In the past 24 months we’ve seen Artificial Intelligence (AI) go mainstream with consumers and enterprises. Today you can find AI in automobiles, appliances, wearables, speakers, buildings, industrial systems, and just about everything in between.
These advancements are truly remarkable, and yet we have an insatiable appetite for even better and faster technologies.
As more devices and data get pushed to the edge, a pesky reality emerges—smart devices become less intelligent, can tackle fewer complex tasks, and operate at slower speeds than we demand. The challenges intensify with the widespread use of Internet of Things (IoT), and as 5G becomes increasingly pervasive – but the benefits still outweigh the challenges.
With shifting customer needs, and a new global remote workforce, this is an incredible time for growth in the Telecommunications industry – and the competition is fierce among Communications Service Providers (CSPs) as they race to deliver and enable smarter, faster, and more powerful solutions and services.
To do so, many are betting big on the intelligent edge – the combination of advanced connectivity, compact processing power, and AI located near devices that use and generate data.
Unprecedented opportunity for innovation and growth
According to Deloitte, “The intelligent edge is poised to propel tech and telecom companies toward the next generation of connectivity and efficiency, driving another wave of industry growth.”
The firm predicts that in 2021, the global market for the intelligent edge will expand to $12 billion, continuing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 35 percent. Expansion in 2021 will be driven primarily by telecoms deploying the intelligent edge for 5G networks, and by hyperscale cloud providers optimizing their infrastructure and service offerings.
By 2023, 70 percent of enterprises will run some amount of data processing at the edge. With more devices and data at the edge and with more diverse bandwidth needing to emerge, CSPS have an opportunity to transform services and the way they are delivered.
In some cases, CSPs are using intelligent edge technologies to provide next-generation data centers and edge hubs to power dynamic connectivity for 5G. Having these capabilities enables CSPs to provide better service quality to subscribers and enterprise customers.
With the intelligent edge, enterprises can remove the traditional data center from the equation and allow the computation to occur precisely when and where it is needed most, all in real-time.
For example, game makers can instantly launch a new VR game by tapping into device intelligence, edge gateways, real-time access to a user’s surroundings – without sending data back and forth and speeding up the entire experience.
Oil rigs, farms, and military operations that often lack reliable connectivity can harness real-time data processing and AI technology to bring digital capabilities to remote regions and sensitive environments.
Another example is healthcare.
In 2020, COVID-19 accelerated the telehealth movement, and it continues to evolve at an amazing pace. By moving to the intelligent edge, healthcare professionals are expanding their remote patient monitor (RPM) capabilities to include people living in remote rural locations.
They can also extend home healthcare to communities that previously lacked the bandwidth to support these services. By reducing latency, and increasing computing power, the remote healthcare experience has become much more viable and effective.
The proof is in the numbers and a recent study indicates that 80 percent of telehealth patients are likely to have another virtual visit.
Whether it is healthcare, automotive, or manufacturing, the intelligent edge has and will continue to open the door to massive growth – and much of the innovation will be driven by and with CSPs. They have a unique opportunity to spark fundamental shifts and critical new revenue streams.
By bringing computing power to the data, not the other way around, CSPs are unlocking the ability to build products and services that will continue to keep us coming back for more. The next 2-3 years are going to be a race among the CSPs, each seeking to take advantage of the amazing technological era we’re living in.
AI, Edge, IoT, and 5G are here to stay – and when combined, there are no limits.
How telcos can digitalise their services for the demands of tomorrow
Retail giants Amazon, Aldi and Tesco are trialing checkout-free stores in the UK, where customers can conveniently grab their shopping and leave the store without visiting a cashier. It’s clear that consumers today expect intuitive digital services as standard — and supermarkets aren’t the only ones who should listen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digitalisation of our entire society, and digital strategies are no longer optional for companies who want to stay on top. The telecoms industry isn’t exempt from this. Revamping telecoms services is particularly critical, with a survey by Kantar finding that just 14 percent of network provider customers were delighted with their last interaction ― the lowest satisfaction rate out of all industries evaluated.
However, while the importance of digital transformation is evident, the journey towards it is not always so clear. In fact, according to research by McKinsey, around 70 percent of companies fail at their digitalisation goals.
Architecture and personalisation
A fundamental area telco should concentrate on in their digital transformation is their architecture. Telcos should transition to a microservices architecture, where the telecoms network becomes a central component of a wider ecosystem of products and services. Such services are accessed through open application programming interfaces (APIs), which drives incremental revenue opportunities for the provider.
The microservices architecture offers greater enterprise agility, making it easier to adapt and develop new applications to meet changing consumer demands, as well as integrate third-party applications. This is opposed to a monolithic development approach, which is a single-tiered software application.
Telcos should also turn their attention to the rising demand for personalisation, where consumers are preferring services and products that are tailored specifically to them. In fact, a 2021 report by customer data platform provider Segment found that 45 percent of consumers would take their business elsewhere if a brand didn’t offer a personalised experience.
