Can a telco really build a platform for the future?

telco platform
Image credit: Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock.com

It is possible that the telco train might have just arrived. Or arriving. Or least be approaching the station.

For as many years as we can remember the typical telco has been all about technology. It became an obsession (a passion if you were feeling charitable). We had cable, we had fibre, we had ADSL when we couldn’t get fibre to the home, we had wireless, 2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi and soon, 5G.

We know that demand for bandwidth is skyrocketing but surely a mixture of all these technologies will give our typical telco time to take stock.

One problem was that we fixated on one technology at a time. We still are. 5G is the latest solution to a problem we are only just working out. Yet, realistically, it will sit in a portfolio of solutions that will provide a platform for our typical telco to pick, choose and recommend tailored solutions from.

One telco that is definitely not typical is Turkcell. The CEO, Kaan Terzioglu, has been busy with a transformation programme for the last four years and it is paying off. Customer engagement, loyalty and revenue are all up. (You can read his, and other CEO, views ahead of MWC here).

Terzioglu believes that ‘thanks to AI and data analytics capabilities, with unforeseen levels and speeds of connectivity, we finally have the tools for a historic breakthrough in our value proposition as the telecommunications industry’.

To him (and others) 5G is a red herring, albeit a useful one.

The important thing, as far as Terzioglu is concerned, is that ‘the increasing capabilities of technology are an opportunity, as long as we have the business acumen to transform them into valuable services that will help our customers’.

This view is reflected on the vendor side too, at least amongst vendors who are not blinded by the hype of 5G.

Ed Finegold, Director of Strategy with Netcracker, mirrors Terzioglu’s words. “5G doesn’t exist on its own. It is one set of connectivity and functionality options telcos can offer. 3G, 4G, WiFi, Fiber, etc. are all also in play. Sometimes 5G is the right connectivity option; but not always”.

Use cases will drive 5G, at least to identify situations where 5G in the mix will make a difference.

As Finegold says, “as soon you start to work on use case models for 5G, you quickly realize you’re talking more about IoT or IoE or Industry 4.0 things, not just about 5G. In that sense, sometimes 5G seems like the solution to a problem that doesn’t quite exist yet, because we aren’t living in the future”.

The future, as Finegold points out, is one where “new devices will be manufacturing robots, port automation systems and specialized medical scanning machines – really capital intensive things – instead of smartphones and tablets. The applications are not Waze and Uber, instead they’re security, analytics and medical imaging. The connectivity that is required is dynamic, on-demand and probably accessible – via APIs – as a callable service”.

Essentially it is about a change in the consumption model, to a Network as a Service type scenario, leveraging the cloud for delivery. In this Finegold agrees with Openet CEO Niall Norton in that a “platform with discreet functionality exposed by an API approach is how technology is consumed in the digital world. It’s how enterprises want to consume technology, more and more. It’s even starting to become how telcos want to consume technology. This is why the platform model is what makes 5G really valuable – and it goes far beyond 5G”.

Norton’s view on this reflects how telcos can take advantage of an approach BT adopted 20 years ago. “They had a library of artefacts to help developers to develop their services, for example flexible rating capabilities etc. If you, as a telco, do this right now, the next Uber or AirBnB will use your tools and that will put you in a great position. You also connect with many, many more developers”.

The telco as provider of the platform of the future suddenly sounds plausible.

Consider that many of the digital darlings of a decade ago are becoming digital dinosaurs, increasingly ensnared by regulation and negative publicity, and it makes sense that the ‘Next Big Things’ (and the next digital darlings) are not far away.

Getting the platform play right will put telcos in a great position, a position they have not enjoyed for at least a decade as digital companies easily (and rudely) passed them by.

How our typical telco decides exactly how to address this consumption model, time will tell – but a major part of it should probably look like a platform or a launchpad for cool new services.

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