Building a green network: Sustainability game changers

Carbon emissions: At the heart of the corporate strategy for SPs

At the core of all service provider businesses is their network. Customers expect from these networks a service which is fast, reliable, customisable and cost-effective. For service providers to continue to meet these expectations, they are investing in new technologies that help to improve their performance. This investment includes but is not limited to 5G (SA) core, cloudification, AI and automation capabilities, edge computing, vRAN and O-RAN, fibre to the home and more.

However, at the same time as making these network advancements, service providers are also focused on reducing their carbon emissions. Never before has this been such an important part of the corporate strategy of many large companies, not the least the service providers. Becoming greener has become a top priority politically, economically and socially and is increasingly encompassing all parts of the business, from reducing the use of electricity to trying to increase the amount of recycled and refurbished equipment in use.

In many instances efforts to become more sustainable have been accelerated because of the wave of commitments from service providers to become net-zero companies in the next 10-30 years.1 Achieving these commitments will require changes in operating practices across service providers’ businesses, but particularly, changes in the way that they rollout, operate, manage, maintain and upgrade their networks.

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The single biggest contributor: Green networks

Figure 1 indicates why the networks are such an important element in reducing carbon emissions – because they are by far the most energy-hungry part of a service providers’ business. Last year, the Belgian service provider Proximus reported than more than 75% of their electricity consumption came from their networks.

More than 75% of Proximus’ electricity consumption last year came from its fixed and mobile networks

Green networks - Proximus electricity consumption emissions carbon

There are technological advancements that are both improving network performance and helping to reduce carbon emissions. One such of these is “Moore’s Law” – the observed phenomenon from the co-founder of Intel that while compute speed and power doubles every two years, the cost of the computers is halved. Making smaller, more powerful equipment helps to reduce the embedded carbon of a network and while we expect generally that this trend will continue, it will not be enough alone for service providers to reach their net-zero goals.

Instead, more radical action must be taken. Service providers must accelerate their efforts to prioritise sustainability just as much as performance when it comes to their networks and data centre infrastructure. In this report we discuss five key steps that could be sustainability gamechangers in building green networks. The insights from the report have largely been formed through an interview programme with service providers globally to understand their current efforts and future ambitions.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Five sustainability gamechangers to build a greener network
  • Introduction
    • Carbon emissions: At the heart of the corporate strategy for SPs
    • The single biggest contributor: Why the focus on green networks
  • Re-evaluate the gold standard for network KPIs
    • Impact on carbon emissions
    • Evidence of adoption by service providers
  • Develop best-in-class AI and automation capabilities
    • Impact on carbon emissions
    • Evidence of adoption by service providers
  • Simplify the network to achieve emission benefits today
    • Impact on carbon emissions
    • Evidence of adoption by service providers
  • Ensure workloads are running on green energy as much as possible
    • Impact on carbon emissions
    • Evidence of adoption by service providers
  • Target a power usage effectiveness rating of 0.5 through innovative waste heat solutions
    • Impact on carbon emissions
    • Evidence of adoption by service providers
  • Conclusion

 

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MWC 2022: Sensing the winds of change

What did STL’s analysts find at MWC 2022?

This report is a collection of our analyst’s views of what they saw at the 2022 Mobile World Congress (MWC 2022). It comprises our analysts’ perspectives on its major themes:

  • How the industry is changing overall
  • The impact of the metaverse
  • New enterprise and consumer propositions
  • Progress towards telco cloud
  • Application of AI, automation and analytics (A3)

We would like to thank our partners at the GSMA for a good job done well. The GSMA say that there were 60,000 attendees this year, which is down from the 80-100k of 2019 but more than credible given the ongoing COVID-19 situation. It was nonetheless a vibrant and valuable event, and a great opportunity to see many wonderful people again face to face, and indeed, meet some great new ones.

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MWC 2022 in context of its time

It is impossible to write about MWC 2022 without putting it context of its time. It has taken place three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24th, 2022.

Speakers made numerous direct and indirect mentions of the war, and it was clear that a sense of sadness was felt by everyone we spoke to. This slightly offset the enthusiasm and warmth that we and many others felt on being back together in person, with our clients and the industry.

Broad support for the Ukraine was visible among many delegates and there was no Russian delegation. While totally appropriate, the Fira was a little poorer for that as one of the joys of MWC is its truly global embodiment of a vibrant industry.

We all hope for a speedy and peaceful resolution to that situation, and to see our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues again in peace soon. Sadly, as we write from and just after Barcelona, bombs and shells are falling on civilians on the same continent and the route to peace is not yet evident.

As this new and shocking war has come in Europe while COVID is still in a pandemic phase it is a reminder that change and challenge never ends. The telecoms industry responded well to COVID, and now it must again for this and all the challenges it will face in the future, which include further geopolitical risks and shocks and many more opportunities too.

The biggest opportunity for telecoms, and telcos in particular, is to build on the momentum of change rather than rest on its laurels. The threat is that it will settle for a low risk but ultimately lower value path of sticking to the same old same.  We look at the evidence for telcos successfully changing their mindset in New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets.

Connecting technologies

This is my 11th MWC. I came looking for what’s changed and what it means. This is what I found. Andrew Collinson, Managing Director, STL Partners Research.

Cross-dressing and role play

Trying to leave the war at the door, what else did we find at the Fira? One of the mind-bending tasks of walking through the cacophony of sights and sounds of a huge industry ecosystem on display is trying to make sense of what is going on. Who is here, and what are they trying to tell me?

First impressions count. The simple things about how companies present themselves initially mean a great deal. They often show the identity they are trying to project – who or what they are trying to be seen as more than all the detail put together. The first impression I got at MWC 2022 was that almost everyone was trying to dress like someone else.

Microsoft showed photos of cell towers on its stand while all the telco CEOs talked about the “new tech order” and becoming techcos. McKinsey talked about its ‘old friends’ in the telecoms industry and talked about sustainability on its hard-edged stand, while AWS had an advert on the frontage of the Fira and a stand in the “Four Years from Now” zone.

We’re all telcos / techcos now

We're all telcos techcos now

Source: STL Partners, AWS, Microsoft, McKinsey

It’s all about “connecting technologies”

Regular readers of STL’s material will have heard of the Coordination Age: our concept that there is a universal need for better use of resources which will be met in part by the application of connecting technologies (e.g. fibre, mobile, 5G, AI, automation, etc.).

Once upon a time, it was simply people that needed to be connected to each other. Now a huge variety of stuff needs connecting: e.g., devices, computer applications, business processes, business assets and people.

A big question in all this is whether operators have really understood how outdated their traditional operator centric view of the world has become as the industry has changed. Sure, new telecoms networks still need to be built and extended. But it isn’t just operators using licensed technologies that can do this anymore, and the value has increasingly moved to the players that can make all the stuff work: systems integrators and other technology and software players. We’ll cover operators’ mindsets more in the section titled New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets.

Private matters

Private networks was also a big area of focus at MWC 2022, and understandably so too as there is a lot of interest in the concept in various sectors, especially in ports and airports, mining, and manufacturing. Much of the interest for this comes from the hype around 5G which has attracted other industries to look at the technology. However, while there are some interesting developments in practice (for example Huawei and others at Shenzen port in China), many of the applications are at least as well served, and in some cases, better served by other connectivity technologies, e.g. Wi-Fi, wired connections, narrow-band IoT, and 3G / 4G, edge computing and combinations thereof. So 5G is far from the only horse in the race, and we will be looking closely at the boundary conditions and successful use cases for Private 5G in our future research.

Would you pay for “unexpected benefits”?

One great stumbling block for telcos and other business used to traditional business thinking has been “how do you make a business case for new technology?”

The classic telecoms route is to dig around for a cost-saving and revenue enhancement case and then try to bend the CFO’s ear until they give you some money to do your thing. This is fair enough, to a point.

The challenge is, what do you do when you don’t know what you are going to find and/or you can’t prove it? Or worse still, you can only prove it after everybody else in the market has proven it for you and you are then at a competitive disadvantage.

One story I saw and see elsewhere repeated endlessly is that of “unexpected benefits”. This was a phrase that Alison Kirkby, CEO Telia, used to describe what happened when the value of its population movement data was recognised by the Swedish Government during the COVID crisis. It had pulled together the data for one set of reasons, and suddenly this very compelling use came to light.

Another I heard from Qualcomm, which told of putting IoT driven shelf price signs in retail. Originally it was developed to help rapid repricing for consumers in store, then COVID struck a few weeks after installation. This meant people switched to online shopping and the stores were then mainly used by  pickers assembling orders for delivery. The retailer found that by using the signs to help the pickers assemble their loads faster they could make the process about a third more productive. That’s a lot in retail.

This is the reality of transformational business models and technologies. It is incredibly hard to foresee what is really going to work, and how. Even after some time with a new way of working new uses continue to emerge. That’s not to say that you can’t narrow it down a bit – and this is something we spend a lot of our time working on. However, a new thing I will be asking our analysts to help figure out is “how can you tell when and where there are likely to be unexpected benefits?”

