In the 180 years since the invention of the telegraph, how we communicate has constantly evolved. Often disrupting what came before.
Smoke, fire, and drums were replaced by flags, torches, and semaphore. Visual telegraphs (using various characters and shutters) were eventually replaced by the electric telegraph, which gained momentum once Morse code became the standard for fast communication.
Then came the telephone. This was quickly followed by a printing telegraph system (the precursor to analog facsimile, and later the digital fax machine). Then came coaxial cables, satellite links, and fiber optic lines.
And with the world rapidly adopting more digital technologies from the 1960’s onwards, digital communication has become standard.
Today, the internet and digitalization have changed everything. Public phonebooths have disappeared. Automated systems and artificial intelligence (AI) are replacing human operators. Landlines are switching from analogue to Internet Protocol (IP)-Network technologies – and many homes no longer use them (in the UK, the PSTN network will be switched off in 2025 with calls then being routed over IP).
It’s clear that many things are changing.
The top trends for 2022 and beyond
The industry must now deal with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), online services like Skype, Hangouts, and Facetime, and a vast number of competitors offering Over-the-Top (OTT) solutions.
But that’s just the start.
Not only are Fiber optics providing fast internet access at home , but there’s ‘the cloud’, edge-computing, 5G, fiber optics, IPTV, the Internet of Things (IoT), and changing customer expectations. In many ways, satisfying the consumer is one of the industry’s biggest challenges. People now expect highly personalized, streamlined solutions that deliver a positive experience.
It’s no surprise why. They can switch providers in just a few clicks. That means it’s essential to keep them happy to reduce churn. For many telecom providers, there are few second chances.
This is being driven by online communication tools, which have steadily replaced SMS and even voice calls.
There are, of course, many things that are shaping the telecommunications industry. In their recent report on the future of the telecommunication landscape in 2030, Deloitte looked at many of these drivers and rated them for their degree of uncertainty and impact.
Drivers with the highest impact and lowest uncertainty included ‘open source wifi’, ‘communication behavior’, ‘urbanization’, and ‘outsourcing of services’. Those with the highest impact and the highest uncertainty were ‘trade systems’, ‘economic climate’, ‘OTT players’, and ‘fiber deploying regulation’.
There were many more. From wearables to robotics, big data, and authentication methods. All are a clear indicator that the industry is in a highly disruptive and quickly evolving environment. A thousand different things need attention, and millions of individual needs and wants must be addressed.
This will increase the use of two things: Collective intelligence, where large groups of people can be used to share knowledge and skills (in this regard, crowdtesting will become ever more essential), and swarm intelligence, which uses artificial intelligence to mimic the behavior of various animal species. For example, flocking birds, swarming bees, schools of fish, and ant colonies. Where all seemingly act with one mind. Such ‘swarm AI’ enables groups of any size to connect and deliberate as a unified system. For IoT systems, it will be vital in controlling their operations.
The need for speed – 5G/6G and Wi-Fi 6
Constantly gaining momentum, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks, and is moving telephony away from voice-only communication. In a 2021 Ericsson Mobility Report, 5G is predicted to account for nearly half of all mobile subscriptions by 2027.
Not only does 5G provide higher speeds than previous generations (potentially up to 10 times faster than 4G), but its latency is also much lower. Speed is everything.
Whether playing online games, streaming 4K movies, taking video calls, or utilizing any range of mobile and cloud-based services via your smartphone, tablet, or other connected device, 5G has clear benefits when it comes to data transmission speeds. It is also boosting growth for Internet of Things devices with its speed, low latency, and ability to seamlessly connect multiple devices. As smart cities become a reality, it is 5G and its descendants that will run them.
And while 4G is still dominant, as with 3G being progressively phased out from this year, its days are numbered. The overall benefits of 5G will see it quickly take the lead. Especially as there’s no limit to its use for multiple industries, including transportation, public services, and medicine.
But a new contender is already warming up.
