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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Four goals for the data-driven telco

Becoming a data-driven telco

There have been many case studies over the last five years demonstrating the disruption caused by “data-driven businesses”, i.e. those using insights to understand customers, automate processes, change their business models and drive new revenues. In the future, this concept will become an integral part of what it takes to compete successfully, allowing organisations to understand and run all parts of their operations, work with their customers and partners and take part in external activities in new ecosystems. This applies to telecoms operators as much as any other industry.

This research builds on a range of reports STL Partners has previously published on strategic topics related to telcos’ use of data, including:

This research turns to the practical topics of delivering on these strategic goals. The diagram below offers an overview of the drivers and barriers affecting delivery areas such as telco data management and machine learning (ML) in the short and longer term.

Drivers and barriers to being a data-driven telco

Source: STL Partners

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What capabilities should telcos develop?

Telcos are reasonably sophisticated users of data, but their particularly complex web of legacy systems requires a good deal of work around data management and governance to enable the extraction of data sets to give 360-degree view of the customer – and increasingly to provide training data for algorithms.

In the mid-term, telcos that are successful in selling IoT and becoming ecosystem players will require new A3 to deal with the increasing number of services, devices, price points and parties involved in providing service to a customer. Our research suggests that there is a range of new A3 technologies that can provide the automation and intelligence for this, as well as for the underlying data management processes.

In the longer-term, A3 will speed up decision making, impacting company strategy, new product and service creation, and customer experience. Humans will increasingly be supported by AI-, ML- and automation-powered tools in their decision-making. A similar progression will occur among competitors in telecoms, and in adjacent markets, increasing the complexity and speed of doing business. Besides integrating A3 into human workflows, working at increasing speed will depend on getting richer insights out of the available data with techniques such as small data and creation of synthetic data.

Capabilities for a data-driven telco

Source: STL Partners

 

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Capabilities telcos should develop over the medium term
    • What will telcos focus on in the mid-term?
    • Next steps
  • Becoming a data-driven telco
    • Short term drivers
    • Barriers in the short term
    • Long term drivers
    • Barriers in the long term
  • Availability of data
    • Use of data fabrics
    • Better data labelling
    • Rise of synthetic data
    • More intelligent data selection
    • Telco strategies for cloud usage
  • Equipping people
    • Augmented analytics and business intelligence
    • Decision intelligence
  • Work on governance
    • Governance across the telco
    • Agility in governance
    • Governance for AI and machine learning
    • Ethical governance
    • Improved measurement of governance
    • Governance in ecosystems
  • Index

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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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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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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Driving the agility flywheel: the stepwise journey to agile

Agility is front of mind, now more than ever

Telecoms operators today face an increasingly challenging market, with pressure coming from new non-telco competitors, the demands of unfamiliar B2B2X business models that emerge from new enterprise opportunities across industries and the need to make significant investments in 5G. As the telecoms industry undergoes these changes, operators are considering how best to realise commercial opportunities, particularly in enterprise markets, through new types of value-added services and capabilities that 5G can bring.

However, operators need to be able to react to not just near-term known opportunities as they arise but ready themselves for opportunities that are still being imagined. With such uncertainty, agility, with the quick responsiveness and unified focus it implies, is integral to an operator’s continued success and its ability to capitalise on these opportunities.

Traditional linear supply models are now being complemented by more interconnected ecosystems of customers and partners. Innovation of products and services is a primary function of these decentralised supply models. Ecosystems allow the disparate needs of participants to be met through highly configurable assets rather than waiting for a centralised player to understand the complete picture. This emphasises the importance of programmability in maximising the value returned on your assets, both in end-to-end solutions you deliver, and in those where you are providing a component of another party’s system. The need for agility has never been stronger, and this has accelerated transformation initiatives within operators in recent years.

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Concepts of agility have crystallised in meaning

In 2015, STL Partners published a report on ‘The Agile Operator: 5 key ways to meet the agility challenge’, exploring the concept and characteristics of operator agility, including what it means to operators, key areas of agility and the challenges in the agile transformation. Today, the definition of agility remains as broad as in 2015 but many concepts of agility have crystallised through wider acceptance of the importance of the construct across different parts of the organisation.

