This year, there are great expectations for and of the mobile industry according to the 2017 Annual Industry Survey Report published by Mobile World Live in collaboration with Accenture, Asiainfo andTech Mahindra,
The industry is embarked on a technological transformation that will see its infrastructure virtualise – using network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networks (SDN) – and become more flexible and sustainable from an operational cost point of view. This flexible, nimble infrastructure will enable the concept of the network-as-a-service and will go hand-in-hand with the emergence of 5G as the next generation of cellular technology.
These shifts were highlighted in our survey, in which 96% of respondents said they expect 5G to be widely available in their markets by 2025 at the latest, with 31% expecting 5G to be mainstream by 2020. Of course, 5G is new and challenging and roll-out will be complex but it was cost and not technology that was seen as the greatest barrier by respondents, with 38% identifying the cost of deployment as the greatest challenge to 5G uptake.
The other and probably more immediate technological challenge is virtualisation. Big questions remain as to how and when this will be achieved, even if the industry’s direction of travel towards NFV and SDN is set. The positive news is that 45% of our respondents said they think virtualisation will bring costs down to a sustainable level but 43% are not sure this will happen. The large share of respondents who are not sure about the ability of the technology to help operators redefine their costs bases suggests a need for further education as to the benefits of this technology. It will be interesting to see the extent to which this uncertainty disappears in surveys in coming years.
Finally on the infrastructure front, the changes being ushered in by 5G and virtualisation mean operators are re-assessing their IT systems. Going through a technical transformation is nothing new for mobile operators. They have always moved from bearer technology to bearer technology as new generations of demonstrably better technology become available. However, these have often made similar demands on operators’ IT systems. This time, with virtualisation and 5G, the network becomes more software and IT-oriented than ever before.
This, coupled with many operators’ already-ageing back office IT systems, or BSS/OSS, means many are considering the need for full-scale IT system replacement. A majority of our respondents – 66% – see the need for this and, while it would previously be unheard of for an operator’s IT team to consider the risks of full-scale deployment, it seems to be understood that the clock is ticking and existing systems will no longer be fit for purpose in the virtualised, 5G future. Aside from infrastructure challenges, mobile operators are also facing severe security challenges and are associated in users’ minds with providing secure services. The largest proportion of our respondents – 37% – identified security as the biggest issue facing the mobile industry this year. In addition, 61% of respondents said they saw mobile operators as being responsible for securing the mobile ecosystem.
Moving on to the services arena, Internet of Things is now a mainstream topic for consideration and it was seen by 48% of our respondents as the most attractive business area for 2017. Encouragingly for operators, they’re expected to play a substantial role and 57% of our respondents see operators as a critical part of the IoT ecosystem. Challenges certainly remain in terms of achieving revenues in IoT but operators have the assets and the attributes to generate significant revenues here.
They certainly need to if respondents’ attitudes to voice services are correct. Almost exactly half – 49.9% of our respondents - said voice is now a low-value, bundled service and 16% said it has no future as a source of revenue. That isn’t news for operators but it does set out how quickly they need to find new areas to generate revenue from.
Nevertheless, operators are still seen as providers of critical infrastructure and enablers of the mobile ecosystem. 88% of our respondents confirmed that mobile technology is seen as an enabler of access for all.
Source: GSMA Mobile World Live
29 March 2017