However, it’s common in telecommunications for customer data to be trapped in silos, where data held by one group is not easily accessed by others within the same organisation. To overcome this, telcos must invest in customer data management platforms that use advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to better understand user behaviour.
eSIMs and inspiring innovation
A gamechanger in digital telco products is the eSIM, which allows the customer to activate a mobile data plan from their network provider without having to use a physical SIM card. Set to disrupt the market, the number of mobile operators worldwide supporting eSIMs skyrocketed from 15 in 2018, to 108 in 2020.
Despite the demand for consumer eSIMs growing, telcos have thus far been slow to adopt the technology. This could be due to a reluctance to adopt a new process, lengthy implementation timelines or the constraints of existing legacy technology. Regardless, the support for consumer eSIM is growing rapidly, as all major device brands now include eSIM as standard in all new device models.
Additionally, the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) has recently launched a regulatory initiative that requires all EU member states to devise strategies to use eSIM over-the-air (OTA) as a way to facilitate easier porting between operators. This initiative would mean all operators in European countries would be required to support eSIM for mobile number portability (MNP). As a result, it’s important that service providers offer eSIMs to their customers as soon as possible. That’s why Mobilise launched eSIM as a service, which enables service providers to quickly offer eSIM capabilities to customers.
As well as adopting a microservices architecture, unlocking the power of customer data and transitioning to eSIMs, a change in culture and overall business approach is crucial in a digital transformation journey. For instance, telcos should conduct product development from a user-centric design approach, with every decision revolving entirely around the customer and their experience. This approach has a greater guarantee of success than designing a product internally and then releasing it into the market in a sink or swim scenario.
The world is becoming more digital, and the telecommunications industry needs to follow suit to succeed in the market. To effectively digitalise, telcos must prioritise transformation projects and ensure consumer demands are at the heart of every product decision.
First impressions count: How can telcos avoid a digital onboarding disaster?
Onboarding is one of the most important phases of a telco’s customer journey. It’s the first experience that a customer has with their service provider, and as we all know, first impressions count. Despite this, it’s also one of the key areas where mistakes are made when a telco decides to go digital.
Digitalisation is sweeping across every industry, leaving customers with high expectations and meaning businesses must ensure a fast, frictionless and fully digital customer experience in order to succeed.
Following the pandemic, digital experience is even more important. In fact, 68 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by CRM software provider Salesforce agreed that the pandemic has elevated their customers’ digital expectations. Meeting these expectations is important for any business, but for service providers — the very companies responsible for providing the connectivity we’ve all come to rely on — it is crucial.
Why digital onboarding?
Onboarding has historically been one of the most challenging processes for a telco to digitalise, due to the need to complete two SIM activation and identity verification in person.
Telcos typically provide their new customers with physical, plastic SIM cards, which can either be delivered directly to the customer or collected from a retail store. Similarly, identity verification has taken place in person at a store or by the courier delivering the SIM card or device. However, the development of embedded SIMs, or eSIMs, has innovated the onboarding process.
eSIMs facilitate digital onboarding by eliminating the need for a physical SIM card. Instead, a device is authenticated by downloading network authentication credentials that are embedded into the device, for completely digital onboarding.
However, while eSIMs facilitate speedier onboarding, it’s important not to rush things. A poorly executed digital onboarding solution can do more harm than good to customer satisfaction, resulting in a high churn rate. Research by Capgemini revealed that 41 percent of telco customers prefer to visit their service provider in-person as opposed to using online channels. With telcos fighting against consumer preference already, it’s vital that digital customer experience is made as seamless as possible, to change perceptions and initiate industry-wide change.
Clunky, confusing, complicated
Unfortunately, many service providers approach digital onboarding the wrong way, creating a customer experience that works against, rather than in conjunction with, eSIMs.
An ineffective digital onboarding process starts with an ineffective communication channel choice. Constantly switching between different platforms creates unnecessary complications. There are five key steps to eSIM customer onboarding: selecting a plan and ordering an eSIM, providing contact details, identity verification, payment, and finally, eSIM activation.
Selecting and ordering an eSIM, entering contact details and handling payments can all be done simply from a service provider’s website, but the process becomes complicated when it comes to identity verification and eSIM activation.
Digital identity verification typically takes the form of a video showing the customer’s face and identity document and verbally confirming that they have purchased the outlined plan. Then, a photographic copy of the same identity document is uploaded for more detailed inspection. Once the identity has been confirmed and payment processed, the customer then must activate their eSIM.
Digital onboarding via a website requires customers to activate their eSIM using a QR code. A QR code is emailed to the customer, who can scan it on their device and securely download and activate their SIM profile. Although this activation method works, it requires the user to use another device to onboard, which complicates the digital experience and requires more effort and time from the customer.
Digitally onboarding in this way creates a clunky, confusing and complicated first experience for a telco’s customers, which could leave them frustrated and result in them abandoning the process. So, it’s essential for companies to create a frictionless digital onboarding process for excellent customer service right from the get-go.
