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Telcos: The opportunity lies in the threat 

Telcos: The opportunity lies in the threat 

AfricaIndustry ExpertMobileTelecomTop Stories

Telecommunications are integrated into our daily lives, and we are dependent on them. Providing fresh insight, Heman Kassan, Chief Commercial Officer at Technodyn International (IFS), speaks to us about the African telcos industry, the security risks associated with 5G – and how these can be overcome – as well as the importance of managing both people and assets. 

The telcos industry remains one of the most digitally disrupted markets as operators struggle to ensure their legacy/core services stay relevant while increasingly embracing digital technologies. But what is required is an appetite for innovation and teams who can cope with the diversification of their portfolios.  

Over the past two years, the requirement for businesses to embrace a remote working model has seen a shift from traditional PBX systems to direct routing within collaboration systems (like Teams) to support an increasingly mobile workforce. While this has to an extent cannibalised the fixed-line market, it has also created an opportunity for telcos to grow their network capacity, bolstering this with additional fibre and in more advanced markets – increasing wireless deployments.  

The bandwidth debate 

Beyond just trying to ensure ongoing revenues and carving out new markets, telcos companies are facing several additional challenges. Not least of which is an increasingly regulated market, growing demand for hosted private clouds, better bandwidth to support more effective onramps to public clouds and security threats.  

Globally, governments are calling for more decentralised broadband infrastructure and are paving the way for a more competitive market. In the US, this means allowing states to manage broadband infrastructure; in Europe, it means allowing for more competitive practices amongst private broadband providers; and in Africa, it relates to loosening the grip that state-owned enterprises have on the connectivity market.  

One can’t exclude the power of mobile operators in this mix. In Africa, for example, there are more mobile data users than there are users of fixed lines or fibre. And in 2020, mobile data operators were heralded as saviours by providing connectivity and access to information in remote and unreachable areas in light of the global pandemic. As the cost of infrastructure comes down and technologies such as Software-Defined Networking become more pervasive – the costs of running a mobile network follow.   

The proof of the importance of mobile operators/data is in the numbers. According to GSMA Intelligence, US$155 billion of economic value will be added to the Sub-Saharan Africa market by 2022 due to mobile technologies. In 2020, transactions on mobile money platforms reached US$490 billion. 

The Intelligent Edge  

Another critical driver moving the needle for telcos operators is Industry 4.0 or IoT. The promise of an interwoven fabric of intelligent Edge devices that provide insight and data from everything from a Smart City to an autonomous vehicle and robots in a factory – fuels extensive demand for networks that can support the speed at which these devices can deliver information to their parent systems.  

Enter 5G. The one thing about the intelligent Edge is that it needs a speedy network to be intelligent. If we are to rely on the data from an IoT device to make up to the second decisions that impact the productivity of a business, we can’t afford to have a high-latency network. 5G promises to reduce the speed and time it takes to transport information across these networks. And its practical use all but delivers on the promise of the intelligent Edge.  

While 5G is no longer a concept we are waiting for but a reality many countries are living in, there is still much to be done by telcos companies to unlock its full value and scale their 5G services.  

A security risk 

Security is a threat and an opportunity to telco operators in the digital world and as telcos look to expand their services into digital ones, including adding cloud services to the mix, the security risk increases. The same can be said for the addition of 5G services. Why? Because as networks become built on software, operators can decentralise them, which means that the attack surface expands.  

The security risk comes in due to the growing network footprint and the sheer volume of devices that can now connect to a network. With 5G services, operators widen their network’s data net and speed, volume and diversity. The same goes for digital services such as direct routing across a data network. A Software-Defined Network may assist an operator in reducing latency, redundancy, privacy and sovereignty, but it does increase the risks of cyberattack.  

Telcos will need to ensure that they add new services, add new security policies, adopt a Zero Trust approach and make security intrinsic to the networking and application fabric they are building. It is a big switch for an industry that had to secure switches and hardware for years.  

Managing people and assets 

While the digital prowess of telcos grows, so does the need to manage the geographically dispersed infrastructure that forms the premise of its network. There has never been more of a need for Field Service Management (FSM) solutions in the telcos industry than there is today.  

This infrastructure needs to be maintained and kept in running and working order. Much of which can be automated with the right software tools, but much of which still needs to be done with people’s manual intervention/assistance. FSM systems that support maintenance scheduling, equipment optimisation, dispatch, mobility and even the collation of data from smart Edge devices are a necessity.  

Telcos are not looking for vendors to oversell a host of systems that support individual requirements. They require solutions that encompass the complete life cycle, from dynamic intraday field workforce scheduling and mobile execution, long-range maintenance planning and highly complex project-based business with longer-term resourcing and procurement, through to complete asset life cycle management. And they want this in a single system able to draw data from disparate environments.  

This is partly because the skills required by the telcos industry are hard to come by and operators don’t want to take the skills they do have and subject them to continual training on new systems. They already have to upskill their people on the new digital services they are offering to their customers.  

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