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As we come to the end of another momentous year, it is tempting to look ahead to try to predict what things are going to be important.

Now we know that we’re making ourselves hostages to fortune here, after all, who would have predicted the events of 2019?

But these are the main themes that we see developing over the next year or so for telecoms companies and how they can adapt and develop to make the best use of them.

5G rollout

5G marks a sea-change in mobile connectivity but it is fair to say that the conversation seems to have remained stalled at the technical aspects.

Whilst this is understandable if telecoms companies are to make the best use of the new possibilities then they need to move that conversation on and with the UK 5G rollout gathering pace, now is the time to do this.

Telecommunications providers need to help their customers understand what is possible through new 5G-enabled services and how that could massively disrupt their sector. Shifting their conversations to what types of outcomes and benefits they can deliver with 5G is a must in the year ahead.

Being able to use services such as virtual reality (VR),  telemedicine, cloud gaming or Industry 4.0 all demand reliable networks that can deliver low latency and high bandwidth.

More convergence in multi-play models

According to Mansha Daswani of World Screen, customer churn in the US increased from 35% in Q1 2019 to 41% in Q1 2020 and this trend has continued through 2021.

The perennial problem for telecoms has historically been churn and with regulators making efforts to ensure switching is easier than ever for customers, telecoms businesses need to think carefully about their retention strategy.

One of the key tools that businesses have used is the multi-play model and with the interconnectivity of services, this is likely to become even more important in the future.

Bundling subscriptions with voice, SMS, video and broadband services gives consumers the convenience of a single monthly payment but also makes it much more likely that they will stick around.

What will be interesting is to see how that develops, not only with the introduction of new services but also with the expansion of 5G availability and whether subscribers will move away from a fixed-line broadband connection.

Expansion of the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has long been touted as a game-changer for many industries with companies connecting their washing machines, cars and even dog collars to central services.

The increase in connectivity opportunities through 5g expansion and initiatives such as Starlink means that the IoT has become an option for almost any business to leverage.

However, it is still true to say that many companies are resistant to developing an IoT capability, either because they don’t have the necessary skills or because they don’t recognise the possibilities.

This is an area where telecoms companies can form valuable partnerships, bringing the benefits of the IoT to companies from more traditional backgrounds.

The truth is that this will take an investment, not in hardware or software, but more in the realms of communication and relationship building.

Current predictions suggest that by 2025 the global market could be worth some $906bn and with the IoT at a fairly early stage of development, being an early mover could provide very substantial dividends.

Post-covid repositioning

There can’t be many of us that aren’t suffering from “Zoom fatigue” but there’s a serious point here.

The world has changed massively in the last two years and the advent of the pandemic has played a big part in accelerating the acceptance of remote technology.

This means that software providers have worked hard on producing ever more ways to speak and with VR meetings also rapidly gaining ground, connectivity is going to be increasingly important.

Telecoms companies may need to reposition themselves as an integral part of a post-covid world and again, partnerships may prove fruitful here with bundled connectivity and communications services being attractive to customers.

The advance of ML/AI

For some years now predictions of the advance of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have veered between lukewarm and apocalyptic!

In truth, the future is already here, with many applications using some version of ML/AI.

For many telecoms businesses, utilising artificial intelligence to manage their initial customer interaction can prove to be an extremely cost-efficient option. From an operations point of view, machine learning and to a greater extent general automation can speed up service times, increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

But there is a health warning here. It’s important to remember that ML and AI can make a massive difference to the competitiveness of a business and with the speed of developments today, late adopters could find themselves way behind before they know it.

This means that for any company that simply wants to keep up with the competition, ML and AI need to be on their wish list.

Some other questions for the year ahead

Have we seen the topping out of handheld device prices? With the iPhone 13 pro costing almost £1,000 are we reaching the ceiling?

Will we see consolidations and failures? Is what is happening in the energy sector about to move over to telecoms?

Will chip shortages cause hardware issues? The worldwide chip shortage has caused significant issues across sectors. Will we see this ease?

Will interest rates rise? The Bank of England has signalled that this is a distinct possibility so telecoms providers that are highly leveraged may need to look at their cash flow forecasts.

What will the labour market look like? What can telecoms providers do to be certain that they can staff their teams?

Telecoms providers need to stay agile and flexible

What is clear is that as the world emerges from and understands how to live with COVID,  telecoms providers need to revise their business models.

Technical developments, both in terms of hardware, networks and internal operations means that it is likely to be a year of change.

This means that companies need to build in agility that allows them to pivot at a moments’ notice so that they can both cope with threats but also capitalise on opportunities that may present themselves.

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