Agility today is a pervasive philosophy of incremental innovation learned from software development that emphasises both speed of innovation at scale and carrier-grade resilience. This is achieved through cloud native modular architectures and practices such as sprints, DevOps and continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) – occurring in virtuous cycle we call the agility flywheel.

The Agility Flywheel

agility-flywheel

Source: STL Partners

Six years ago, operators were largely looking to borrow only certain elements of cloud native for adoption in specific pockets within the organisation, such as IT. Now, the cloud model is more widely embraced across the business and telcos profess ambitions to become software-centric companies.

Same problem, different constraints

Cloud native is the most fundamental version of the componentised cloud software vision and progress towards this ideal of agility has been heavily constrained by operators’ underlying capabilities. In 2015, operators were just starting to embark on their network virtualisation journeys with barriers such as siloed legacy IT stacks, inelastic infrastructures and software lifecycles that were architecture constrained. Though these barriers continue to be a challenge for many, the operators at the forefront – now unhindered by these basic constraints – have been driving a resurgence and general acceleration towards agility organisation-wide, facing new challenges around the unknowns underpinning the requirements of future capabilities.

With 5G, the network itself is designed as cloud native from the ground up, as are the leading edge of enterprise applications recently deployed by operators, alleviating by design some of the constraints on operators’ ability to become more agile. Uncertainty around what future opportunities will look like and how to support them requires agility to run deep into all of an operators’ processes and capabilities. Though there is a vast raft of other opportunities that do not need cloud native, ultimately the market is evolving in this direction and operators should benchmark ambitions on the leading edge, with a plan to get there incrementally. This report looks to address the following key question:

Given the flexibility and driving force that 5G provides, how can operators take advantage of recent enablers to drive greater agility and thrive in the current pace of change?

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Table of Contents

    • Executive Summary
    • Agility is front of mind, now more than ever
      • Concepts of agility have crystallised in meaning
      • Same problem, different constraints
    • Ambitions to be a software-centric business
      • Cloudification is supporting the need for agility
      • A balance between seemingly opposing concepts
    • You are only as agile as your slowest limb
      • Agility is achieved stepwise across three fronts
      • Agile IT and networks in the decoupled model
      • Renewed need for orchestration that is dynamic
      • Enabling and monetising telco capabilities
      • Creating momentum for the agility flywheel
    • Recommendations and conclusions

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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Telecoms priorities: Ready for the crunch?

The goal of this research is to understand how telecoms operators’ investment priorities and investments are likely to change as the COVID-19 crisis recedes.  To do this, we collected 144 survey responses from participants in telecoms operators, telecoms vendors, and analysts and consultants and other groups. All responses are treated in strict personal and company confidence. Take the survey here.

This research builds on our previous content on the impact of the pandemic to the telecoms industry: COVID-19: Now, next and after (March 2020), COVID-19: Impact on telco priorities (May 2020), based on a survey undertaken in April and early May 2020 and Recovering from COVID: 5G to stimulate growth and drive productivity (August 2020).  STL Partners has also hosted three webinar on the topic (March to July 2020).

This deck summarises the findings of our industry research on telecoms priorities at the start of 2021.

We explored the research in our webinar,  State of the Industry: 2021 Priorities (click on the link to view the recording).

Background to the telecoms priorities survey – January 2021

The respondents were fairly evenly split between telcos, vendors, and ‘others’ (mainly analysts and consultants). This sample contained a higher proportion of European and American respondents than industry average, so is not fully globally representative. The split of company types and geography was broadly similar to the May 2020 survey, with the exception of the MENA region, where there were less than half the prior respondents – a total of 7. However those respondents were senior and well known to STL.

Who took the survey?

telco industry breakdown

Source: STL telecoms priorities survey, 144 respondents, 31st January 2021

48% of respondents were C-Level/VP/SVP/Director level. Functionally, most respondents work in senior HQ and operational management areas. Compared to May 2020, there were proportionally slightly more senior respondents, and slightly less in product and strategy roles.

What are their roles?

Senior participants

Source: STL telecoms priorities survey, 144 respondents, 31st January 2021

How respondents perceive priorities, as the COVID threat recedes

There were increases in respondent confidence in almost every category we surveyed from May 2020 to Jan 2021.