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • MWC 2022 in context of its time
  • MWC 2022: Connecting technologies
    • Cross-dressing and role play
    • Would you pay for “unexpected benefits”?
    • Getting physical, getting heavy
    • Glasses are sexy (again)
    • Europe enviously eyes eastwards
  • New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets
    • Customer centricity: Starting to emerge
    • Becoming better partners: Talking the talk
    • New business models: Not quite there
  • The Metaverse: Does it really matter?
    • Can the Metaverse be trusted?
    • Exploding supply, uncertain quality
    • The non-fungible flexibility paradox
    • A coordinating role for telcos?
    • Don’t write it off, give it a go
  • Consumers: XR, sustainability and smarthome
    • Operators: Aiming for smart and sustainable
    • Vendors and techcos: Would you like AI with that?
    • More Metaverse, VR and AR
    • Other interesting finds: Commerce, identity, video
  • Telco Cloud: The painful gap between theory and practice
    • Brownfield operators are still on their virtualisation journey
    • Greenfield operators: Cloud native and automated from day one
    • Telcos on public could: Shall I, shant I?
  • AI and automation: Becoming adaptive
    • Looking out for good A3 use cases / case studies
    • Evidence of a maturing market?
    • Welcome signs of progress towards the Coordination Age

 

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The Future of Work: How AI can help telcos keep up

What will the Future of Work look like?

The Future of Work is a complex mix of external and internal drivers which will exert pressure on the telco to change – both immediately and into the long-term. Drivers include government policy, general changes in cultural attitudes and new types of technology. For example, intelligent tools will see humans and machines working more closely together. AI and automation will be major drivers of change, but they are also tools to address the impact of this change.

AI and automation both drive and solve Future of Work challenges

Futuore of work AI automation analytics

Source: STL Partners

This report leverages secondary research from a variety of consultancies, research houses and academic institutions. It also builds on STL Partners’ previous research around the use of A3 and future new technologies in telecoms, as well as organisational learning to increase telco ability to absorb change and thrive in dynamic environments:

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The Future of Work

We begin by summarising secondary research around the Future of Work. Key topics we explore are:

Components of the Future of Work

Future of work equation

Source: STL Partners

  1. The term Fourth Industrial Revolution is often used interchangeably with the technologies involved in Industry 4.0. However, this report uses a broader definition (quoted from Salesforce):
    • “The blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds. It’s a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies.” 
  2. Societal and cultural change includes changes in government and public attitude, particularly around climate change and issues of equality. It also includes changing attitudes of employees towards work.
  3. Business environment change encompasses a variety of topics around competitive dynamics (e.g. national versus global economies of scale) and changing market conditions, in particular with relation to changing corporate structures (hierarchies, team structures, employees versus contractors).
  4. Pandemic-related change: The move towards homeworking and hastening of some existing/new trends (e.g. automation, ecommerce).

Content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The Future of Work
    1. The Fourth Industrial Revolution
    2. Societal and cultural change
    3. Business environment change
    4. Pandemic-related change
  • How will FoW trends impact telcos in the next 5 to 10 years?
    • Expected market conditions
    • Implications for telcos’ strategic direction
    • Workforce and cultural change
  • Telco responses to FoW trends and how A3 can help
    • Strategic direction
    • Skills development
    • Organisational and cultural change
  • Appendix 1
  • Index

Related Research

 

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Telco plays in live entertainment

Enhancing live entertainment

Live entertainment spans everything from a handful of people enjoying stand-up comedy in a pub to a football match attended by 100,000 fans. Although there are many different forms and formats of live entertainment, they share three inter-related characteristics – immediacy, interactivity and immersion. The performers make things happen and people tend to react, by clapping, shouting, singing or gesticulating at the performers or by interacting with each other. A compelling event will also be immersive in the sense that the spectators will focus entirely on the action.

For telcos, live events present specific challenges and opportunities. Simultaneously providing millions of people with high quality images and audio from live events can soak up large amounts of bandwidth on networks, forcing telcos to invest in additional capacity. Yet, it should be feasible to make a return on that investment: live events are an enormously popular form of entertainment on which people around the world are prepared to spend vast sums of money. This is a market where demand often outstrips supply: tickets for top tier sports events or music concerts can cost US$150 or more.

With the advent of 5G and Wi-Fi 6E, telcos have an opportunity to improve spectators’ enjoyment of live events both within a venue and in remote locations. Indeed, telcos could play a key role in enabling many more people to both participate in and appreciate live entertainment, thereby helping them to enjoy more fulfilling and enriching lives.

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The opportunities to use new technologies to enhance live events

Live entertainment

Source: STL Partners

More broadly, telecoms networks and related services have become fundamental to the smooth running of our increasingly digital economy. Our landmark report The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms explained how reliable and ubiquitous connectivity can enable companies and consumers to use digital technologies to efficiently allocate and source assets and resources. In the case of live entertainment, telcos can help people to make better use of their leisure time – a precious and very finite resource for most individuals.

This report begins by providing an overview of the live entertainment opportunity for telcos, outlining the services they could provide to support both professional and amateur events. It then considers the growing demand for high-definition, 360-degree coverage of live events, before discussing why it is increasingly important to deliver footage in real-time, rather than near real-time. Subsequent sections explore the expanding role of edge computing in facilitating live broadcasts and how augmented reality and virtual reality could be used to create more immersive and interactive experiences.

This report draws on the experiences and actions of AT&T, BT, NTT and Verizon, which are all very active in the coverage of live sports. It also builds on previous STL Partners research including:

Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Opportunities to enhance live entertainment
    • Amateur entertainment – a B2C play
  • Delivering high-definition/360-degree video
    • New broadcast technologies
    • Real-time encoding and compression
    • Traffic management and net neutrality
  • Real real-time coverage and stats
    • More data and more stats
    • Personalised advertising and offers
  • Edge computing and the in-event experience
    • Refereeing automation/support
    • In-venue security and safety
    • Wi-Fi versus 5G
  • Augmented reality – blurring the lines
  • Conclusions
    • Tech can enrich people’s experience of live events
    • The role of telcos
  • Index

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AI & automation for telcos: Mapping the financial value

This is an update to STL Partners report A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value, published in May 2020, which estimated the financial value of automation, AI and analytics (A3) through bottom up analysis of potential capex/opex savings or revenue uplift from integrating A3 into 150+ processes across a telco’s core operations.

The value is measured on an annual basis in dollar terms and as a proportion of total revenue for a “standard telecoms operator”. Access to the full methodology and definition of a standard telco is available in the report Appendix.

We categorise the value of automation, AI and analytics (A3) in telecoms across operational area, as well as type and purpose of A3 technology. Our graphic below summarises the value of A3 across the following six types of technology:

  1. Making sense of complex data: Analytics and machine learning used to understand large, mostly structured data sets, looking for patterns to diagnose problems and predict/prescribe resolutions.
  2. Automating processes: Intelligent automation and RPA to enable decision making, orchestration and task completion within telco processes.
  3. Personalising customer interactions: Analytics and machine learning used to understand customer data, create segmentation, identify triggers and prescribe actions to be taken.
  4. Support business planning: Analytics and machine learning used in forecasting and optimisation exercises.
  5. Augmenting human capabilities: AI solutions such as natural language processing and text analytics used to understand human intent or sentiment, to support interactions between customers or employees and telco systems.
  6. Frontier AI solutions: A number of individual AI solutions which have particular, specialist uses within a telco.

For further detail on this categorisation methodology, see STL Partners report The telco A3 application map

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What’s new in 2022

The colouring of the use case categories in the graphic below remains largely unchanged from May 2020. Some uses of A3 were reasonably mature in that timeframe and already rolled out in a typical telco, so their value was already well understood.

We estimate that the most valuable use case categories, primarily in networks and operations, deliver over $50 millions in annual benefits – and sometimes up to hundreds of millions. Throughout this report we express the value in dollar terms and as a percentage of savings within each domain. This is because while $50 million is clearly a significant sum, it accounts for just 0.33% of total revenues for our standard operator, so showing values for unique use case categories as a proportion of total revenues undermines the potential value A3 can add to individual teams, and in turn contribute to significant aggregate value across an operator.

Overview of the financial value of A3

financual-value-A3

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

In our May 2020 research, many of the more sophisticated uses of A3 were understood in theory but yet to be implemented. Researching these various newer uses cases throughout 2021 has revealed that many are now, at least partly, rolled out (although some are still waiting for cleaner data or more orchestration capabilities).

However, there were a few new case studies with financial benefits that necessitated more than small changes to the 2020 financial value calculations. Summarising the changes illustrated in the graphic above:

  • The most noticeable change in uptake for A3 was in the BSS domain. Vendors and telcos were not discussing much beyond RPA and basic analytics in 2020, but there are now a whole range of potential uses for ML (typically in the box labelled “Revenue management” in the graphic above). The question of how much additional financial value to assign to this is interesting – some of the A3 will ensure that the rating and charging systems can cope with the additional volume and complexity around 5G and IoT billing, so an allocation of revenue uplift has been assigned. However, this revenue benefit only accounts for around 6% of the additional $83 million in value from A3 in networks and operations estimated in this update.
  • We have added partner management as a new use case category, within operations. This is to allow A3 value to be added as telcos work with more partners and in new ecosystems, and accounts for 6% of additional value in networks and operations in this update.
  • An increase in the assumed value of A3 within marketing programs, owing to the addition of ML to improve the design of new offers.
  • The value of a previous use case category labelled “Troubleshooting” has been subsumed into “Unassisted channels”, as telcos find it difficult to implement troubleshooting tools for customers.
  • Some increase in financial benefit around customer chatbots and field services, due to new case studies showing financial value.