Expected to be 100 times faster than 5G, this newcomer is set to deliver near-instant connectivity. Going by the, not unexpected, name of 6G, this new generation of telephony is all about the Worldwide Wireless Web (WWWW).
From enhanced wireless broadband to ultra-low latency communications, virtual-and-mixed-reality, 3D communications, and more, 6G will be essential as expectations for near-instantaneous experiences become standard.
This doesn’t mean, however, that wired is gone for good.
Fiber optic broadband, which can achieve transmission speeds over 1000 times faster than copper cables, is gradually spreading around the world and this is seeing Wi-Fi 6 technology leap forward. More devices can reliably connect at higher speeds than ever before. As homes and offices become fully connected via dozens of devices, Wi-Fi 6’s improved throughput (over Wi-Fi 5) will be essential.
While the costs of rolling out such new technologies are high, the potential revenue streams of ‘connectivity everywhere’ (especially with Networking as a Service, IoT devices, and industry applications) will be immense. Imagine if they were developed by the telecommunications industry, as well.
As noted by Deloitte, even the need to boost security presents opportunities:
“As operators have taken steps to evaluate and minimize threats arising from 5G and software-centric networks in their own organizations, they are in a unique position to offer 5G security services to enterprises seeking to deploy their own advanced wireless networks.”Deloitte
Being more efficient than the competition – edge computing
As with 5G, edge computing is revolutionizing how consumers (individual and enterprise) interact with the internet. By bringing data computing and storage closer to where it is needed, edge computing saves bandwidth, lowers latency on applications, improves security, and offers high scalability. All while saving energy and costs. In addition, by placing everything closer to where data is processed, local regulations can be more easily met.
For service providers this offers numerous opportunities. As Ericsson mentions, operators “are ideally positioned to deliver intelligent traffic routing from the mobile network to the optimal location of the enterprise application.”
While Red Hat (an IBM subsidiary), says that “Virtualizing network functions allows telcos to abstract functions away from hardware, allowing standard servers to be used for functions that once required expensive proprietary hardware.”
All of which is especially relevant when it comes to IoT devices. By taking pressure off network bandwidth requirements, edge computing can dramatically increase response times, reliability, and data processing. This is driving IoT development. By 2025, Gartner predicts that 75% of enterprise-generated data will be “created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud”.
This provides telcos with the ability to increase revenues from their services and networks, while, as discussed in a recent STL Partners report, helps them “to extend their role beyond offering connectivity services and move into the platform and the application space.”
But with so much data, so many connected devices, and the increasing need to compete with global players, the need to defend against cyber-attacks and address low-security connected devices, is growing.
To serve and protect – Cybersecurity
From social engineering attacks (phishing, tailgating, scareware, etc.) to DDoS and malware, cyber-attacks are the inevitable result of so much data and so many people communicating and conducting business over connected devices. Such attacks can cause substantial disruptions against communication networks.
While telecom’s would prefer to focus on reliability and availability, ever-evolving cyber-threats need constant monitoring and management. Staying on top of such risks is a growing challenge, especially because, as Accenture’s Ninth Annual Cost of Cybercrime Study states, cyberattacks are changing.
Most specifically, that while information theft is still “the most expensive and fastest rising consequence of cybercrime”, attacks are looking to destroy or change data, not just steal it (to build distrust). And that people are increasingly the ‘weakest link’ in cybersecurity, which is resulting in more phishing attempts and attacks by malicious insiders.
To see the scope of such threats, take a look at Deutsche Telekom’s Sicherheitstacho (security dashboard) website, which uses 180 Telekom sensors on the internet (called honeypots) to track attacks in real time. It’s hypnotic.
One thing the dashboard makes clear is that when it comes to cybercrime, there are no boundaries. It’s also costing businesses a lot. McAfee, in their global report on The Hidden Cost of Cybercrime, showed that from 2018 to 2020 “…the cost of global cybercrime reached over $1 trillion.”