  • Telecoms automation and agility remain top priorities across the industry – and transformation has moved up the agenda.
  • Appetite for 5G investments increased the most of all areas surveyed in the last 8 months.
  • The ‘consumerisation’ of enterprise continues, although security and work from home (WFH) services have overtaken conferencing and VPNs in priority.
  • Healthcare remains the most accelerated vertical / application opportunity of all those impacted in the current crisis.
  • The priority of consumer services has significantly increased yet confidence in making any additional money in the sector is low.
  • Leadership and transformation: COVID 19 has empowered an industry-wide belief that change is possible.
  • Transformation and innovation are high priorities, and appetite for sustainability and recruitment has returned, but there are doubts about some telco leaders’ commitment and ability to grasp and invest in new opportunities.

STL Partners assesses the telecoms industry to be at a crunch point: COVID has injected further pace to the rapid evolution of the world economy. Telcos that have been focused on responding to immediate pandemic-induced challenges, will emerge from the crisis faced with an urgency to respond to this evolution – key choices that telcos might have had 5-10 years to ponder are being crunched into the next 0-3 years.

Our findings suggest that most telcos are only partly ready for this disruptive opportunity.

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Notes on interpreting the research findings

  • The way research respondents perceive any given question is generally dependent on their current situation and knowledge. To get relevant answers, we asked all respondents if they were interested or involved in specific areas of interest (e.g. ‘consumer services’), and to not answer questions they couldn’t (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) or simply didn’t know or have a clear opinion.
  • We saw no evidence that respondents were ‘gaming’ the results to be favourable to their interests.
  • Results need to be seen in the context that telcos themselves vary widely in size, profitability and market outlook. For example, for some, 5G seems like a valid investment, whereas for others the conditions are currently much less promising. COVID-19 has clearly had some impact on these dynamics, and our analysis attempts to reflect this impact on the overall balance of opinions as well as some of the specific situations to bring greater nuance.
  • In December 2020 / January 2021, the worldwide impact of COVID-19 is increasingly well understood and less of a shock than was the case in May / June 2020. Vaccines are beginning to be rolled out but it is an early stage in the process, and new variants of COVID-19 have evolved in the UK, South Africa and Brazil (and possibly elsewhere). There are geo-political wrangles on vaccine distribution, and varying views on effectiveness and the most appropriate responses. Nonetheless, respondents appear overall more optimistic, although there is still considerable uncertainty.
  • We’ve interpreted the results as best we can given our knowledge of the respondents and what they told us, and added in our own insights where relevant.
  • Inevitably, this is a subjective exercise, albeit based on 144 industry respondents’ views.
  • Nonetheless, we hope that it brings you additional insights to the many that you already possess through your own experiences and access to data.
  • Finally, things continue to change fast. We will continue to track them.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary: Opportunities are in overdrive, but can telcos catch them?
  • High-level findings
  • Research background
  • Technology impacts: Automation, cloud and edge come of age
  • Network impacts: 5G is back
  • Enterprise sector impacts: Healthcare still leads
  • Consumer sector impacts: Mojo aplenty, money – not so much
  • Leadership impacts: good talking, but enough walking?

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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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Growing B2B2X: Taking telcos beyond connectivity and 5G

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The telecoms industry is looking to revive growth

Telecoms operators have enjoyed 30 years of strong growth in all major markets. However, the core telecoms industry is showing signs of slowing. Connectivity revenue growth is declining and according to our research, annual growth in mobile operator revenues pre-COVID were converging to 1% across Asia Pacific, North America, and Western Europe. To help reverse this trend, telecoms operators’ have been investing in upgrading networks (fibre, 4G, 5G), enabling them to offer ever-increasing data speeds/plans to gain more customers and at least sustain ARPUs. However, this has resulted in the increasing commoditisation of connectivity as competitors also upgrade their networks. The costs to upgrade networks coupled with reducing margins from commoditisation have made it difficult for operators to invest in new revenue streams beyond core connectivity.

While connectivity remains an essential component in consumer and enterprises’ technology mix, on its own, it no longer solves our most pressing challenges. When the telecoms industry was first founded, over 150 years ago, operators were set up to solve the main challenge of the day, which was overcoming time and distance between people. Starting in the 1990s, alongside the creation of the internet and development of more powerful data networks, today’s global internet players set out to solve the next big challenge – affordable access to information and entertainment. Today, our biggest challenge is the need to make more efficient use of our resources, whether that’s time, assets, knowledge, raw material, etc. Achieving this requires not only connectivity and information, but also a high level of coordination across multiple organisations and systems to get it to the right place, at the right time. We therefore call this the Coordination Age.