Our report includes a section for each of the first three columns of the graphic above (Networks and operations, customer channels, marketing and sales). The final column (other functions) doesn’t currently have financial calculations underpinning it as values are thought to be insubstantial in comparison to the first three columns.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • Overview of the financial value of automation, AI and analytics (A3)
  • Financial value by business unit
    • BSS, OSS and networks
    • Customer channels
    • Sales and marketing
  • Appendix
    • Methodology for Calculating Financial Value
    • Augmented Analytics Capabilities

Related Research

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How telcos can make the world a safer place

Telecoms networks can support public safety

In the wake of the pandemic and multiple natural disasters, such as fire and flooding, both policymakers and people in general are placing a greater focus on preserving health and ensuring public safety. This report begins by explaining the concept of a digital nervous system – large numbers of connected sensors that can monitor events in real-time and thereby alert organizations and individuals to imminent threats to their health and safety.

With the advent of 5G, STL Partners believes telcos have a broad opportunity to help coordinate better use of the world’s resources and assets, as outlined in the report: The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms. The application of reliable and ubiquitous connectivity to enable governments, companies and individuals to live in a safer world is one way in which operators can contribute to the Coordination Age.

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The chapters in this report consider the potential to use the data collected by telecoms networks to help counter the health and safety threats posed by:

  • Environmental factors, such as air pollution and high-levels of pollen,
  • Natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding and earthquakes,
  • Infectious diseases
  • Violence, such as riots and shooting incidents
  • Accidents on roads, rivers and coastlines

In each case, the report considers how to harness new data collected by connected sensors, cameras and other monitors, in addition to data already captured by mobile networks (showing where people are and where they are moving to).  It also identifies who telcos will need to work with to develop and deploy such solutions, while discussing potential revenue streams.  In most cases, the report includes short case studies describing how telcos are trialling or deploying actual solutions, generally in partnership with other stakeholders.

The final chapter focuses on the role of telcos – the assets and the capabilities they have to improve health and safety.

It builds on previous STL Partners research including:

Managing an unstable world

Prior to the damage wrought by the pandemic, the world was gradually becoming a safer place for human beings. Global life expectancy has been rising steadily for many decades and the UN expects that trend to continue, albeit at a slower pace. That implies the world is safer than it was in the twentieth century and people are healthier than they used to be.

Global gains in life expectancy are slowing down

health and safety

Source: United Nations – World Population Prospects

But a succession of pandemics, more extreme weather events and rising pollution may yet reverse these positive trends. Indeed, many people now feel that they live in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. Air pollution and over-crowding are worsening the health impact of respiratory conditions and infections, such as SARS-CoV-2. As climate change accelerates, experts expect an increase in flash flooding, wildfires, drought and intense heat. As extreme weather impacts the food and water supplies, civil unrest and even armed conflict could follow. In the modern world, the four horsemen of the apocalypse might symbolize infectious disease, extreme weather, pollution and violence.

As the human race grapples with these challenges, there is growing interest in services and technologies that could make the world a safer and healthier place. That demand is apparent among both individuals (hence the strong sales of wearable fitness monitors) and among public sector bodies’ rising interest in environment and crowd monitoring solutions.

As prevention is better than cure, both citizens and organisations are looking for early warning systems that can help them prepare for threats and take mitigating actions. For example, an individual with an underlying health condition could benefit from a service that warns them when they are approaching an area with poor air quality or large numbers of densely-packed people. Similarly, a municipality would welcome a solution that alerts them when large numbers of people are gathering in a public space or drains are close to being blocked or are overflowing.  The development of these kinds of early warning systems would involve tracking both events and people in real-time to detect patterns that signal a potential hazard or disruption, such as a riot or flooding.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), as well as the falling cost of cameras and other sensors, together with the rollout of increasingly dense telecoms networks, could make such systems viable. For example, a camera mounted on a lamppost could use image and audio recognition technologies to detect when a crowd is gathering in the locality, a gun has been fired, a drain has been flooded or an accident has occurred.

Many connected sensors and cameras, of course, won’t be in a fixed location – they will be attached to drones, vehicles and even bicycles, to support use cases where mobility will enhance the service. Such uses cases could include air quality monitoring, wildfire and flooding surveillance, and search and rescue.

Marty Sprinzen, CEO of Vantiq (a provider of event-driven, real-time collaborative applications) believes telecoms companies are best positioned to create a “global digital nervous system” as they have the networks and managed service capabilities to scale these applications for broad deployment. “Secure and reliable connectivity and networking (increasingly on ultrafast 5G networks) are just the beginning in terms of the value telcos can bring,” he wrote in an article for Forbes, published in November 2020. “They can lead on the provisioning and management of the literally billions of IoT devices — cameras, wearables and sensors of all types — that are integral to real-time systems. They can aggregate and analyze the massive amount of data that these systems generate and share insights with their customers. And they can bring together the software providers and integrators and various other parties that will be necessary to build, maintain and run such sophisticated systems.”

Sprinzen regards multi-access edge computing, or MEC, as the key to unlocking this market. He describes MEC as a new, distributed architecture that pushes compute and cloud-like capabilities out of data centres and the cloud to the edge of the network — closer to end-users and billions of IoT devices. This enables the filtering and processing of data at the edge in near real-time, to enable a rapid response to critical events.

This kind of digital nervous system could help curb the adverse impact of future pandemics. “I believe smart building applications will help companies monitor for and manage symptom detection, physical distancing, contact tracing, access management, safety compliance and asset tracking in the workplace,” Sprinzen wrote. “Real-time traffic monitoring will ease urban congestion and reduce the number and severity of accidents. Monitoring and management of water supplies, electrical grids and public transportation will safeguard us against equipment failures or attacks by bad actors. Environmental applications will provide early warnings of floods or wildfires. Food distribution and waste management applications will help us make more of our precious resources.”

Vantiq says one if its telco customers is implementing AI-enabled cameras, IoT sensors, location data and other technologies to monitor various aspects of its new headquarters building. He didn’t identify the telco, but added that it is the lead technology partner for a city that’s implementing a spectrum of smart city solutions to improve mobility, reduce congestion and strengthen disaster prevention.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Managing an unstable world
  • Monitoring air quality
    • Exploiting existing cellular infrastructure
    • Is mobile network data enough?
    • Smart lampposts to play a broad role
    • The economics of connecting environmental sensors
    • Sensors in the sky
  • Natural disasters
    • Spotting wildfires early
    • Earthquake alert systems
    • Crowdsourcing data
    • Infectious diseases
  • On street security
  • Conclusions – the opportunities for telcos
    • Ecosystem coordination – kickstarting the market
    • Devices – finding the right locations
    • Network – reliable, low cost connectivity
    • Data platform
    • Applications
  • Index

 

 

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A3 in customer experience: Possibilities for personalisation

The value of A3 in customer experience

This report considers the financial value to a telco of using A3 technologies (analytics, automation and AI) to improve customer experience. It examines the key area which underpins much of this financial value – customer support channels – considering the trends in this area and how the area might change in future, shaping the requirement for A3.

Calculating the value of improving customer experience is complex: it can be difficult to identify the specific action that improved a customer’s perception of their experience, and then to assess the impact of this improvement on their subsequent behaviour.

While it is difficult to draw causal links between telcos’ A3 activities and customer perceptions and behaviours, there are still some clearly measurable financial benefits from these investments. We estimate this value by leveraging our broader analysis of the financial value of A3 in telecoms, and then zooming in on the specific pockets of value which relate to improved customer experience (e.g. churn reduction).

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The diagram below illustrates that there are two parts of the customer journey where A3 will add most value to customer experience:

  1. The performance of the network, services, devices and applications is increasingly dependent on automation and intelligence, with the introduction of 5G and cloud-native operations. Without A3 capabilities it will be difficult to meet quality of service standards, understand customer-affecting issues and turn up new services at speed.
  2. The contact centre remains one of the largest influencers of customer experience and one of the biggest users of automation, with the digital channels increasing in importance during the pandemic. Understanding the customer and the agent’s needs and providing information about issues the customer is experiencing to both parties are areas where more A3 should be used in future.

Where is the financial benefit of adding A3 within a typical telco customer journey?

A3 customer experience

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

As per this diagram, many of the most valuable uses for A3 are in the contact centre and digital channels. Improvements in customer experience will be tied with trends in both. These priority trends and potential A3 solutions are outlined the following two tables:
• The first shows contact centre priorities,
• The second shows priorities for the digital channels.

