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The year of disruptive tech: telecom trends in 2021

Yehia El Amine



telecom trends in 2021

The year 2020 will go down in history as a defining one in the age of global telecommunications.

In the beginning, a sudden data explosion occurred.

The COVID-19 pandemic shook businesses, brands, and individuals to their core, but telcos around the world put their heads down and worked on meeting and preserving the rising demand for connectivity as citizens of the world took refuge indoors. 

The first half of the year started out rocky to say the least, with operators taking a reactionary response to turn off fires as they came up; this patience paid off, however, and played into its favor to some extent, as investments into various technologies including the fifth generation of mobile networks widely expanded.

According to OpenVault Broadband Insights, Q1 of 2020 – the height of the pandemic – recorded a 47 percent spike in data consumption per average user; in Q2, when people started adapting to the new norm, that figure increased another 30 percent.

Then came another data explosion.

In what seemed like a domino effect, countries, operators, and businesses across the world started to announce the rollout of 5G services one-by-one; the telecoms race intensified, politics intervened, and deals were struck, while others were snubbed.

None could stop the unstoppable tidal wave of technological advancements coming to the forefront, as press releases and announcements filled the worldwide newswire.

The year 2020 will be remembered as the period that laid the foundation for the digital and telecom trends for the next decade, such was the speed and profound nature of the changes.

Let’s jump right in.

The rise of OpenRan

According to India telecoms provider, Simnovus, open radio access network (OpenRan) is unlike the conventional radio access network (RAN), since it enables telcos to custom design and implement 4G and 5G networks by integrating vendor-neutral software and hardware components.

This was a main benchmark for providers during 2020, as it allowed them to adopt this new-generation technology not only to speed up and expand their networks, but to reduce costs on multiple levels.

OpenRan provides carriers the ability to open their arsenal of software and hardware to multiple vendors, granting an unprecedented level of customization and exclusivity, which would subsequently increase innovation-based competition.

The 5G storm

Everyone has probably seen, heard, or read about companies commencing or boosting their 5G networks for commercial use, while others are aiming for the same goals by the end of 2021.

At the current pace the technology is going, 5G will account for as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025, according to the GSMA. In parallel, the number of 5G smartphones is expected to more than double to 600 million in 2021, according to Strategy Analytics. And in 2022, nearly half of all phones will have 5G. It took an entire year longer for 4G LTE to reach the 50 percent mark, the firm said.

In other words, 2021 will be considered as the base year for the fifth-generation networks, allowing businesses, manufacturers, and tech giants to start experimenting with technologies – such as AI, IoT, VR, among others – that will be used increasingly during along the coming decade.

This will create services, products, and solutions that did not exist in 2020, and will be at the height of all telecom trends in 2021.

AI and ML take center stage

With that, 5G will look to champion and fuel the increased dependence on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into the network edge, paving the way for industries across the board to benefit from said advancements.

These innovative and evolving technologies will be the foundation stones of the next generation of wireless networks, disrupting industries in a fundamental way as they adopt new tech in order to cut costs, gain more precise data analytics, speed up production cycles, increase automation, and bring about a the dawn of smart cities.

In parallel, ML algorithms will allow telcos the ability to implement network slicing and beamforming, while AI-based algorithms will facilitate the development automated decision making using real-time data.

The wide net of mobile edge computing

A myriad of telcos have already kickstarted their projects to implement mobile edge computing to cater and receive the increasingly growing number of smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT)-powered devices.

Experts across the board hold a unanimous foresight that mobile edge computing will revolutionize the telecoms industry in 2021, since it will allow operators to bring data storage and computing even closer to users’ devices.

“In addition to reducing latency, edge computing will speed up the processing of real-time data collected and transmitted through connected devices. Many telecom companies are expected to diverse resources to mobile edge computing from a public cloud to store data locally,” a report by CB Insights explained.

A tidal wave of IoT

While IoT has been growing slowly under the radar, the disruptions of the global pandemic exploded its use and investment on the scene on almost all fronts.

As mentioned, 5G will be the fuel that powers all technological advancements, and IoT is no exception to that; this is primarily due to its ultrafast speed and ultralow latency, allowing devices to exchange and gather data almost instantaneously.

According to SecurityToday.com, every second—127 new IoT devices are connected to the web. During 2020—experts estimate the installation of 31 billion IoT devices. By 2021—35 billion IoT devices will be installed worldwide. By 2025—more than 75 IoT devices billion will be connected to the web.

While the pandemic was the main igniter of IoT’s explosion, the demand hike will continue to rise in a post-COVID world, especially with the rising trends of smart homes, cities, and factories.

However, for this technology to flourish, it demands the attention of telecom providers worldwide in expanding and upgrading their networks to handle massive data usage brought about by such devices, solutions, and application.

The smart city dream

The massive onslaught of IoT-powered devices fueled by 5G rollout will naturally catch the eye of politicians and policymakers around the world to start setting up smart cities.

With that, telecom operators will play an integral role in a trend of this magnitude; especially since it will serve as the backbone for smart city develop from managing services, assets, and resources efficiently by getting a large number of insights from a constant stream of real-time data.

This will bring about a new era of digital products and services for citizens to enjoy and experience.

Many experts and think tanks consider that telcos will open up their own smart city divisions to independently run such large-scale operations; while 2021 will not be the full-throttle year of smart cities, it will nonetheless set the foundation for it in the decades to come. 

Expand, expand, expand!

2021 will be the year that changes the way we people work, as many organizations and educational institutions will start to accept and adapt to the norm of remote working and studying.

As such, the post-pandemic world will likely see a large proportion the worldwide workforce takes a step back from city life, and head elsewhere due to the nature of remote access. This will push providers to increase their coverage footprints across all territories to pave the way for workers and students alike to take advantage of this phenomenon. 