Figure 1: New challenges for telecoms in the Coordination AgeThe coordination age overview

Source: STL Partners

In the Coordination Age, ‘things’ – machines, products, buildings, grids, processes – are increasingly connecting with each other as IoT and cloud-based applications become ubiquitous. This is creating an exponential increase in the volume of data available to drive development of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, which combined with automation can improve productivity and resource efficiency. There are major socioeconomic challenges that society is facing that require better matching of supply and demand, which not only needs real-time communications and information exchange, but also insights and action.

In the Coordination Age, there is unlikely to be a single dominant coordinator for most ecosystems. While telecoms operators may not have all the capabilities and assets to play an important coordination role, especially compared to the Internet giants, they do have the advantage of being regulated and trusted in their local markets. This presents new opportunities for telecom operators in industries with stronger national boundaries. As such, there is a role for telcos to play in other parts of the value chain which will ultimately enable them to unlock new revenue growth (e.g. TELUS Health and Elisa Smart Factory).

New purpose, new role

The Coordination Age has added increased complexity and new B2B2X business model challenges for operators. They are no longer the monopolies of the past, but one of many important players in an increasingly ecosystem-based economy. This requires telcos to take a different approach: one with new purpose, culture, and ways of working. To move beyond purely connecting people and devices to enabling coordination, telcos will need a fundamental shift in vision. Management teams will need to embrace a new corporate purpose aligned with the outcomes their customers are looking for (i.e. greater resource efficiency), and drive this throughout their organisations.

Historically, operators have served all customers – consumers, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises from all verticals and other operators – with a set of horizontal services (voice, messaging, connectivity).  If operators want to move beyond these services, then they will need to develop deep sector expertise. Indeed, telcos are increasingly seeking to play higher up the value chain and leveraging their core assets and capabilities provides an opportunity to do so.

However, in order to drive new revenues beyond connectivity and add value in other parts of the solution stack, telcos need to be able to select their battles carefully because they do not have the scale, expertise or resources to do it all.

Figure 2: Potential telco roles beyond traditional connectivity

Source: STL Partners

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Clearer on the vision, unclear on the execution

Many telcos have a relatively clear idea of where they want to drive new streams of revenue beyond traditional connectivity services. However, they face various technical, strategic and organisational challenges that have inhibited this vision from reaching fruition and have unanswered questions about how they can overcome these. This lack of clarity is further evident by the fact that some telcos have yet to set explicit revenue targets or KPIs for non-connectivity revenue, and those that have set clear quantifiable objectives struggle to define their execution plan or go-to-market strategy. Even operators that have been most successful in building new revenue streams, such as TELUS and Elisa, do not share targets or revenues for their new businesses publicly. This is likely to protect them from short-term demands of most telecoms shareholders, and because, even when profitable, they may not yet be seen as valuable enough to move the needle.

This report focuses not just on telco ambitions in driving B2B2X revenues beyond core connectivity and the different roles they want to play in the value chain, but more importantly on what strategies telcos are adopting to fulfil their ambitions. Within this research, we explore what is required to succeed from both a technological and organisational standpoint. Our findings are based on an interview programme with over 23 operators globally, conducted from June to August 2020. Our participant group spans across different operator types, geographies, and types of roles within the organisation, ensuring we gain insight into a range of unique perspectives.

In this report, we define B2B2X as a business model which supports the dynamic creation and delivery of new services by multiple parties (the Bs) for any type of end-customer (the X), whether they be enterprises or consumers. The complexity of the value chains within B2B2X models requires more openness and flexibility from party providers, given that any provider could be the first or second ‘B’ in the B2B2X acronym. This research is primarily focused on B2B2X strategies for serving enterprise customers.

In essence, our research is focused on answering the following key question: how can operators grow their B2B2X revenues when traditional core connectivity is in decline?