Priorities in the contact centre

A3 Contact centre

Priorities in the digital channel

A3 Digital channel

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • The value of A3 in customer experience
  • Use of A3 to improve customer experience
  • The most important uses of A3 for improving the customer experience
    • Complex data
    • Personalisation
    • Planning
    • Human-machine interaction
    • AI point solution
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Methodology for calculating financial value
  • Index

Related Research:

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How telcos can provide a tonic for transport

5G can help revolutionise public transport

With the advent of 5G, STL Partners believes telcos have a broad opportunity to help coordinate better use of the world’s resources and assets, as outlined in the report: The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms. Reliable and ubiquitous connectivity can enable companies and consumers to use digital technologies to efficiently allocate and source assets and resources.

In urban and suburban transport markets, one precious resource is in short supply – space. Trains can be crowded, roads can be congested and there may be nowhere to park. Following the enormous changes in working patterns in the wake of the pandemic, both individuals and policymakers are reviewing their transport choices.

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This report explores how the concept of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is evolving, while outlining the challenges facing those companies looking to transform public transport. In particular, it considers how telcos and 5G could support the development and deployment of automated shuttle buses, which are now beginning to appear on the world’s roads. Whereas self-driving cars are taking much longer to develop than their proponents expected, automated shuttle buses look like a more realistic mid-term prospect. Running on relatively short set routes, these vehicles are easier to automate and can be monitored/controlled by dedicated connectivity infrastructure.

This report also examines the role of 5G connectivity in other potentially-disruptive transport propositions, such as remotely controlled hire cars, passenger drones and flying cars, which could emerge over the next decade. It builds on previous STL Partners research including:

Where is transport headed?

Across the world, transport is in a state of flux. Growing congestion, the pandemic, concerns about air quality and climate change, and the emergence of new technologies are taking the transport sector in new directions. Urban planners have long recognised that having large numbers of half-empty cars crawling around at 20km/hour looking for somewhere to park is not a good use of resources.

Experimentation abounds. Many municipalities are building bike lanes and closing roads to try and encourage people to get out of their cars. In response, sales of electric bikes and scooters are rising fast. The past 10 years has also seen a global boom (followed by a partial bust) in micro-mobility services – shared bikes and scooters. Although they haven’t lived up to the initial hype, these sharing economy services have become a key part of the transport mix in many cities (for more on this, see the STL Partners report: Can telcos help cities combat congestion?).

Indeed, these micro-mobility services may be given a shot in the arm by the difficulties faced by the ride hailing business. In many cities, Uber and Lyft are under intense pressure to improve their driver proposition by giving workers more rights, while complying with more stringent safety regulations. That is driving costs upwards. Uber had hoped to ultimately replace human drivers with self-driving vehicles, but that now looks unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Tesla, which has always been bullish about the prospects autonomous driving, keeps having to revise its timelines backwards.

Tellingly, the Chinese government has pushed back a target to have more than half of new cars sold to have self-driving capabilities from 2020 to 2025. It blamed technical difficulties, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, in a 2020 statement issued by National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Still, self-driving cars will surely arrive eventually. In July, Alphabet (Google’s parent) reported that its experimental self-driving vehicle unit Waymo continues to grow. “People love the fully autonomous ride hailing service in Phoenix,” Sundar Pichai, CEO Alphabet and Google, enthused. “Since first launching its services to the public in October 2020, Waymo has safely served tens of thousands of rides without a human driver in the vehicle, and we look forward to many more.”

In response to analyst questions, Pichai added: “We’ve had very good experience by scaling up rides. These are driverless rides and no one is in the car other than the passengers. And people have had a very positive experience overall. …I expect us to scale up more through the course of 2022.”

More broadly, the immediate priority for many governments will be on greening their transport systems, given the rising public concern about climate change and extreme weather. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” to stabilise the earth’s climate. This pressure will likely increase the pace at which traditional components of the transport system become all-electric – cars, motorbikes, buses, bikes, scooters and even small aircraft are making the transition from relying on fossil fuel or muscle power to relying on batteries.

The rest of this 45-page report explores how public transport is evolving, and the role of 5G connectivity and telcos can play in enabling the shift.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Where is transport headed?
    • Mobility-as-a-service
    • The role of digitisation and data
    • Rethinking the bus
    • Takeaways
  • How telcos are supporting public transport
    • Deutsche Telekom: Trying to digitise transport
    • Telia: Using 5G to support shuttle buses
    • Takeaways
  • The key challenges
    • A complex and multi-faceted value chain
    • Regulatory caution
    • Building viable business models
    • Takeaways
  • Automakers become service providers
    • Volvo to retrieve driving data in real-time
    • Automakers and tech companies team up
    • Takeaways
  • Taxis and buses take to the air
    • The prognosis for passenger drones
    • Takeaways
  • Conclusions: Strategic implications for telcos

 

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A3 for enterprise: Where should telcos focus?

A3 capabilities operators can offer enterprise customers

In this research we explore the potential enterprise solutions leveraging analytics, AI and automation (A3) that telcos can offer their enterprise customers. Our research builds on a previous STL Partners report Telco data monetisation: What’s it worth? which modelled the financial opportunity for telco data monetisation – i.e. purely the machine learning (ML) and analytics component of A3 – for 200+ use cases across 13 verticals.

In this report, we expand our analysis to include the importance of different types of AI and automation in implementing the 200+ use cases for enterprises and assess the feasibility for telcos to acquire and integrate those capabilities into their enterprise services.

We identified eight different types of A3 capabilities required to implement our 200+ use cases.

These capability types are organised below roughly in order of the number of use cases for which they are relevant (i.e. people analytics is required in the most use cases, and human learning is needed in the fewest).

The ninth category, Data provision, does not actually require any AI or automation skills beyond ML for data management, so we include it in the list primarily because it remains an opportunity for telcos that do not develop additional A3 capabilities for enterprise.

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Most relevant A3 capabilities across 200+ use cases

9-types-of-A3-analytics-AI-automation

Most relevant A3 capabilities for leveraging enterprise solutions

People analytics: This is the strongest opportunity for telcos as it uses their comprehensive customer data. Analytics and machine learning are required for segmentation and personalisation of messaging or action. Any telco with a statistically-relevant market share can create products – although specialist sales capabilities are still essential.

IoT analytics: Although telcos offering IoT products do not immediately have access to the payload data from devices, the largest telcos are offering a range of products which use analytics/ML to detect patterns or spot anomalies from connected sensors and other devices.

Other analytics: Similar to IoT, the majority of other analytics A3 use cases are around pattern or anomaly detection, where integration of telco data can increase the accuracy and success of A3 solutions. Many of the use cases here are very specific to the vertical. For example, risk management in financial services or tracking of electronic prescriptions in healthcare – which means that a telco will need to have existing products and sales capability in these verticals to make it worthwhile adding in new analytics or ML capabilities.

Real time: These use cases mainly need A3 to understand and act on triggers coming from customer behaviour and have mixed appeal to telcos. Telcos already play a significant role in a small number of uses cases, such as mobile marketing. Some telcos are also active in less mature use cases such as patient messaging in healthcare settings (e.g. real-time reminders to take medication or remote monitoring of vulnerable adults). Of the rest of the use cases that require real time automation, a subset could be enhanced with messaging. This would primarily be attractive to mobile operators, especially if they offer broader relevant enterprise solutions – for example, if a telco was involved in a connected public transport solution, then it could also offer passenger messaging.

Remote monitoring/control: Solutions track both things and people and use A3 to spot issues, do diagnostic analysis and prescribe solutions to the problems identified. The larger telcos already have solutions in some verticals, and 5G may bring more opportunities, such as monitoring of remote sites or traffic congestion monitoring.

Video analytics: Where telcos have CCTV implementations or video, there is opportunity to add in analytics solutions (potentially at the edge).

Human interactions: The majority of telco opportunities here relate to the provision of chatbots into enterprise contact centres.

Human learning: A group of low feasibility use cases around training (for example, an engineer on a manufacturing floor who uses a heads-up augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) display to understand the resolution to a problem in front of them) or information provision (for example, providing retail customers with information via AR applications).

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Which A3 capabilities should telcos prioritise?
    • What makes an investment worthwhile?
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
  • Vertical opportunities
    • Key takeaways
  • A3 technology: Where should telcos focus?
    • Key takeaways
    • Assessing the telco opportunity for nine A3 capabilities
  • Verizon case study
  • Details of vertical opportunities
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1 – full list of 200 use cases

 

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Are telcos smart enough to make money work?

Telco consumer financial services propositions

Telcos face a perplexing challenge in consumer markets. On the one hand, telcos’ standing with consumers has improved through the COVID-19 pandemic, and demand for connectivity is strong and continues to grow. On the other hand, most consumers are not spending more money with telcos because operators have yet to create compelling new propositions that they can charge more for. In the broadest sense, telcos need to (and can in our view) create more value for consumers and society more generally.

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As discussed in our previous research, we believe the world is now entering a “Coordination Age” in which multiple stakeholders will work together to maximize the potential of the planet’s natural and human resources. New technologies – 5G, analytics, AI, automation, cloud – are making it feasible to coordinate and optimise the allocation of resources in real-time. As providers of connectivity that generates vast amounts of relevant data, telcos can play an important role in enabling this coordination. Although some operators have found it difficult to expand beyond connectivity, the opportunity still exists and may actually be expanding.

