Exclusives : Will Changes In The 6G Business Environment Knock Out The Dinosaurs?

Will Changes In The 6G Business Environment Knock Out The Dinosaurs?

We are a long way away from the business environment at the turn of the millennium, back when 2G mobile phones were still new and whole new business worlds seemed ripe for conquest. In the intervening years, we have seen the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the rise of the app economy, the fall of Moore’s law, all-you-can-eat pricing, video streaming, standards wars, panic over the spread of Wi-Fi, software-based networking, and so much more.

Through it all, the concept of national-scale telecom providers with national-scale networks has persisted as the basic idea of what “a carrier” is. They have gone from providing calls and SMS to providing data as well, often through combined fixed and mobile offerings, and some have tried offering app stores or content or other elements. Others have managed to diversify into financial services, some into security or business services. However, the essentials have remained more or less the same.

Over time, though, this model has become less and less accurate. Private networks, neutral hosts, shared networks, MVNOs, regional networks, FWA providers and more have all appeared, with a new generation of satellite services around the corner. The adoption of software-based networking and a proliferation of structural separations between network infracos and the service providers running over their hardware are making new kinds of competition more and more feasible.

With this in mind, what is waiting in the wings that might reshape the “6G world” of stakeholders and players? And are we reaching an inflection point where these other entrants start to take a major role in defining the ecosystem?

Software Is Eating Telecoms

“The business model and the digital DNA that supports a Softco is going to be very different from that which supports a Netco, right?” said Hitesh Morar, Chief Product Officer of Tecnotree.

The company delivers all sorts of services in the OSS/BSS arena across traditional telecom providers and beyond.

“We’ve seen a lot of new entrants in the market who are really starting to position as niche providers tackling certain areas of business, focusing on certain segments to really bring an IOT play into effect. They bring new services like security or healthcare to the fore, which helps them to focus and create use cases with a partner and actually take it forward.”

Unsurprisingly, these niche providers tend to be delivering their capabilities as MVNOs. While the MVNO segment has been around for a long time, previous business models tended to be based on price competition, service flexibility (such as one-month contracts) and other ways to offer a similar service to the operators but better in a particular way.

Kelvin Chaffer, CEO at Lifecycle Software, explained the difference they are seeing with an emerging new generation.

“We’ve seen quite recently with [online bank] Revolut that they’ve offered essentially a data eSIM as part of their fintech piece. They’ve effectively given that to all their customers for free initially, but as part of their monthly subscription, they’re giving them three gigabytes. Effectively, if you’ve got three gigabytes of data, then you can surf the internet to your heart’s content.”

Why this kind of offering from Revolut, you ask? It’s hardly their core business. Chaffer explained.

“They’ll be getting all the information about the customer, all the additional information about when they’re using their handset – certainly the internet – and can add to their own proposition based on the information that they’re storing. Then they can allow other brands, literally anyone with a sizeable customer base, to do the same, be it supermarkets, football clubs, fintech and so on.”

In other words, while telecom companies continue to underline the importance of connectivity, other companies are viewing it as an incidental element to gather information on their customers. It’s a shame, since offering this kind of rich data insight is something which the telecoms companies have been tinkering with for over a decade. Is this scalable, though?

“We see something similar with influencers looking at just doing the same,” Chaffer observed. “They’ve got millions of subscribers for their current subscription on YouTube or whatever it is; if they add a couple of pounds, they can give away a mobile service and make sure that their subscribers are able to view their videos and whatever else they’re offering at any time, in any place.”

Indeed, Brazilian actress Larissa Manoela has already done something similar with LariCel.

There are a couple of elements which are making a new kind of offering easier to delivertoday in ways that they weren’t even a few years ago.

Firstly, setting up an MVNO has become a good deal more straightforward. Totogi made a splash at this year by showcasing a conversational AI engine that could set up a BSS in short order for people who don’t understand the complex nightmare that telecoms can be. However, they’re not the only ones simplifying the experience, as Lifecycle Software, for example, has set up an enabler with Three UK that does exactly that.

It is exciting to see that we might find new kinds of MVNO which are essentially extensions of completely different brands. There will no doubt be a challenge in this – as Tecnotree’s Morar pointed out.

“You can talk about technology enablement and standards all you want, but if your wholesale agreement, your partner agreement – as an MVNO, as a digital service player, as an aggregator, a small content provider, FMCG marketplace provider – unless those wholesale agreements make sense, you don’t have a business.”

That’s true, and might be seen as a source of strength for the MNOs. However, this is where the separation of the infrastructure player from the service company comes into play. Where this has taken place, competition authorities have tended to work to enable access to that infrastructure on a basis which does not bias in favour of the incumbent. Often, the service providers hold onto their own spectrum assets, though, which distinguishes them from the MVNOs.

However, discussions at April’s 6GSymposium in Finland highlighted an intent from regulators across Europe and America to make spectrum sharing easier. If MNOs are deemed to be choking off competition due to their use of spectrum, there is likely to be corrective activity. The next four or five years are likely to be… exciting… in this regard and might reduce the leverage that MNOs can impose on the market purely through their spectrum ownership.