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • The telecoms industry is looking to revive growth
    • New purpose, new role
    • Clearer on the vision, unclear on the execution
  • Beyond connectivity, but where to?
    • “Selling the service sandwich”
    • Horizontal play: Being the best application enabler
    • The vertical-specific digital services provider
    • There is no “best” approach: Some will work better for different operators in different situations
    • 5G is a trigger but not the only one
  • Accelerating the shift towards partnerships and ecosystems
    • Some operator ‘ecosystems’ look more like partnerships
    • Not all telcos define ‘ecosystems’ the same way
    • Most telcos focusing on ecosystems want to orchestrate and influence the proposition
    • Many see ecosystems as a key potential route but ecosystems come with new requirements
  • The market is ripe for telco ecosystems
    • The interest in network intelligence is not new but this time is different
    • Telcos can provide unique value by making their networks more accessible
    • But so far, telcos have not fully embraced this vision yet
  • Conclusions and recommendations

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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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Recovering from COVID: 5G to stimulate growth and drive productivity

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Related webinar: How will 5G transform transport and logistics?

In this webinar, we share learnings from 100+ interviews and surveys with industry professionals. During the presentation we will look to answer:

  • How will 5G accelerate digital transformation of the transport and logistics industry?
  • What are the key 5G-enabled use cases and what benefits could these deliver?
  • What must change within the industry to unlock this transformation?
  • What is the role for telcos – how can they work with industry leaders to increase adoption of 5G and build new revenues beyond core communication services?

Date: Thursday 10th September 2020
Time: 4pm BST

View the webinar recording

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The 5G opportunity and value to verticals

In October 2019, STL Partners published research highlighting the benefits 5G-enabled use cases could unlock for industries. Our forecast predicted a potential $1.4 trillion increase in global GDP by 2030 across eight key industries.

In this short paper we look to update these numbers and explore new insights and conclusions based on two key factors:

  1. STL Partners has produced new research on the impact of 5G on the transport and logistics industry. This has led to more granular insight on the unique benefits and use cases for this vertical.
  2. COVID has changed the global landscape. It has increased demand for some 5G use cases, such as remote patient monitoring or video analytics solutions that determine if the public are respecting social distancing, but has also brought about economic uncertainty. We reflect these nuances in our updated figures.

5G enabled use cases could increase GDP by $1.5 trillion by 2030 – an increase from our original forecast

Source: STL Partners

5G’s impact on transport and logistics: Fresh analysis and new use cases

In 2019, we deep-dived into the 5G opportunity within two key verticals: healthcare and manufacturing. We have since performed a similar deep-dive on the transport and logistics industry, consisting of primary research with experts in the industry. We interviewed 10 enterprises, solutions providers, and members of 5G testbeds who were focused on transport and logistics, as well as surveying 100+ individuals who work in the industry to test the impact they predicted for three key 5G use cases. We will shortly be publishing a full report on these findings in detail.

We have revised our estimation on the impact of 5G on the transport and logistics industry. In 2019, we predicted 5G enabled use cases could increase the GDP value of the transport and logistics industry by 3.5% in 2030. We now believe the impact could be as high as 6%, though importantly some of these benefits are indirect rather than direct.

New forecasts show a bigger impact to the transport and logistics industry

Source: STL Partners

The three 5G-enabled solutions newly explored in detail in our study were:

  • Real-time routing and optimisation: Sensors collect data throughout the supply chain to improve visibility and optimise processes through real-time dynamic routing and scheduling;
  • Automated last 100 metres delivery: Using drones or automated delivery vehicles for the last ‘hundred yards’ of delivery, where the delivery van acts as a mobile final distribution point;
  • Connected traffic infrastructure: Smart sensors or cameras are integrated into traffic infrastructure to collect data about oncoming traffic and trigger real-time actions such as rerouting vehicles or changing traffic lights.

Benefits from these use cases include fewer traffic jams, more efficient supply chains, less fuel required and fewer accidents on the roads.

COVID has changed the landscape and appetite for 5G services

COVID-19 has caused a global economic slowdown. There has been a widespread fall in output across services, production, and construction in all major economies. Social distancing and nationwide lockdowns have led to a significant fall in consumer demand, to business and factory closures, and to supply chain disruptions. The pandemic’s interruption to international trade has far exceeded the impact of the US-China trade war and had a major impact on national economies. Lower international trade, coupled with a precipitous fall in passenger air travel, has also caused the air industry to enter a tailspin.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • The 5G opportunity: Updated forecast on value to verticals
  • 5G’s impact on transport and logistics: Fresh analysis and new use cases
    • Increased productivity through more efficient roads: An impact beyond transport and logistics
  • COVID has changed the landscape and appetite for 5G services
    • COVID has impacted the GDP of every country – and outlook for recovery is still unclear
    • Operators’ 5G strategies and roll out have also been impacted
    • Appetite for 5G-enabled healthcare services has been accelerated
  • Conclusion: Where next for the industry?