In this report, we consider how telcos can support more efficient allocation of capital by playing in the financial services sector.  Financial services (banking) sits in a “sweet spot” for operators: economies of scale are available at a national level, connected technology can change the industry.

Financial Services in the Telecoms sweet spot

financial services

Source STL Partners

The financial services industry is undergoing major disruption brought about by a combination of digitisation and liberalisation – new legislation, such as the EU’s Payment Services Directive, is making it easier for new players to enter the banking market. And there is more disruption to come with the advent of digital currencies – China and the EU have both indicated that they will launch digital currencies, while the U.S. is mulling going down the same route.

A digital currency is intended to be a digital version of cash that is underpinned directly by the country’s central bank. Rather than owning notes or coins, you would own a deposit directly with the central bank. The idea is that a digital currency, in an increasingly cash-free society, would help ensure financial stability by enabling people to store at least some of their money with a trusted official platform, rather than a company or bank that might go bust. A digital currency could also make it easier to bring unbanked citizens (the majority of the world’s population) into the financial system, as central banks could issue digital currencies directly to individuals without them needing to have a commercial bank account. Telcos (and other online service providers) could help consumers to hold digital currency directly with a central bank.

Although the financial services industry has already experienced major upheaval, there is much more to come. “There’s no question that digital currencies and the underlying technology have the potential to drive the next wave in financial services,” Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal told investors in February 2021. “I think those technologies can help solve some of the fundamental problems of the system. The fact that there’s this huge prevalence and cost of cash, that there’s lack of access for so many parts of the population into the system, that there’s limited liquidity, there’s high friction in commerce and payments.”

In light of this ongoing disruption, this report reviews the efforts of various operators, such as Orange, Telefónica and Turkcell, to expand into consumer financial services, notably the provision of loans and insurance. A close analysis of their various initiatives offers pointers to the success criteria in this market, while also highlighting some of the potential pitfalls to avoid.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Potential business models
    • Who are you serving?
    • What are you doing for the people you serve?
    • M-Pesa – a springboard into an array of services
    • Docomo demonstrates what can be done
    • But the competition is fierce
  • Applying AI to lending and insurance
    • Analysing hundreds of data points
    • Upstart – one of the frontrunners in automated lending
    • Takeaways
  • From payments to financial portal
    • Takeaways
  • Turkcell goes broad and deep
    • Paycell has a foothold
    • Consumer finance takes a hit
    • Regulation moving in the right direction
    • Turkcell’s broader expansion plans
    • Takeaways
  • Telefónica targets quick loans
    • Growing competition
    • Elsewhere in Latin America
    • Takeaways
  • Momentum builds for Orange
    • The cost of Orange Bank
    • Takeaways
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Index

This report builds on earlier STL Partners research, including:

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SK Telecom’s journey in commercialising 5G

SK Telecom (SKT), Verizon and Telstra were among the first in the world to commence the commercialisation of 5G networks. SK Telecom and Verizon launched broadband-based propositions in 2018, but it was only in 2019, when 5G smartphones became available, that consumer, business and enterprise customers were really able to experience the networks.

Part 1 of our 3-part series looks at SKT’s journey and how its propositions have developed from when 5G was launched to the current time. It includes an analysis of both consumer and business offerings promoted on SKT’s website to identify the revenues streams that 5G is supporting now – as opposed to revenues that new 5G use cases might deliver in future.

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At launch, SKT introduced 5G-specific tariffs, that coupled large data allowances with unique apps and services designed to ensure data consumption and demonstrate the advantages of 5G access. 5G plans were more expensive than 4G plans, but the price of 5G data per MB was less than that for 4G to tempt customers to make the switch.

SKT’s well-documented approach to 5G has been regarded as inspirational by other telcos, though many consider a similar approach out-of-reach (e.g. for other telcos, coverage issues may limit their ability to charge a premium, or 5G-value-adding services may be lacking).

This report examines the market factors that have enabled and constrained SKT’s 5G actions, as it moves to deliver propositions for audiences beyond the early adopters and heavy data users. It identifies lessons in the commercialisation of 5G for those operators that are on their own 5G journeys and those that have yet to start.

5G performance to date

This analysis is based on the latest data available as we went to press in March 2021.

There were 10.9 million 5G subscribers in South Korea at end-November 2020 (15.5% of the total 70.5 million mobile subscriptions in the market, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT) and network coverage is reported to be more than 90% of the population (a figure that was already quoted in March 2020). Subscriber numbers grew by nearly one million in November 2020, boosted by the introduction of the iPhone 12, which sold 600K units that month.

SKT’s share of 5G subscribers was 46% (5.05 million) in November, to which SKT added a further 400K+ in December, reaching 5.48 million by the end of 2020.

The telco took just four and a half months to reach one million 5G subscribers following launch, significantly less than it had taken with 4G, which had attained the same milestone in eight months following 4G’s commercial launch in 2011.

SKT quarterly 5G subscriber numbers (millions)

SK Telecom 5G subscribers

Source: STL Partners, SK Telecom

SKT credits 5G subscriber growth for its 2.8% MNO revenue increase in the year to December 2020, however the impact on ARPU is less clear. An initial increase in overall ARPU followed the introduction of higher priced 5G plans at launch, but ARPU has fallen back slightly since then, possibly due to COVID-19 economic factors.

SKT total ARPU trend following 5G launch

SK Telecom 5G ARPU

Source: STL Partners

In its 2020 year-end earnings call, SKT reported that it was top of the leader board in South Korea’s three customer satisfaction surveys and in the 5G quality assessment by the Ministry of Science and ICT.

As a cautionary note, Hong Jung-min of the ruling Democratic Party reported that 500K 5G users had switched to 4G LTE during August 2020 due to network issues, including limited coverage, slower than expected speeds. It is unclear how SKT was affected by this.

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Recommendations
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
  • 5G performance to date
  • Details of launch
  • Consumer propositions
    • At launch
    • …And now
  • Business and enterprise propositions
    • At launch
    • …And now
  • Analysis of 5G market development
    • What next?
    • mmWave
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1

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The $300bn COVID digital health dividend

This report introduces a new sizing model for digital healthcare that reflects the recent impact of the COVID pandemic on the sector, with the goal of identifying the new opportunities and risks presented to operators and others attempting or considering investment in the market. A key finding is that market development has been accelerated four years ahead of its prior trajectory, meaning that players should significantly reassess the urgency and scale of their strategic application.

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Download the additional file to access the database tool accompanying the analytical report

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Why healthcare?

STL Partners has long argued that if telecoms operators want to build new businesses beyond connectivity, they will need 1) clarity on which customer needs to address and 2) long term commitment to investment and innovation to address them. Adding value farther up the value chain requires significant new skills and capabilities, so we believe telecoms operators must be deliberate in their choice of which customers they want to serve, i.e. which verticals, and what they want to do for them. For more detail, see STL Partners’ report How mobile operators can build winning 5G business models.

We believe that healthcare is a vertical that is well suited to telecoms operators’ strategic scope:

  • Healthcare is a consistently growing need in every country in the world
  • It is a big sector that can truly move the needle on telcos’ revenues, accounting for nearly 10% of GDP globally in 2018, up from 8.6% of GDP in 2000 according to WHO data
  • It operates within national economies of scale (even if the technology is global, implementation of that technology requires local knowledge and relationships)
  • The sector has historically been slower than others in its adoption of new technologies, partly due to quality and regulatory demands, factors that telcos are used to dealing with
  • Improving healthcare outcomes is meaningful work that all employees and stakeholders can relate to.

Many telcos also believe that healthcare is a vertical with significant opportunity, as demonstrated by operators’ such as TELUS and Telstra’s big investments into building health IT businesses, and smaller but ongoing efforts from many others. See STL Partners’ report How to crack the healthcare opportunity for profiles of nine telecoms operators’ strategies in the healthcare vertical.

Our research into the telecoms industry’s investment priorities in 2021 shows that the accelerated uptake of digital health solutions throughout the COVID pandemic has only shifted health further up the priority list for operators.

Figure 1: Digital health is among telcos’ top investment priorities in 2021

digital health telecoms priority

Source: STL Partners, Telecoms priorities: Ready for the crunch?

However, few operators have put their full effort into driving the transformation of healthcare delivery and outcomes through digital solutions. From our conversations with operators around the world, we believe this is in large because they are not yet fully convinced that addressing the challenges associated with transforming healthcare – fragmented and complex systems, slow moving public processes, impact on human lives – will pay off. Are they capable of solving these challenges, and is the business opportunity big enough to justify the risk?

Taking a cautious “wait and see” approach to developing a digital health business, launching a couple of trials or PoCs and seeing if they deliver value, or investing in a digital health start-up or two, may have been a viable approach for operators before the COVID pandemic hit, but with the acceleration in digital health adoption this is no longer the case. Now that COVID has forced healthcare providers and patients to embrace new technologies, the proof points and business cases the industry has been demanding have become a lot clearer. As a result, the digital health market is now four years ahead of where it was at the beginning of 2020, so operators seeking to build a business in healthcare should commit now while momentum and appetite for change is strong.

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How is COVID changing healthcare delivery?