Not only that, but the insistence of closing the digital divide has become a topic of heated debate and project for many governments and enterprises in an attempt to bring the power of the web to the most remote of places.

This will not only bring forth a new age of humankind but takes globalization into the future.


Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.


STL signs record high $100 million deals across MEA

Inside Telecom Staff




India-based digital network integrator Sterlite Technologies (STL) announced on Monday that it has renewed and extended deals with leading telecoms providers in the Middle East and Africa region (MEA).

According to a company statement, the deals are worth more than $100 million, taking STL’s order book to a record high, while exhibiting the company’s unwavering focus on building future-ready digital networks within the region.

“STL is building solutions to empower its customers in the MEA region for optical connectivity and network software, enabling FTTH and 5G deployments.  We are proud to be a part of the progress of the Middle East and Africa. With our deep technology expertise and growing talent base, we will continue to deliver on the full potential of digital networks, providing enhanced experiences to consumers and businesses alike,” speaking on the deals, Sandeep Girotra, Global Sales Head, STL, said in a statement.

The global pandemic has pushed many telcos to heavily invest in building digital networks to be able to meet the rising demand for connectivity from people remaining indoors due to lockdown measures. STL has capitalized on this and expanded its presence in the region with their fully 5G ready Opticonn and Software Solutions.

“Our unique end-to-end solutions enables customers to build 5G hyperscale networks at a fast pace with lower long-term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These multi-years, multi-million-dollar deals range from optical connectivity solutions to network solutions,” the company said.

According to STL, one of the large-scale deals has been signed with a leading telco in the UAE to advance its 5G, 4G and FTTX network infrastructure through STL’s Opticonn Solutions, including onshore logistics and warehousing. Another multi-million-dollar digital transformation partnership has been formed with the leading telecommunications group in North Africa.

The unnamed telco will deploy STL’s digital billing solutions to 7 million subscribers across the region.

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Airtel won the most subscribers thanks to high quality network in 2020

Karim Hussami



Airtel won the most subscribers thanks to high quality network in 2020

Airtel gained the most subscribers in India comparably due to better network quality by the end of 2020.

The latest data from OpenSignal, an independent global mobile analytics company, shows Airtel and Jio have gained more new subscribers by the end of 2020, but Vi (Vodafone Idea) lost by churning subscribers.

“Airtel and Jio were steadily gaining new users while Vi regularly lost users,” according to the report by OpenSignal who shared data from last year where it analyzed the mobile experience of smartphone users who switched network service providers (outgoing) in 2020.

“Outgoing people turned out to have a worse mobile experience before switching subscribers. They also saw a drop in 4G availability and spent less time connecting to a 3G or 4G mobile connection,” the report noted.

According to a report in Business Today, the total telecom subscriber base in India increased marginally to 1,168.66 million in the reported month from 1,167.81 million in August last year. “The total wireless or mobile telephony subscriber base increased to 1,148.58 million in September 2020 from 1,147.92 million in August 2020,” it added.

Poor network quality

In addition, analysts found that users dropped from a particular network because of poor network quality and for the fact that telcos increased tariffs in 2019. Across all the private operators (Jio, Airtel, and Vi), users who ported to other networks were spending 74 percent to 155 precent more time without being connected to a mobile signal compared to the average scores on the respective networks.

Therefore, OpenSignal indicated that most of the users who were porting to other networks had an issue with the network quality they were getting with their operator. Reliance Jio needs to enhance its network quality as fast as possible to keep leading the mobile telecom market in India, according to analysts.

The report from OpenSignal comes in line with a TRAI report that says that Airtel added 4.05 million new wireless subscribers in December 2020, bringing its total wireless subscriber base to 338.7 million as of December 31, 2020, although still below Jio’s wireless subscriber base.

With the loss of Vi subscribers and the flattening of Jio’s growth curve, Airtel continued to gain subscribers due to the churn rate.

By the end of 2020, it had gained more subscribers due to better network quality, which also matches Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI) data for December 2020.

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Beeline Telecom to become 4th provider in Zambia

Inside Telecom Staff



Beeline Telecom

Beeline Telecom has become Zambia’s fourth provider earlier this week after receiving its license to commence mobile phone operations from the country’s ICT regulator ZICTA.

Beeline, a Zambian wholly owned company, has been granted a period of 6 months to kick start its operations, unless determined by the authority, or the license will be revoked. Zambia enjoys a diverse telco presence with South African MTN and Indian Airtel being the heavy hitter names within the market.

The newly welcomed company stands alongside Zamtel as local providers within the country. According to a statement by Beeline, the local company has been offered the international network and national services licenses with associated resources and becomes the fourth mobile network services provider in the country.

“This was in line with its regulatory mandate under the ICT ACT No. 15 of 2009, which includes the promotion of competition in the ICT sector. In September 2020, the Authority invited, through the Request for Proposals, applications for a Network License under the International Market Segment and a Service License under the National Market Segment with associated resources,” Patrick Mutimushi, Director General of ZICTA, said in a statement.

Mutimushi added that following a thorough evaluation process, and Beeline having met the minimum criteria, the Authority resolved to award the licenses in question to Beeline Telecoms Limited.

On September 4, 2018, ZICTA, under the guidance of the parent ministry – Ministry of Transport and Communications, issued a Network License under the International Market Segment and a Service License under the National Market Segment with associated resources to UZI Zambia.

“Unfortunately, UZI Zambia failed to commence operations by March 3, 2019, the final deadline issued by the Authority. This was notwithstanding two earlier deadline extensions – the first being November 30, 2019 and the second on May 30, 2020. The above scenario left the Authority with no choice but to cancel the licenses issued to UZ! Zambia,” the director general noted.

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