Going digital the right way
To avoid these common onboarding mistakes that could hinder customer satisfaction and retention, telcos should consider the benefits of a well-designed app. An app allows telcos to interact with their customers directly from their smartphones and offers a range of services through one channel — including the entire onboarding process.
The two sticking points of web-based onboarding — identity verification and eSIM activation — are streamlined to create the seamless user experience telcos are striving for. Identification can be verified through videos and ID document upload from right within the app, while in-app eSIM provisioning replaces the need for a QR code, enabling customers to activate their profile in just one simple tap.
Mobilise’s M-Connect platform is designed to empower telcos to digitalise their onboarding process quickly, simply, and correctly. Taking an in-app approach streamlines the onboarding process to create a simple, intuitive customer experience. What’s more, opting for an app-based solution cuts down the onboarding time from a couple of working days to just a few minutes.
Making digital onboarding a positive customer experience is crucial to improving customer satisfaction and reducing churn. Onboarding is the first significant interaction that many companies have with their customers. Avoiding these common pitfalls by adopting in-app onboarding gives telcos and their customers alike the confidence in digital-first customer experience and making sure that first impression really counts.
An Unavoidable Problem: How ISPs Should Prepare for the Coming Spike
ISPs have a data problem. Every day, more and more devices are being connected to home networks – connected Smart Homes are expected to be a $99-billion industry this year. Each device adds to the burden placed on the home’s WiFi router. And these devices are seeing a lot of use.
COVID-19 sped up the arrival of the long-anticipated remote work revolution, with nearly three out of four American office workers working from home at the height of the pandemic, and a fair number of them determined to keep working from home at least part of the time from now on. Data usage rose 47 percent during the quarantine, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will soon generate 79.4 zetabytes of data per year.
As these factors exert massive pressure on bandwidth and WiFi reliability, ISPs will need to reduce service interruptions, improve call center efficiency, and eliminate unnecessary on-site service calls.
An Ounce of Prevention
The best way to minimize stress on call centers is to make sure the call never comes by keeping the internet up and running. Anticipating demand can prevent congestion, so it only makes sense to rely on data collection and analytics to better predict where usage will spike. This means installing better monitoring equipment throughout the network but especially in homes. Then improvements such as fiber-optic cable should be installed in busier neighborhoods, with a shift of focus to residential areas which are suddenly going to be producing quite a lot of data.
ISPs should also provide their domestic customers with better in-home equipment. State-of-the art modems and routers are required to process the volume of information a smart home will produce, and it will no longer be enough to provide a single hub — larger houses will need extenders and wireless hubs, all of which should come prepared with that improved monitoring equipment for collecting data. Residences will need high-quality, high-yield, internet equipment just to process all the information a smart home will burn through and pump out.
Finally, it is vital to improve residential network security across the entire network but especially in people’s homes. With so many interconnected devices, the opportunities for hackers and other bad actors to sneak into a system and steal data are astounding. And malware does more than steal data — it also drastically slows down infected systems, creating a much higher burden for the ISP to process all the information the smart home and IoT create.
And as more and more users’ security become compromised, this burden will increase exponentially. This ISPs must load their new home equipment with firewalls and even include security software in their internet packages, at the very least to prevent IoT and smart home users from creating massive drags across an entire provider’s service in an area.
Empowering Customers, Reducing Dispatches
Without interfering with or spying on users’ private data, these intermediary systems detect the source of internet shutdowns, rather than just telling the user they need to be fixed. ISPs could automatically send upgraded hardware to customers with outdated modems or routers and make this hardware easy to install without a technician on-site.
Customers could also download troubleshooting apps, which can probe the network to find the real problem and even sometimes fix it before a call is ever made. Such an app could also guide the customer or an ISP technician through a self-diagnosis and troubleshooting process, speeding resolution, and raising customer education all at once.
When customers use these measures, service truck dispatches are cut in half, and as much as 45 percent of service calls can be resolved via an automated troubleshooting menu, and total call times can drop by 60 percent. As companies spend less time and manpower on connectivity issues, they spend less money and can enjoy the rise in customer satisfaction as fewer calls means fewer problems.
Once ISPs have improved overall carriage capacity to anticipate the rise in usage and taken steps to empower their users to fix their own issues, they will have solved much of the problem facing providers in the near future. Bandwidth will drop or fail only very rarely, and when it does fail, the ISP will only rarely need to dispatch a technician, saving themselves money and their clients time and frustration.
Internet slowdowns and service interruptions are, unfortunately, as old as the internet itself. By upgrading their infrastructure and monitoring systems, and empowering customers to troubleshoot on their own, ISPs can take most of the threat out of these problems, helping home networks usher in the work-from-home revolution while preparing for the rise of our futuristic Smart Homes yet to come.
How telcos can digitalise their services for the demands of tomorrow
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