The first and most significantly affected area of the digital health landscape throughout 2020 was virtual consultations and telehealth, where almost overnight doctors shifted as many appointments on to phone or video calls as possible. For example, in the UK the proportion of doctor’s visits happening over the phone or video rose from around 13% in late 2019 to 48% at the peak of the pandemic in April-June 2020, while US based virtual consultation provider Teladoc’s total visits tripled between Q219 and Q220, to 2.8mn.

By necessity, regulatory barriers to adoption of virtual consultations were lowered. Other barriers, such as insurers or governments not reimbursing or underpaying doctors for virtual appointments, and organisational and culture barriers among both patients and providers also broke down. The knock on effect has been acceleration across the broader digital health market, in areas such as remote patient monitoring and population level analytics. (See more on the immediate impact of COVID on digital health in STL article How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos)

The key question is how much of an impact has COVID had, and will it last over the long term? This is what we aim to answer in this report and the accompanying global database tool. Key questions we address in this analysis are:

  • How much has COVID accelerated adoption of digital health applications?
  • What are the cost savings from accelerated uptake of digital health following COVID?
  • Which digital health application areas have been most affected by COVID?
  • Beyond the COVID impact, what is the total potential value of digital health applications for healthcare providers?
  • Which digital health application areas will deliver the biggest cost savings, globally and within specific markets?

To answer these questions we have built a bottom-up forecast model with a focus on the application areas we believe are most relevant to telecoms operators, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Five digital health application areas for telcos

5 digital health application areas

Source: STL Partners

We believe these are most relevant because their high dependence on connectivity, and needs for significant coordination and engagement with a broad range of local stakeholders to succeed, are well aligned with telecoms operators assets. See this STL Partners article for more detail on why these application areas are good entry points for telecoms operators.

NB We chose to omit the Personal health and wellness application area from our bottom-up model. It is a more generic and global application area than the others, dominated by players such as Google/Fitbit and Apple and with little integration thus far into formal healthcare services. While it is nonetheless an area of interest for telecoms operators, especially those that are seeking to build deeper relationships directly with consumers, it is a difficult entry point for telecoms operators seeking to build a healthcare business. This global and consumer focused nature of this application area also means that it is difficult to find reliable local data and quantify its value for healthcare systems.

What are these forecasts for?

Telecoms operators and others should use this forecast analysis to understand the potential value of digital health, including:

  • The size of the digital health opportunity in different markets
  • The market size for new applications across the four areas we modelled (remote patient monitoring, virtual care and telehealth, diagnostics and triage, data and analytics)
  • The relative size of the opportunities across the four application areas in different countries
  • The pace of digital health adoption and market growth in different countries and application areas

In other words, it shows how big the overall digital health market is, how fast it is growing, and which application areas are most valuable and/or growing fastest.

In a follow-up report, we will expand on this analysis to assess how much of this value telecoms operators specifically can capture.

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Telco A3: Skilling up for the long term

Telcos must master automation, analytics and AI (A3) skills to remain competitive

A3 will permeate all aspects of telcos’ and their customers’ operations, improving efficiency, customer experience, and the speed of innovation. Therefore, whether a telecoms operator is focused on its core connectivity business, or seeking to build new value beyond connectivity, developing widespread understanding of value of A3 and disseminating fundamental automation and AI skills across the organisation should be a core strategic goal. Our surveys on industry priorities suggest that operators recognise this need, and automation and AI are correspondingly rising up the agenda.

Expected technology priority change by organisation type, May 2020

technology investment priorities telecoms May 2020

*Updated January 2021 survey results will be published soon. Source: STL Partners survey, 222 respondents.

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Key findings on operators’ A3 strategies

Based on deep dive interviews with 8 telcos, as well as insights from 8 more telcos gathered from previous research programmes.

  • Less advanced telcos are creating a set of basic structures and procedures, as well as beginning to develop a single view of the customer
  • Having a single version of the truth appears to be an ongoing issue for all – alongside continued work on data quality
  • As full end-to-end automation is not a realistic goal for the next few years, interviewees were seeking to prioritise the right journeys to be automated in the short term
  • Reskilling and education of staff was an area of importance for many but not all
  • Just one company had less ambitious data-related aims due to the specialist nature of their services and smaller size of the company – saying that they worked with data on an as-needed basis and had no plans to develop dedicated data science headcount

Preparing for the future: There are four areas where A3 will impact telcos’ businesses

four A3 areas impacting telcos

Source: Charlotte Patrick Consult, STL Partners

In this report we outline the skills and capabilities telcos will need in order to navigate these changes. We break out these skills into four layers:

  1. The basic skillset: What operators need to remain competitive over the short term
  2. The next 5 years: The skills virtually all telcos will need to build or acquire to remain competitive in the medium term (exceptions include small or specialist telcos, or those in less competitive markets)
  3. The next 10 years: The skills and organisational changes telcos will need to achieve within a 10 year timeframe to remain competitive in the long term
  4. Beyond connectivity (5–10 year horizon): This includes A3 skills that telcos will need to be successful strategic partners for customers and suppliers, and to thrive in ecosystem business models. These will be essential for telcos seeking to play a coordination role in IoT, edge, or industry ecosystems.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos’ current strategic direction
    • Deep dive into 8 operator strategies
    • Overview of 8 more operator strategies
  • How A3 technologies are evolving
    • Deep dive into 40 A3 applications that will impact telcos’ businesses
    • Internal capabilities
    • Customer requirements
    • Technology changes
    • Organisational change
  • A timeline of telco A3 skills evolution
    • The basic skillset
    • The next 5 years
    • The next 10 years
    • Beyond connectivity

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SK Telecom: Lessons in 5G, AI, and adjacent market growth

SK Telecom’s strategy

SK Telecom is the largest mobile operator in South Korea with a 42% share of the mobile market and is also a major fixed broadband operator. It’s growth strategy is focused on 5G, AI and a small number of related business areas where it sees the potential for revenue to replace that lost from its core mobile business.

By developing applications based on 5G and AI it hopes to create additional revenue streams both for its mobile business and for new areas, as it has done in smart home and is starting to do for a variety of smart business applications. In 5G it is placing an emphasis on indoor coverage and edge computing as basis for vertical industry applications. Its AI business is centred around NUGU, a smart speaker and a platform for business applications.

Its other main areas of business focus are media, security, ecommerce and mobility, but it is also active in other fields including healthcare and gaming.

The company takes an active role internationally in standards organisations and commercially, both in its own right and through many partnerships with other industry players.

It is a subsidiary of SK Group, one of the largest chaebols in Korea, which has interests in energy and oil. Chaebols are large family-controlled conglomerates which display a high level and concentration of management power and control. The ownership structures of chaebols are often complex owing to the many crossholdings between companies owned by chaebols and by family members. SK Telecom uses its connections within SK Group to set up ‘friendly user’ trials of new services, such as edge and AI

While the largest part of the business remains in mobile telecoms, SK Telecom also owns a number of subsidiaries, mostly active in its main business areas, for example:

  • SK Broadband which provides fixed broadband (ADSL and wireless), IPTV and mobile OTT services
  • ADT Caps, a securitybusiness
  • IDQ, which specialises in quantum cryptography (security)
  • 11st, an open market platform for ecommerce
  • SK Hynixwhich manufactures memory semiconductors

Few of the subsidiaries are owned outright by SKT; it believes the presence of other shareholders can provide a useful source of further investment and, in some cases, expertise.

SKT was originally the mobile arm of KT, the national operator. It was privatised soon after establishing a cellular mobile network and subsequently acquired by SK Group, a major chaebol with interests in energy and oil, which now has a 27% shareholding. The government pension service owns a 11% share in SKT, Citibank 10%, and 9% is held by SKT itself. The chairman of SK Group has a personal holding in SK Telecom.

Following this introduction, the report comprises three main sections:

  • SK Telecom’s business strategy: range of activities, services, promotions, alliances, joint ventures, investments, which covers:
    • Mobile 5G, Edge and vertical industry applications, 6G
    • AIand applications, including NUGU and Smart Homes
    • New strategic business areas, comprising Media, Security, eCommerce, and other areas such as mobility
  • Business performance
  • Industrial and national context.

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Overview of SKT’s activities

Network coverage

SK Telecom has been one of the earliest and most active telcos to deploy a 5G network. It initially created 70 5G clusters in key commercial districts and densely populated areas to ensure a level of coverage suitable for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and plans to increase the number to 240 in 2020. It has paid particular attention to mobile (or multi-access) edge computing (MEC) applications for different vertical industry sectors and plans to build 5G MEC centres in 12 different locations across Korea. For its nationwide 5G Edge cloud service it is working with AWS and Microsoft.

In recognition of the constraints imposed by the spectrum used by 5G, it is also working on ensuring good indoor 5G coverage in some 2,000 buildings, including airports, department stores and large shopping malls as well as small-to-medium-sized buildings using distributed antenna systems (DAS) or its in-house developed indoor 5G repeaters. It also is working with Deutsche Telekom on trials of the repeaters in Germany. In addition, it has already initiated activities in 6G, an indication of the seriousness with which it is addressing the mobile market.