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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COVID-19: Impact on telco priorities

The goal of this research is to understand how telecoms operators’ investment priorities and investments are likely to change in response to COVID-19.  To do this, we collected more than 200 survey responses from participants in telecoms operators, telecoms vendors, and analysts and consultants and other groups. All responses are treated in strict personal and company confidence. Take the survey here.

This research builds on our initial research on the impact of the pandemic to the telecoms industry, COVID-19: Now, next and after, published in March 2020.

Background to the telco COVID-19 survey

The respondents were fairly evenly split between telcos, vendors, and ‘others’ (mainly analysts and consultants). This sample contained a higher proportion of European and American respondents than industry average, so is not fully globally representative. We have drawn out regional comparisons where possible.

Who took the survey?

COVID-19 survey respondents by company and region

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

Meanwhile, 44% of respondents were C-Level/VP/SVP/Director level. Functionally, most respondents work in senior HQ and operational management areas.

What are their roles?

COVID-19 survey respondents by seniority

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

How respondents perceive the risks from COVID-19

Respondents were positive on the prospects for most areas overall. We have taken a slightly more pessimistic view in our analysis of the survey results and the categorisation below to balance this bias and factor in future economic risk.

While not all activities we have categorised as “at risk” will necessarily be delayed, we believe that in some telcos there may be more pressure in these areas if the financial impact of COVID-19 is harsher than expected at the time of the survey. We expect that when Q2 results come out, many operators will have a clearer view of how the crisis will affect them financially – and those that are ahead of the curve in adopting technologies such as automation will be in a good position to accelerate their impact, those that are behind the curve may face a more difficult uphill battle.

A relative view of how respondents perceived the outlook for telcos in different business areas and verticals

COVID-19 survey perceived risks to business

Source: STL Partners analysis of COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

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Notes on the research findings

  • The way research respondents perceive any given question is generally dependent on their current situation and knowledge. To get relevant answers, we asked all respondents if they were interested or involved in specific areas of interest (e.g. ‘consumer services’), and to not answer questions they couldn’t (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) or simply didn’t know or have a clear opinion.
  • We saw no evidence that respondents were ‘gaming’ the results to be favourable to their interests.
  • Results need to be seen in the context that telcos themselves vary widely in size, profitability and market outlook. For example, for some, 5G seems like a valid investment, whereas for others the conditions are currently much less promising. COVID-19 has clearly had some impact on these dynamics, and our analysis attempts to reflect this impact on the overall balance of opinions as well as some of the specific situations to bring greater nuance.
  • As of mid May 2020, the total economic impact of COVID-19 was probably less clear to the majority of the respondents than the operational and lifestyle changes it has brought. It is therefore likely that as telco results for Q2 start to be circulated, and before then internally to the telcos, differing pressures will arise than that existed at the time of this survey. The resulting intentions may therefore become more or less extreme than shown in this research, though the relative positions of different activities in the various maps of risk and opportunity may change less than the absolute levels shown here.
  • We’ve interpreted the results as best we can given our knowledge of the respondents and what they told us, and added in our own insights where relevant.
  • Inevitably, this is a subjective exercise, albeit based on 200+ industry respondents’ views.
  • Nonetheless, we hope that it brings you additional insights to the many that you already possess through your own experiences and access to data.
  • Finally, things continue to change fast. We will continue to track them.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary: What’s most likely to change?
  • Research background
  • Technology impacts: Implementing automation, cloud and edge
  • Network impacts: Making sense of divergent 5G viewpoints
  • Enterprise sector impacts: Healthcare and consumerisation
  • Consumer sector impacts: What will last?
  • Leadership impacts: Building on new foundations
  • What next?

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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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5G: Bridging hype, reality and future promises

The 5G situation seems paradoxical

People in China and South Korea are buying 5G phones by the million, far more than initially expected, yet many western telcos are moving cautiously. Will your company also find demand? What’s the smart strategy while uncertainty remains? What actions are needed to lead in the 5G era? What questions must be answered?

