies. At least the TM Forum encourages that interplay, especially via its Catalyst program. Don’t be too harsh. Do you see any better alternatives?

What do you think?

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