NUGU, the AI platform

It launched its own AI driven smart speaker, NUGU in 2016/7, which SKT is using to support consumer applications such as Smart Home and IPTV. There are now eight versions of NUGU for consumers and it also serves as a platform for other applications. More recently it has developed several NUGU/AI applications for businesses and civil authorities in conjunction with 5G deployments. It also has an AI based network management system named Tango.

Although NUGU initially performed well in the market, it seems likely that the subsequent launch of smart speakers by major global players such as Amazon and Google has had a strong negative impact on the product’s recent growth. The absence of published data supports this view, since the company often only reports good news, unless required by law. SK Telecom has responded by developing variants of NUGU for children and other specialist markets and making use of the NUGU AI platform for a variety of smart applications. In the absence of published information, it is not possible to form a view on the success of the NUGU variants, although the intent appears to be to attract young users and build on their brand loyalty.

It has offered smart home products and services since 2015/6. Its smart home portfolio has continually developed in conjunction with an increasing range of partners and is widely recognised as one of the two most comprehensive offerings globally. The other being Deutsche Telekom’s Qivicon. The service appears to be most successful in penetrating the new build market through the property developers.

NUGU is also an AI platform, which is used to support business applications. SK Telecom has also supported the SK Group by providing new AI/5G solutions and opening APIs to other subsidiaries including SK Hynix. Within the SK Group, SK Planet, a subsidiary of SK Telecom, is active in internet platform development and offers development of applications based on NUGU as a service.

Smart solutions for enterprises

SKT continues to experiment with and trial new applications which build on its 5G and AI applications for individuals (B2C), businesses and the public sector. During 2019 it established B2B applications, making use of 5G, on-prem edge computing, and AI, including:

  • Smart factory(real time process control and quality control)
  • Smart distribution and robot control
  • Smart office (security/access control, virtual docking, AR/VRconferencing)
  • Smart hospital (NUGUfor voice command for patients, AR-based indoor navigation, facial recognition technology for medical workers to improve security, and investigating possible use of quantum cryptography in hospital network)
  • Smart cities; e.g. an intelligent transportation system in Seoul, with links to vehicles via 5Gor SK Telecom’s T-Map navigation service for non-5G users.

It is too early to judge whether these B2B smart applications are a success, and we will continue to monitor progress.

Acquisition strategy

SK Telecom has been growing these new business areas over the past few years, both organically and by acquisition. Its entry into the security business has been entirely by acquisition, where it has bought new revenue to compensate for that lost in the core mobile business. It is too early to assess what the ongoing impact and success of these businesses will be as part of SK Telecom.

Acquisitions in general have a mixed record of success. SK Telecom’s usual approach of acquiring a controlling interest and investing in its acquisitions, but keeping them as separate businesses, is one which often, together with the right management approach from the parent, causes the least disruption to the acquired business and therefore increases the likelihood of longer-term success. It also allows for investment from other sources, reducing the cost and risk to SK Telecom as the acquiring company. Yet as a counterpoint to this, M&A in this style doesn’t help change practices in the rest of the business.

However, it has also shown willingness to change its position as and when appropriate, either by sale, or by a change in investment strategy. For example, through its subsidiary SK Planet, it acquired Shopkick, a shopping loyalty rewards business in 2014, but sold it in 2019, for the price it paid for it. It took a different approach to its activity in quantum technologies, originally set up in-house in 2011, which it rolled into IDQ following its acquisition in 2018.

SKT has also recently entered into partnerships and agreements concerning the following areas of business:

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction and overview
    • Overview of SKT’s activities
  • Business strategy and structure
    • Strategy and lessons
    • 5G deployment
    • Vertical industry applications
    • AI
    • SK Telecom ‘New Business’ and other areas
  • Business performance
    • Financial results
    • Competitive environment
  • Industry and national context
    • International context

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The future of assurance: How to deliver quality of service at the edge

Why does edge assurance matter?

The assurance of telecoms networks is one of the most important application areas for analytics, automation and AI (A3) across telcos operations. In a previous report estimating the potential value of A3 across telcos’ core business, including networks, customer channels, sales and marketing, we estimated that service assurance accounts for nearly 10% of the total potential value of A3 (see the report A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value). The only area of greater combined value was in resource management across telecoms existing networks and planned deployments.

Within service assurance, the biggest value buckets are self-healing networks, impact on customer experience and churn, and dynamic SLA management. This estimate was developed through a bottom up analysis of specific applications for automation, analytics and AI within each segment, and their potential to deliver cost savings or revenue uplift for an average sized telecoms operator (see the original report for the full methodology).

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance, US$ millions

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance (US$ millions)

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

While this previous research demonstrates there is significant value for telcos in improving assurance on their legacy networks, over the next five years edge assurance will become an increasingly important topic for operators.

What we mean by edge assurance is the new capabilities operators will require to enable visibility across much more distributed, cloud-based networks, and monitoring of a wider and more dynamic range of services and devices, in order to deliver high quality experience and self-healing networks. This need is driven by operators’ accelerating adoption of virtualisation and software-defined networking, for example with increasing experimentation and excitement around open RAN, as well as some operators’ ambitions to play a significant role in the edge computing market (see our report Telco edge computing: How to partner with hyperscalers for analysis of telcos’ ambitions in edge computing).

To give an idea of the scale of the challenge ahead of operators in assuring increasingly distributed network functions and infrastructure, STL Partners’ expects a Tier-1 operator will deploy more than 8,000 edge servers to support virtual RAN by 2025 (see Building telco edge infrastructure: MEC, private LTE and vRAN for the full forecasts).

Forecast of Tier 1 operator edge servers by domain

Forecast of Tier-1 operator edge servers by domain

Source: STL Partners

Given this dramatic shift in network operations, without new edge assurance capabilities:

  • A telco will not be able to understand where issues are occurring across the (virtualised) network and the underlying infrastructure, and diagnose the root cause
  • The promises of cost saving and better customer experience from self-healing networks will not be fully realised in next-generation networks
  • Potential revenue generators such as network slicing and URLLC will be of limited value to customers if the telco can’t offer sufficient SLAs on reliability, latency and visibility
  • It will not be possible to make promises to ecosystem partners around service quality.

Despite the significant number of unknowns in the future of telco activities around 5G, IoT and edge computing, this research ventures a framework to allow telcos to plan for their future service assurance needs. The first section describes the drivers affecting telcos decision-making around the types of assurance that they need at the edge. The second sets out products and capabilities that will be required and types of assurance products that telcos could create and monetise.

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Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • The three main telco strategies in edge assurance
    • What exactly do telcos need to assure?
  • Why edge assurance matters
  • Factors affecting edge assurance development
    • What are telcos measuring?
    • Internal assurance applications
    • Location of measurement and analysis
    • Ownership status of equipment and assets being assured
    • Requirements of external assurance users
    • Requirements from specific applications
    • Telco business model
  • The status of edge assurance and recommendations for telcos
    • Edge assurance vendors
    • Telco assurance products
  • Appendix

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End-to-end network automation: Why and how to do it?

Automation, analytics and AI: A3 unlocks value for operators

STL Partners has been writing about automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics for several years. While the three have overlapping capabilities and often a single use case will rely upon a combination, they are also distinct in their technical outcomes.

Distinctions between the three As

Source: STL Partners

Operators have been heavily investing in A3 use cases for several years and are making significant progress. Efforts can be broadly broken down into five different domains: sales and marketing, customer experience, network planning and operations, service innovation and other operations. Some of these domains, such as sales and marketing and customer experience, are more mature, with significant numbers of use cases moving beyond R&D and PoCs into live, scaled deployments. In comparison, other domains, like service innovation, are typically less mature, despite the potential new revenue opportunities attached to them.

Five A3 use case domains

Source: STL Partners

Use cases often overlap across domains. For example, a Western European operator has implemented an advanced analytics platform that monitors network performance, and outputs a unique KPI that, at a per subscriber level, indicates the customer experience of the network. This can be used to trigger an automated marketing campaign to customers who are experiencing issues with their network performance (e.g. an offer for free mobile hotspot until issues are sorted). In this way, it spans both customer experience and network operations. For the purpose of this paper, however, we will primarily focus on automation use cases in the network domain.  We have modelled the financial value of A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value.

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The time is ripe for network automation now

Network automation is not new. In fact, it’s been a core part of operator’s network capabilities since Almon Strowger invented the Strowger switch (in 1889), automating the process of the telephone exchange. Anecdotally, Strowger (an undertaker by profession) came up with this invention because the wife of a rival funeral parlour owner, working at the local community switchboard, was redirecting customers calling for Strowger to her own husband’s business.

Early advertising called the Strowger switch the “girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, wait-less telephone” or, in other words, free from human error and faster than the manual switchboard system. While this example is more than 100 years old, many of the benefits of automation that it achieved are still true today; automation can provide operators with the ability to deliver services on-demand, without the wait, and free from human error (or worse still, malevolent intent).

