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“Telecom operators are fundamental for the digital transformation; those are the ones that invest, build and operate the networks,” said Verena Weber, head of the telco policy unit at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In the past decade, network operators have adapted to the changing trends of the digital age. From voice and SMS, now telcos are being driven primarily by an enormous amount of data from the internet. As we move to a more digitized society, this transformation becomes faster than before.

An evitable example of this is the fast-growing fifth-generation (5G) deployment. Many telecom operators are now innovating with 5G technology as it promises extremely fast speeds, extraordinary low latency, and the capacity to carry massive numbers of connections simultaneously.

In fact, according to the latest update from the GSA, more than 400 operators in 131 countries are investing in building and operating 5G networks, either through tests, pilots, and planned deployments. With a steady growth of 5G commercial network launches in 2020, around 65 operators are either exploring or deploying standalone 5G, indicating a rapid move toward end-to-end 5G networks.

With this being said, telecom operators are not just upgrading, they are revolutionizing mobile technology. This brings trustworthiness, scalability, security, and universal mobility across the industry.

Why is digital transformation important?

Digital transformation has the potential to significantly improve consumer lives while providing businesses with new opportunities for value creation. The telecoms industry should be at the forefront of this transformation — both as an industry witnessing a large-scale change in its market conditions and as a key driver of worldwide digitization.

This is also in line with emerging smart technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) that can work alongside telcos. With all the developments in the digital age, telecom operators must learn to adapt themselves. To do this, many telcos are exploring new opportunities in a rapidly widening digital ecosystem to boost their value-added services and cater to a more data-centric and customer-driven economy.

In reality, such fundamental transformation can’t happen in a snap. To make the digital business transformation, we need platforms that support high levels of connectivity to sustain the rapidly growing number of devices. This must be resolved by telecom operators as the mobile usage of people continues to expand and evolve.

Each year, the demand for a faster, more effective, and more reliable mobile phone network becomes more prevalent. Truth be told, its functionality evolved from just a typical communications mode into a person’s own computing device.

Hence, telecom operators have enabled the shift from cellular radio onto the third and fourth generation mobile broadband and the deployment of Wi-Fi in homes and hotspots. Without a doubt, telecom operators are, and remain, crucial players in the connected economy.

Though some telecom companies may struggle and face stiff competition in the digital era, they still have huge potential to retake lost ground and recover their market shares. By focusing on connectivity, the mobile internet, and IoT, the telecoms industry is here to stay relevant and innovative as the digital scene continuously unfolds around it.

The integral role of telecom operators

The telecoms industry is accountable for the highly-connected, digital world that we live in today. With their networks and services, telcos are certainly the foundation of the internet. They bring businesses and communities together in ways we never thought possible, enabling a more productive and professional environment.

Telecom operators should deliver faster connectivity, communication, and content anywhere, anytime without delay. To be able to adapt to people’s behavior on mobile and revamp the customer experience, carriers and service providers must prepare their networks for scalability and flexibility. 

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to maintain network performance and quality to support ensure consumers had access to essential services and continue to remotely work and study without interferences.

Taking this into consideration, telecom operators should deliver higher data rates, lower latency, and greater power efficiencies, alongside a low cost per gigabit service model. The communication between CSPs and end-users should be done in real-time to allow fast downloads of multimedia and video content, with ultra-high resolution for peer-to-peer interactions.

In addition, telecom operators should support multi-device interactions within smart user spaces and personal clouds. Hence, they must deploy a broad spectrum of solutions, including telephone, email, instant messaging (IM) and audio, video conferencing, mobility, and social networking, and much more.

With the ability to create, communicate, control, manage, and share a multitude of data, full transparency and seamless connectivity for all customers regardless of wireless or fixed accesses should be made possible. Most importantly, for security and privacy purposes, carriers and CSPs must lock down their systems and prevent malicious actors from wreaking havoc on their networks.

Besides, as the backbone of complex data flow, telcos should provide a network infrastructure that should be flexible and programmable to deliver large capacity. This should accommodate varying traffic demands and should be built on common platforms that adapt to any cloud-based applications.

Now more than ever, the cloud is being used for its accessibility and ease-of-use for various activities. Thus, telcos should make use of it and offer advanced analytics to control and manage the entire network, with end-to-end built-in security.

Looking at the bigger picture, the role of telcos in the smart city infrastructure and development is set to increase in the coming years as well. Thus, telecom operators can act as a connectivity provider for both IoT service providers and the government itself. Chunghwa Telecom, the largest telco in Taiwan, for example, plans to expand its smart street lighting offering to 90,000 by 2021.

Another telecom operator with a strong portfolio of smart city services is Spain’s Telefónica. It has smart mobility, smart environment, smart economy, smart governance, smart living, and smart people services under its control.

The deciding factors for telecom innovation

In more ways than one, telco networks have proven themselves flexible and agile in the face of the pandemic. Yet, to succeed in this ever-changing digital world, they must implement technologies like edge computing and cloud radio access network (RAN) to push a network’s computational processes closer to the end-user. As a result, faster speeds and lower latency are achieved.

Operators should also implement network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) within their existing networks to support network slicing. This is a rather vital component within the 5G network as it dynamically adapts to support the different types of access traffic coming into the network. Depending on the need, a network slice will assemble resources that would support a specific application.

Massive growth through new technologies is anticipated as more telecom operators change their manner of collection, analysis, distribution, security, and monetization of data. By reinventing the customer relations model, fostering financial flexibility, and establishing risk management, the telecom industry’s innovation will continue to be advanced.

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