Exclusives : Key Value Indicators – Making Good Business

Key Value Indicators – Making Good Business

One of the most original and most overlooked features of 6G is the involvement of Key Value Indicators [KVIs] in its development. However, KVIs may hold the key to revamping the fortunes of the telecoms industry.

Key Value Indicators were introduced as a concept into 6G as far back as 2020, picking up on the expectations from governments that they want future telecoms to perform essential societal functions. A decade ago it became clear that mobile communications could have economic impacts – the GSMA used to claim that every 10% of populations connected added 1% to a country’s GDP, which was leant upon to encourage the spread of telecoms in emerging markets. (In a more recent paper the impact was calculated between 0.5 and 2.4%)

However, the pandemic taught us some very clear lessons. People with access to broadband could cope better through the pandemic. They could stay engaged with education, with many forms of employment and could keep informed about what they needed to do. Governments in highly-connected societies were better able to track and manage the situation and reduce the impact on their economy and society.

It is no surprise, then, that the USA, the EU, UK, China, Japan and others set out visions for future digitally-enabled societies in the 2020-2021 timescale. These varied in detail but tended towards demands for networks supporting true digital inclusion; more trustworthy/secure/resilient networks; and better sustainability. These were translated into the ITU’s vision for 6G as published last year.

These broad goals – among others – have been taken into major projects developing 6G systems and services, from organisations such as the SNS-JU to standards and pre-standards bodies such as ETSI and 3GPP. Are these just a new version of greenwashing, though?

Not so, according to ETSI board member and SNS-JU Vice Chair Colin Willcock. Speaking at 6GSymposium this week, Willcock emphasised that KVIs open the door to a fundamental change in the industry.

“The potential I see is that that KVIs are changing the whole premise of what we think a good mobile network will be,” he noted.

Those Key Value Indicators cover a variety of different areas. While some of them are societal or related to environmental sustainability, commercial or economic value is also an important consideration. In other words, KVIs could help telecoms’ commercial decision-makers steer a path.

Reshaping Business Decisions

Josef Noll, Chairman of the Basic Internet Foundation, pointed out that somebody living on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam is not a good target customer for a telecoms provider today.

“If she spends four dollars a week for food for her family, how much money do you think she has for mobile services?” He asked.

While that person may not be a target customer as things stand, what benefits flow from providing them with services? The GSMA has pointed out general economic benefits from connectivity, but we are aware of more specific individual benefits thanks to the decades of development work based on mobiles.

Using mobile broadband can start building up a data record for that person, creating creditworthiness scores; it reduces the need to travel and cuts emissions; it can provide better access to healthcare professionals; it opens up types of learning and economic activity which are not otherwise possible; and enables third parties to market to that person. On a small scale it enables the kind of growth which can enrich a country.

We know this in theory and in broad terms. However, actually being able to build useful metrics can open up a conversation with local or national authorities or other groups for concrete action based on tangible business cases for our Dar Es Salaam lady and her area.

As Willcock pointed out,

“If we are building technological ecosystems which are not purely based on profit, if we are trying to build things which truly make people’s lives better… then we need to perhaps start looking also in terms of business models and funding and things like that. If this is a societal good, if this is can demonstrably improve people’s lives, then we perhaps need to think also about how we actually deploy, how things are funded.”

Willcock is not alone in believing in the benefits of KVIs. Jean Schwoerer, Orange’s Senior Engineer for Future Networks, commented that “The KVI approach can bring a framework that will help quantify the value [of what we do].”

Not only that, but it works the other way around as well:

 “A better consensus on the value generated by potential 6G use cases will help us better understand the benefit of supporting them,” Shwoerer pointed out.

“We need to take into account the enabled value and the practical sustainability. Yes, we can do higher data rates, we can do better capacity; but what does it cost? What will be the impact? What will it bring us as benefits?

“And we need to face that with societal requirements. What will be the global environmental impact? What will be the security or resilience benefit? How much value, how many benefits does it bring, not only to the end user but to the global system? And for that, we need key indicators and we need tools to evaluate those key indicators.

“In other words, KVIs can be a tool help the industry identify ways forward that will maximise the value they can generate. This is where the Key Value Indicator framework can enter into the game as a way to balance the benefits of performance and the benefits of value versus the cost.”

Good Money

While some might dismiss this as non-commercial hogwash, there is a precedent which can hit the telco bottom line quite powerfully.

Steve Jobs pioneered a trend in Silicon Valley of doing business combined with a story of changing the world. We saw this perpetuated with Google’s ‘Don’t be Evil’ policy and more recently with Elon Musk’s big aspirations. While the bloom has gone off the rose, it resulted in more positive coverage of these companies, a public tendency to forgive mistakes along the way… and valuations a good deal higher than in the telecoms sector.