Despite automation not being a new phenomenon, STL Partners has identified six key reasons why network automation is something operators should prioritise now:

  • Only with automation can operators deliver the degree of agility that customers will demand. Customers today expect the kind of speed, accuracy and flexibility of service that can only be achieved in a cost-effective manner with high degrees of network automation. This can be both consumer customers (e.g. for next generation network services like VR/AR applications, gaming, high-definition video streaming etc.) or enterprise customers (e.g. for creating a network slice that is spun up for a weekend for a specific big event). With networks becoming increasingly customised, operators must automate their systems (across both OSS and BSS) to ensure that they can deliver these services without a drastic increase in their operating costs.
    One  wholesale operator exemplified this shift in expectations when describing their customers, which included several of the big technology companies including Amazon and Google: “They have a pace in their business that is really high and for us to keep up with their requirements and at the same time beat all our competitors we just need to be more automated”. They stated that while other customers may be more flexible and understand that instantiating a new service takes time, the “Big 5” expect services in hours rather than days and weeks.
  • Automation can enable operators to do more, such as play higher up the value chain. External partners have an expectation that telcos are highly skilled at handling data and are highly automated, particularly within the network domain. It is only through investing in internal automation efforts that operators will be able to position themselves as respected partners for services above and beyond pure connectivity. An example of success here would be the Finnish operator Elisa. They invested in automation capabilities for their own network – but subsequently have been able to monetise this externally in the form of Elisa Automate.
    A further example would be STL Partners’ vision of the Coordination Age. There is a role for telcos to play further up the value chain in coordinating across ecosystems – which will ultimately enable them to unlock new verticals and new revenue growth. The telecoms industry already connects some organisations and ecosystems together, so it’s in a strong position to play this coordinating role. But, if they wish to be trusted as ecosystem coordinators, they must first prove their pedigree in these core skills. Or, in other words, if you can’t automate your own systems, customers won’t trust you to be key partners in trying to automate theirs.
  • Automation can free up resource for service innovation. If operators are going to do more, and play a role beyond connectivity, they need to invest more in service innovation. Equally, they must also learn to innovate at a much lower cost, embracing automation alongside principles like agile development and fast fail mentalities. To invest more in service innovation, operators need to reallocate resources from other areas of their business – as most telcos are no longer rapidly growing, resource must be freed up from elsewhere.
    Reducing operating costs is a key way that operators can enable increased investment in innovation – and automation is a key way to achieve this.

A3 can drive savings to redistribute to service innovation

Source: Telecoms operator accounts, STL Partners estimates and analysis

  • 5G won’t fulfil its potential without automation. 5G standards mean that automation is built into the design from the bottom up. Most operators believe that 5G will essentially not be possible without being highly automated, particularly when considering next generation network services such as dynamic network slicing. On top of this, there will be a ranging need for automation outside of the standards – like for efficient cell-site deployment, or more sophisticated optimisation efforts for energy efficiency. Therefore, the capex investment in 5G is a major trigger to invest in automation solutions.
  • Intent-based network automation is a maturing domain. Newer technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, are increasing the capabilities of automation. Traditional automation (such as robotic process automation or RPA) can be used to perform the same tasks as previously were done manually (such as inputting information for VPN provisioning) but in an automated fashion. To achieve this, rules-based scripts are used – where a human inputs exactly what it is they want the machine to do. In comparison, intent-based automation enables engineers to define a particular task (e.g. connectivity between two end-points with particular latency, bandwidth and security requirements) and software converts this request into lower level instructions for the service bearing infrastructure. You can then monitor the success of achieving the original intent.
    Use of AI and ML in conjunction with intent-based automation, can enable operators to move from automation ‘to do what humans can do but faster and more accurately’, to automation to achieve outcomes that could not be achieved in a manual way. ML and AI has a particular role to play in anomaly detection, event clustering and predictive analytics for network operations teams.
    While you can automate without AI and ML, and in fact for many telcos this is still the focus, this new technology is increasing the possibilities of what automation can achieve. 40% of our interviewees had network automation use cases that made some use of AI or ML.
  • Network virtualisation is increasing automation possibilities. As networks are increasingly virtualised, and network functions become software, operators will be afforded a greater ability than ever before to automate management, maintenance and orchestration of network services. Once networks are running on common computing hardware, making changes to the network is, in theory, purely a software change. It is easy to see how, for example, SDN will allow automation of previously human-intensive maintenance tasks. A number of operators have shared that their teams and/or organisations as a whole are thinking of virtualisation, orchestration and automation as coming hand-in-hand.

This report focuses on the opportunities and challenges in network automation. In the future, STL Partners will also look to more deeply evaluate the implications of network automation for governments and regulators, a key stakeholder within this ecosystem.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • End-to-end network automation
    • A key opportunity: 6 reasons to focus on network automation now
    • Key recommendations for operators to drive their network automation journey
    • There are challenges operators need to overcome
    • This paper explores a range of network automation use cases
    • STL Partners: Next steps
  • Automation, analytics and AI: A3 unlocks value for operators
    • The time is ripe for network automation now
  • Looking to the future: Operators’ strategy and ambitions
    • Defining end-to-end automation
    • Defining ambitions
  • State of the industry: Network automation today
    • Which networks and what use cases: the breadth of network automation today
    • Removing the human? There is a continuum within automation use cases
    • Strategic challenges: How to effectively prioritise (network) automation efforts
    • Challenges to network automation– people and culture are key to success
  • Conclusions
    • Recommendations for vendors (and others in the ecosystem)
    • Recommendations for operators

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A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value

What is analytics, AI and automation worth to telecoms operators?

This report is the second in a two-part series mapping the process and assessing the financial value of automation, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) in telecoms. In the first report, The value of analytics, automation and AI for telcos – Part 1: The telco A3 application map, we outlined which type of technology was best suited to which processes across a telco’s operations.

In this report, we assess the financial value of each of the operational areas, in dollar terms, for an average telco. Based on our assessment of operator financials and operational KPIs, the figure below outlines our assumptions on the characteristics of an “average” telco used as the basis for our financial modelling. The characteristics of this telco are as shown below, with a slight skew towards developed market operator characteristics since this is currently where most industry proof points used in our modelling have been implemented.

The characteristics of an average telco

characteristics of an average telco

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

The first report in the series analysed how each A3 technology could be applied similarly across different functional units of a telecoms operator, e.g. machine learning or automation each have similar processes in network management, channel management and sales and marketing.

Evaluating AI and automation use cases in four domains

To measure financial impact, this report returns to a traditional breakdown of value by functional unit within the telco, breaking down into four key areas:

  1. Network operations: Network deployment, management and maintenance, and revenue management
  2. Fraud: Including services, online, and internal fraud risks
  3. Customer care: Including all assisted and unassisted channels
  4. Marketing and sales: Understanding customers, managing products, marketing programs, lead management and sales processes.

Through an assessment of nearly 150 individual process areas across a telecoms operator’s core operations, we estimate that A3 can deliver the average telco more than $1 billion dollars in value per year, through a combination of revenue uplift and opex and capex savings, equivalent to 7% of total annual revenues.

As illustrated below, core network operations management accounts for by far the greatest proportion of the value.

The relative value of automation, AI and analytics across telco operations

The relative value of AI, automation and analytics across telco operations

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

This likely still underrepresents the total, long term potential value of A3 to telcos, since this first iteration does not model the value of A3 processes in areas less unique to telecoms, including supply chain, finance, IT and HR. No doubt that even within the core area of operations, there are potential process areas that have yet to be discovered or proven, and which we have overlooked in our initial attempt to model the value of A3 to telcos. Meanwhile, this is focused purely on telco’s internal operations so also excludes any potential revenue uplift from new A3-enabled services, such as data monetisation or development of AI-as-a-service type solutions.

That said, operators cannot implement all of these processes at once. The enormous challenge of restructuring processes to be more automated and data-centric, putting in place the data management and analytics capabilities, training employees and acquiring new skills, among many others, means that while many leading telcos are well on their way to capturing this value in some areas, very few – if any – have implemented A3 across all process areas. As a benchmark, Telefónica is an industry leader in leveraging automation and AI to improve operational efficiency, and in 2019 it reported total operational savings of €429mn across the entire group. While this is primarily focused on customer facing channels, so likely excludes the value of A3 in many network operations processes, for instance energy efficiency which is delivering significant value to Telefónica and others, it suggests there remains lots of value still to capture.

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Methodology

The financial modelling for the value of A3 was done through an individual assessment of each of the 150+ process areas to understand the main activities within that area of operations, and how automation, analytics and/or machine learning and other AI technologies could be used within those activities. From there, we assess the value of integrating these technologies to existing operational functions to make them more efficient and effective. This means that we do not attribute any additional value to telcos from implementing new technologies that include A3 as a core element of their functionality, e.g. a multi-domain service orchestrator, implemented as part of software-defined networking.

Our bottom up assessment of each process is also validated through real-world proof points from operators or vendors. This means that more speculative areas of A3 application in operators are calculated to offer relatively limited value. As more proof points emerge, we will incorporate them into future iterations.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Where is the largest financial benefit from A3?
    • What should telcos prioritise in the short term?
    • How long will it take for telcos to realise this value?
    • What next?
  • Introduction
    • Methodology
  • Breaking down the value of A3 by operational area
    • Network, OSS and BSS
    • Fraud management
    • Care and commercial channels
    • Marketing and sales
  • Conclusions and recommendations

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