For the telecommunications industry, digitalization, combined with elevated levels of connectivity, makes them vulnerable to such cyber-attacks. As more disparate devices connect with each other, this is also giving attackers access to system vulnerabilities and networks. Moving forward, more holistic security strategies, including threat detection, prevention measures, ongoing regression testing, and more are necessary.
The experience is everything – Personalization
As the old saying goes, it’s cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. With customer churn remaining a big issue, finding ways to retain customers is a priority. One that will grow in importance as organizations continue their digital transformation.
Personalization is key to reducing churn, building loyalty, and attracting new customers. This will require telcos to embrace customer-centric, highly personalized strategies including customer value management (to maximize value at every stage of the customer life cycle), and conversion rate optimization (to help drive a desired action on your website/app).
To move from a primary focus of boosting market share and gaining new subscribers to creating positive experiences that retain them.
While personalization strategies have always used data and analytics, it hasn’t been until recently that technical solutions can analyze data fast enough to make real-time decisions. And with our digital world full of enormous amounts of data, there’s a lot to analyze. Especially as more people around the world go online and connect multiple devices.
Today, with AI, machine learning, edge computing, and cloud processing, business intelligence can quickly utilize these mountains of data to uncover actionable insights into customer behaviors and expectations. Insights that can then proactively help with strategic decision-making.
Does your site, platform, or app provide a user-friendly experience? What about your AI-driven help desk? Are offers relevant and personal? Can you maximize upsell and cross-sell opportunities?
Data, and the ability to truly use it to personalize experiences, will be an ever-greater competitive advantage. Companies are increasingly capitalizing on this.
In a McKinsey article on Unlocking the value of personalization as scale, this was expanded upon. That telcos must build a granular view “of the pivotal moments that can bring the most value during early life and acquisition … the “in-life” stage … and retention and renewal.”
“To build this granular view, telcos must redefine their approach to customer segmentation, moving from top-down, hypothesis-driven macrosegments to bottom-up, data-driven microsegments. Traditional, top-down segmentation classifies customers according to a predefined set of hypotheses about the characteristics that will influence their behavior, like demographics and usage information. But an exploratory, bottom-up approach to segmentation can be much more fruitful, uncovering new variables that determine behavior. Microsegmentation is also key. By leveraging data and analytics, operators can create hundreds of thousands of microsegments. Eventually, each customer will become a segment of one—receiving curated offers and messages.”
The power of 1 to 1 – Hyper-personalization
The convergence of these technologies, real-time data analytics, customer-centric strategies, and modern marketing, are leading to hyper-personalization.
With the aid of AI and machine learning, personalized experiences can now be made instantly from a much larger range of data points, including real-time behavioral data. Conversely, personalization is more delayed and uses only a few points, such as name, location, and purchase history to provide an individualized experience.
With hyper-personalization, experiences can be streamlined and simplified. Customers can be offered exactly what they need. And the information they receive can directly address those needs and any pain points.
If you’re not doing this, it’s a sure bet your competitors are.
The customer and their experiences are central to decision-making.
As Gartner noted in 2020, nearly 90% of organizations now have a Chief Experience Officer, or equivalent role. This is all a part of a truly customer-centric approach, where people become more than ‘segments’, and where overall customer lifetime value and retention can be increased.
So, long story short. Keep it personal and, alongside your customer journey testing, make sure you test your solution at every stage of its lifecycle.
Don’t put success on hold
Good business used to be about providing a reliable service that met a key need. The phone works. Great. The dial-up modem connects without any drama. Super. But years of instant-gratification from digital solutions, and the internet, are changing expectations. Very quickly.
It’s no longer enough to only focus on the service, product, or price. Today’s competitive landscape means utilizing latest technologies and adopting a customer-centric approach that enables you to better understand each customer and give them digital solutions they will love. This is especially true when it comes to existing clients. Omnichannel customer service optimization is vital.
Only then can you deliver the right message, the best service, and a truly personalized experience. Every time. At every touchpoint of their journey with you.