When I started working in the telecoms industry back in the mid-1990s, the role of a telephone company — now more commonly known as a telecoms operator or communications service provider (CSP) — was well defined. Essentially, they supplied communication services — in other words, voice calls — to their customers.
Those of you who were using mobile phones in those early days will remember that the choice of services was highly limited. Indeed, even text messaging was in its infancy, and you could only send messages to other users on the same network. Furthermore, your mobile phone was capable of storing fewer than 100 messages. Although Internet connectivity was available, it was only possible to connect by making calls to Internet service providers via a modem at speeds of just a few kbit/s.
A great deal has changed since then. Mobile networks have moved through the generations from 2G, 3G to 4G, and 5G is now on the horizon with promises of low latency, even faster speeds and support for new and exciting use cases including autonomous driving. On the fixed side, there is also considerable momentum as operators deploy fibre-based networks to meet the growing demand for speed and capacity. And of course convergence has become the latest buzzword, as operators try to be all things to all subscribers.
Yet at times, operators have struggled to understand their relevance in the market as their traditional cash cows ran dry. That was particularly the case with call volumes and prices; operators long ago recognised the need to provide new data offerings as voice revenues started to diminish.
Indeed, consider the demands of so-called millennials, for whom making a call is probably close to the bottom of the list of services they like to use on a smartphone. They regard their smartphone as a gateway to a wide range of applications and services including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, music streaming, online games, and more. The phone just happens to make calls too. Even then, a user has the option of making a call using an app, or even via native WiFi calling technology.
Recognising the need to change in order to meet the needs of a different type of customer, the telecoms operators of old are now becoming digital service providers, offering a wide range of digital services and media. Their future success will depend on how well they can make this transition. Successful companies will be those that are able to monetise the widest range of services provided to their users — including mobile services, fixed-line offerings, high-speed broadband, IPTV, and other value-added service and content offerings. On the enterprise side, there is also growing demand for cloud-based services and virtualisation.
One thing is abundantly clear: telecoms operators need help from their vendor and BSS/OSS partners as they evolve their networks and operations to support this broad and growing range of predominantly IP-based, digital services — and the more towards virtualisation, the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT).