Exclusives : DTW ’24 – Uneven Balance Between ‘Digital’ and ‘Transformation’

DTW ’24 – Uneven Balance Between ‘Digital’ and ‘Transformation’

6GWorld attended last week’s Digital Transformation World ’24 event in Copenhagen to talk all things 6G and gain a sense of what’s happening in a different part of the industry. While 6G tends to be a topic for researchers and network specialists, the TM Forum’s annual event draws together thousands of people building the operational and business support systems that can turn technologies into services. In the space of 36 hours we spoke to dozens of people (frequently off the record) as well as picking up information from public talks.

While the event covered a vast range of topics, 6GWorld was keen to gain a sense of how the telecoms industry is evolving commercially and how digital transformation of business models might shine a light on future directions for the sector. In ten quotes, this is what was being said publicly and in the undercurrents of the event.


Positive Steps In Public

On stage there were some hopeful messages about the nature of telecoms transformation. The network APIs from CAMARA were getting a good deal of attention throughout the show, but it’s not just a matter of the technology, of course, it’s how it gets used. Dr Hans Wijayasuriya, Axiata Group Telecoms CEO, called for a different approach from the past:

“Are marketplaces global? Yes. Are telcos global? No. We need a global network fabric, a federation of microservices that will enable telcos to address the global marketplace.”

Notably he underlined the need for telecoms providers to act in a coordinated way to leverage the network effects of services across borders. This runs against traditional approaches to competition, but the alternative is to hand this opportunity to cloud-based providers with global scale who can disintermediate the telcos – hardly a more competition-friendly solution. It echoes some proposals from Singtel at MWC, as covered in this article.

Meanwhile, AI was the other buzzword on the showfloor. While the focus was on transformation of operations for money saving, the Global Telecom AI Alliance was active making a revenue-positive business case for this. SG Chung, Chief AI Global Officer at SK Telecom, commented:

“I’d like to emphasise that we can generate revenue through an AI datacentre itself, and also SK Telecom [can run their] … AI businesses more efficiently by reducing operational cost.”

All of this sounds very positive. Behind the scenes, though, the story is less straightforward.


…In What Direction?

“I think what we require as an industry is the business model shift, that’s very clear. But it also requires a mindset change in the industry to open up our networks in as uniform a way as possible to developers.”

You might think that this is an echo of Dr Hans above. However, let us emphasise again that the mindset change is an essential basis for then finding a suitable path forward for transformation. Without those changes in formulating the nature of the challenge, it’s unreasonable to expect the right solution to appear.

So, as an industry, are we able to find the correct approaches? Backstage there are a few concerns. For example, the processes involved in getting activities green-lit within the telecoms environment are liable to hinder progress.

“The problem is that people tend to think of things in terms of Return on Investment or in sheer revenue generation. That often misses the point and prevents changes that would benefit the company, simply because we’re using the wrong metric.”

This is certainly a reasonable concern, and something which has dogged telecoms for a while. A Capgemini report from 2008 commented that “In 2007, around 40% of European mobile consumers did not see value in using mobile Internet services due to unattractive pricing and the perceived lack of compelling applications.”

This might seem astonishing, but the focus on revenue maximisation for an individual service stood in the way of creating a platform for revenue generation, which would be a genuine transformation opportunity. This focus persists today, however, as mentioned by another interviewee who sees that as a problem:

“If you want, we can talk about a specific market in a specific vertical and we can crunch the numbers for them. The point is that if we don’t make this capability available right now to those people who can make things happen, it doesn’t matter.”


Building Networks Or Building Value

So what’s the solution, if a relentless focus on RoI isn’t the way forward? It smacks of suggesting that money should be just thrown away without taking account of the rewards.

While the solutions posited are varied, one of the big issues is to do with the focus on technology within the industry.

“I don’t think Telcos have fully monetised 5G as yet, and many times attempts to monetise are scuttled for lack of solid business cases. It’s not lack of intent or investment,” said one interviewee.

This is certainly an issue. As another commentator pointed out, “Somebody recently thought up 200 use cases for a paperclip. Only one or two of them are actually useful and make it worthwhile buying the paperclip.”

In 5G we were presented with many possible use cases for the networks, from autonomous driving to smart factories and XR. However, while that might show that there’s the potential for a service to be used, that depends on having the right business model to make it affordable or worthwhile. Five years on from the first commercial rollouts we are still trying to find those business models to make it worthwhile.

Perhaps as part of a mindset change we need to have less focus on the technology, then? Certainly interviewees were keen on seeing much more radical changes in approach to creating value from the business and its assets.

Said one, “How I would like this ideally to play out is almost a revolution in the way network assets are consumed; to go beyond just “here is a SIM card with a package,” but embed the network capabilities into applications, which become your new customer. The application itself is your new customer.”

Indeed, some heretics would suggest that perhaps the focus on new technologies is a blind alley as far as genuine business transformation goes. A conversation focussed on the fact that they should:

“Unlock the value of rich data that telcos sit on by leveraging AI where necessary and help them deliver connected experiences to their customers. It doesn’t matter whether it is 3G, 4G, 5G or 6G as the underlying technology.”

The last word goes to an interviewee who had recently entered the telecoms domain after working with a variety of other industries and was perplexed by the approach taken throughout the industry.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about monetising the network, but that’s not the telcos’ real asset. It sounds corny, but it’s their customers.”





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