Reckoning with the eSIM

Secondly, eSIM makes it easier for people to take a service from a new provider. While eSIM-enabled phones are not ubiquitous, they are becoming more common: the GSMA forecasts that more than half the smartphones in North America and Europe will be eSIM-enabled by the end of 2027.

While this sounds daunting, Chaffer pointed out it can be in the telcos’ interests to have MVNOs running, as evidenced by the work they have been doing with Three in the UK.

“MVNOs are the fastest-growing part of Three,” he commented. And it’s not only Three UK that is doing this. MVNO support is becoming more widespread, for good reasons.

“With the cost of upgrading to 5G, if [MNOs] are unable to onboard customers through their own retail and business channels because it’s cost prohibitive, then they can offload some of that network capacity to an MVNO to fill the space for them and help them get the return on investment that they’re looking for,” Chaffer said.

However, eSIM enablement and the spread of MVNOs not explicitly telco-oriented bring with it the possibility of changing the way that people use telecoms.

“You might do a pick and mix across three or four eSIMs for services,” Chaffer suggested.

“You might get your voice off Three, your SMS off Vodafone and your data off Revolut, for example.”

As a consumer, being able to load an eSIM straightforwardly can open up new ways to consume services. Instead of using a roaming data package when travelling abroad, just upload a profile for local service. Meanwhile, it’s not hard to foresee applications or services to assist price-conscious users in their home countries.

“Your phone will be able to tell you where you can get the cheapest calls and so on, so that you can get the best prices as and when you need it,” Chaffer forecast.

While this might seem disturbing to established players, there is an underlying pressure from consumers which this reflects.

“In some markets, we’ve had customers switching off the 5G on their devices, purely because it was consuming their data so quickly,” Morar pointed out. “I think that was a big realisation for a lot of the MNOs, pushing them to say, ‘How do I repackage my services, give better offers in the market to allow them to use those 5G services?’ So, that was one change that we definitely saw, looking at how to repackage their offerings, especially when it comes to data.”

Edging Towards Enterprise Services

While the consumer market fundamentals are shifting, a similar thing is happening in the enterprise market. In this case it might be to the benefit of the telecoms providers, if they can grasp the opportunity.

“I think that maturity is entering the market today, in terms of partners and how they’re looking to work with each other, even between the product and the SI. Really, the point is how these people are going to work together to ensure the right kind of customer success,” observed Morar.

In the case of Tecnotree, the move towards more distributed edge computing is opening up the opportunity to develop new capabilities for enterprise customers.

“You have customers out there running, for example, manufacturing plants,” Morar explained. “Certain types of services require a charging or monitoring capability at the edge, because you cannot afford to have that information carry across to a central network node for that decision to take place.”

Distributed network capabilities can support a variety of areas.

“If you look at the way we do a lot of decision-making with AI, you still need to bring that data back to a central core platform. Going forward, the ability to move that decision closer and closer to that edge gives you that real-time decision,” Morar commented.

However, distributing services like this can deliver the capabilities which CAMARA is exposing from networks but on a much more localised and fine-grained basis. This can help provide resilience in the case of wider network issues as well as managing questions of privacy and latency.

“For me, 6G offers the promise of location management, with the big value in the ability to process data for your intelligent positioning at the edge,” suggested Morar.

“We’ve proven that we can move parts of that charging capability of our architecture and the rating component out to the edge.”

Fully Global Services

This opens up opportunities for service creation and delivery outside of the more established markets and into regions with less established fibre and datacentre infrastructures, such as some African and Latin American countries.

“Besides Telcos, you see a lot of other providers trying to create connectivity solutions, whether it’s for education, for medicine, and that’s where we see a lot of opportunity,” Morar observed.

“Especially fleet management and transport companies who are creating a little private network to control their logistics platforms. These are all niche opportunities where we really see innovations in how we use the platforms, how we create new opportunities across a partner network.”

These kinds of opportunities may be niche, but provided that they can scale for many different users and environments cumulatively, it can add a good deal of value.

“If you look at MTN, they’ve been our longest customer in Africa. If you see their growth in mobile data versus their growth in digital services revenue or fintech revenues, you can see there’s a huge difference. It’s something like 5% versus 20%,” said Morar.

The proviso above – ensuring that capabilities can scale – is the key to leveraging this kind of movement. This is an area where coordinating internationally can help create economies of scale in a service. For example, creating a service for a hospital might not be cost-effective or affordable for the end users, but creating something once which can be replicated globally becomes a very different proposition.

“Whether you’re looking at private networks for a hospital network, maybe a radiology network in Germany that requires the diagnostic centre to process more records or other kinds of applications for a hospital in an emerging market, the platform would be the same. The components would be the same. The horizontal capabilities are still essentially the same,” Morar listed.

The challenge here is in finding common ways to provide those capabilities internationally. This is less a technology challenge – although there are difficulties based on differences in the underlying networks – and more of a coordination challenge.

Can we develop a common platform-based approach both internationally and between competitors within a country? It’s certainly possible, but this would be something likely for organisations such as GSMA and NGMN to work on rather than expecting standards bodies to supply an answer.

“If those relationships can be worked out and if those partnership business models can be worked out, then having standards make sense, the investment in your core and everything else also makes sense,” Morar concluded.

Image courtesy of Kate Ter Haar on Flickr




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