For example, look at the valuation to revenue ratio for some of these companies compared to telecoms providers:

Company 2023 ratio 5-year average 5-year high
AT&T 2.4 2.5 2.7
Vodafone 1.68 2.09 2.68
Alphabet 6.1 5.9 7.4
Apple 6.8 5.9 7.0
Tesla 5.22 8.08 32.0
Figures courtesy of Finbox

For the telecoms industry this should be excellent news. Cynicism about the Silicon Valley approach to ‘changing the world’ may have grown, being able to demonstrate actual value and how it can be built reflects an adult and mature way to advocate for how to deliver better lives and economies.

Unlike the hype bubbles around a Theranos or FTX, KVIs can be a way to measure not just what value we deliver now but how we can do more. They can give confidence to investors that there is a clear way forward even while they clarify the opportunities for senior management themselves.

What You Can Measure, You Can Manage… So What Can You Measure?

“I think the starting point is this: How do we get it right?” Said Volker Ziegler, Senior Technology Advisor at Nokia. Ziegler has been closely involved with the topic, being the first person to propose the need for KVIs in 2020.

“What are the values that we truly try to achieve? It ties into measures of objectiveness, the output metrics. It ties into the technology enablers, AI in particular; platform enablers; cloud and network going hand in hand… It depends clearly on sharing appropriate levels of insight, and again framing the debate in the right fashion.”

This is, fundamentally, the key challenge for realising Key Value Indicators. These are a kind of topic we have never before had to look at properly. Since 2015 the GSMA has performed annual monitoring of the industry’s performance against the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but the detail required for KVIs is much more detailed.

This is a challenge which Spirent’s Aleksi Helakari has been wrestling with:

“For example, looking at inclusivity as a key value, how do we actually make sure we have not only the coverage but a meaningful quality of experience so that people can leverage the connectivity and coverage in a meaningful way?

“I was driving here yesterday from my home and I tried to be in a meeting while driving… The challenge was I had the coverage but I couldn’t participate in the meeting because I was dropped continuously. So when we develop these KVIs and the key values, how do we actually can measure them? What KPIS we need to have? How do we need to correlate those different KPIs together to actually prove the value in future networks and so on?”

SNS-JU has been wrestling with exactly this challenge: how to agree KVIs at a high level and then translate them into something meaningful for their activities?

“I think you’re absolutely right that, that we need to look at new, different KPIs,” Willcock agreed.

“How do we combine those and cross-correlate and analyse… to actually show the quality of experience or security or whatever it is? And how do we leverage those with the old metrics? It’s actually far more esoteric values, actual user experience for example, or resilience or things like this that we should judge. And we should actually make technological decisions based on those values, not just peak data rate.”

Customers’ Choice?

A more fundamental question lies in how to agree on Key Value Indicators. While there are some areas of international alignment – for example, it’s unlikely that any country is going to vote for the impoverishment of their environment or citizens – there are other issues relating to national security or the nuances of how to manage privacy which may vary.

Can the industry then find alignment? In some areas, probably yes. Willcock has a very particular take on this too – by looking at use cases.

“Now this sounds a bit bizarre, and there are different opinions here,” he conceded.

“You might say “How can you know how you are going to use a technology in 10 years’ time?” After all, historically we haven’t been very brilliant at this.

“Nonetheless, if you take use cases, not as the answer but as a direction… we can at least identify potential directions for how this new technology will be used. And from those use cases, see what would be the relevant KVIs for those use cases; then at least we’re a step in the right direction.”

Cynics might roll their eyes at this. However, the development of possible use cases is an area where the telecoms industry is learning from the 5G experience and beginning to work more closely with other industries in developing services.

“Is it 100%? No, probably not, but at least it’s a logical step that we can actually do. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to work with other communities [of stakeholders and potential customers]. We do; but this is the first place we work with them, talking about what their future needs are and where things go.”

In an environment where there are a myriad of possible technology investments to be made and varied demands, the development of KVIs seems like a crucial way to bring telecoms commercial leaders, technologists and customers into accord – a rosetta stone that can help align research efforts with the needs of potential users, governments and the generation of business cases by using a common language. It will be a huge lift to develop them, no doubt, but Spirent’s Helakari summed up the prospect:

“I think if we are able to resolve that issue and get different stakeholders included in defining those KVIs, that’s going to help us with 6G. If we fail on that, it’s going to be the same thing as we are now facing with 5G, in that there are challenges to justify the investment and show the value that the technology and the networks are bringing to the table.”

Footage from the most recent 6GSymposium will be put onto the 6GWorld YouTube Channel later this week.




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