New data requires new thinking. STL Partners 5G strategies: Lessons from the early movers presented the situation in late 2019, and in What will make or break 5G growth? we outlined the key drivers and inhibitors for 5G growth. This follow on report addresses what needs to happen next.

The report is informed by talks with executives of over three dozen companies and email contacts with many more, including 21 of the first 24 telcos who have deployed. This report covers considerations for the next three years (2020–2023) based on what we know today.

“Seize the 5G opportunity” says Ke Ruiwen, Chairman, China Telecom, and Chinese reports claimed 14 million sales by the end of 2019. Korea announced two million subscribers in July 2019 and by December 2019 approached five million. By early 2020, The Korean carriers were confident 30% of the market will be using 5G by the end of 2020. In the US, Verizon is selling 5G phones even in areas without 5G services,  With nine phone makers looking for market share, the price in China is US$285–$500 and falling, so the handset price barrier seems to be coming down fast.

Yet in many other markets, operators progress is significantly more tentative. So what is going on, and what should you do about it?

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5G technology works OK

22 of the first 24 operators to deploy are using mid-band radio frequencies.

Vodafone UK claims “5G will work at average speeds of 150–200 Mbps.” Speeds are typically 100 to 500 Mbps, rarely a gigabit. Latency is about 30 milliseconds, only about a third better than decent 4G. Mid-band reach is excellent. Sprint has demonstrated that simply upgrading existing base stations can provide substantial coverage.

5G has a draft business case now: people want to buy 5G phones. New use cases are mostly years away but the prospect of better mobile broadband is winning customers. The costs of radios, backhaul, and core are falling as five system vendors – Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE – fight for market share. They’ve shipped over 600,000 radios. Many newcomers are gaining traction, for example Altiostar won a large contract from Rakuten and Mavenir is in trials with DT.

The high cost of 5G networks is an outdated myth. DT, Orange, Verizon, and AT&T are building 5G while cutting or keeping capex flat. Sprint’s results suggest a smart build can quickly reach half the country without a large increase in capital spending. Instead, the issue for operators is that it requires new spending with uncertain returns.

The technology works, mostly. Mid-band is performing as expected, with typical speeds of 100–500Mbps outdoors, though indoor performance is less clear yet. mmWave indoor is badly degraded. Some SDN, NFV, and other tools for automation have reached the field. However, 5G upstream is in limited use. Many carriers are combining 5G downstream with 4G upstream for now. However, each base station currently requires much more power than 4G bases, which leads to high opex. Dynamic spectrum sharing, which allows 5G to share unneeded 4G spectrum, is still in test. Many features of SDN and NFV are not yet ready.

So what should companies do? The next sections review go-to-market lessons, status on forward-looking applications, and technical considerations.

Early go-to-market lessons

Don’t oversell 5G

The continuing publicity for 5G is proving powerful, but variable. Because some customers are already convinced they want 5G, marketing and advertising do not always need to emphasise the value of 5G. For those customers, make clear why your company’s offering is the best compared to rivals’. However, the draw of 5G is not universal. Many remain sceptical, especially if their past experience with 4G has been lacklustre. They – and also a minority swayed by alarmist anti-5G rhetoric – will need far more nuanced and persuasive marketing.

Operators should be wary of overclaiming. 5G speed, although impressive, currently has few practical applications that don’t already work well over decent 4G. Fixed home broadband is a possible exception here. As the objective advantages of 5G in the near future are likely to be limited, operators should not hype features that are unrealistic today, no matter how glamorous. If you don’t have concrete selling propositions, do image advertising or use happy customer testimonials.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • 5G technology works OK
  • Early go-to-market lessons
    • Don’t oversell 5G
    • Price to match the experience
    • Deliver a valuable product
    • Concerns about new competition
    • Prepare for possible demand increases
    • The interdependencies of edge and 5G
  • Potential new applications
    • Large now and likely to grow in the 5G era
    • Near-term applications with possible major impact for 5G
    • Mid- and long-term 5G demand drivers
  • Technology choices, in summary
    • Backhaul and transport networks
    • When will 5G SA cores be needed (or available)?
    • 5G security? Nothing is perfect
    • Telco cloud: NFV, SDN, cloud native cores, and beyond
    • AI and automation in 5G
    • Power and heat

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