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How the future of connectivity will shape the world of tomorrow

India’s telco market growth potential is undisputed through its low-price points and continuous innovation accelerating digital adoption. India has over a billion subscribers, over 650 million mobile internet users, monthly data usage per subscriber of ~10 GB and over 200 million users across social media platforms and over 400 million users on OTT chat platforms. However, to unleash our true potential, we still have a long journey ahead to be at par with the mature global markets. Percentage of network backhaul on fiber in India is at ~25 percent as compared to ~80 percent for mature markets. 4G adoption stands at ~40 percent as compared to 80 percent+ for mature markets despite one of the lowest 4G prices globally.

The upcoming decade is likely to see some technology mega-trends becoming commonplace.

  • Rise of smart factories bringing in the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) which is expected to drive additive manufacturing.
  • Vehicles will be autonomous, connected, pooled, and electrified.
  • Massive IoT will lead to multiple devices for every person on this planet.
  • Immersive experiences will move beyond traditional AR/VR driving the Internet of Senses. Professional robots at the workplace will become humdrum with 100+ robots for every 10,000 employees.
  • Wide-scale adoption of digital twins by large organizations.

These megatrends are expected to unleash an ecosystem of connected devices, with connectivity technologies as the unsung heroes enabling it. All of this and more is likely to be enabled by telcos to a large extent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges to consumers and enterprises. The role of telcos has never been more essential than it is today to enable smooth and seamless connectivity as people continue to work remotely in the new normal. COVID-19 has heralded a new era of virtualization and connectivity through accelerating the timelines for future of work.

Deloitte sees five key emerging technologies as part of the continuity continuum together causing a canopy effect.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Although we have made great strides in connecting the world, approximately only half of the world’s population was using internet at the end of 2019.

The demand for connecting the world is likely to increase and low earth orbit satellites are expected to become disruptive mega-constellations of orbiting broadband stations. With an orbit between 160 and 2000 kilometers above the earth, LEOs have a short orbital period (approximately 90 to 120 minutes).

The current footprint of 200 satellites is set to increase manifold to 16,000+ during this decade. LEO can bring low-latency, high-speed connectivity to people who currently are not within the reach of cellular towers or connected to high-speed lines. For people with no internet access at all, or the population that has no access to broadband, the effect is likely to be revolutionary.

LEOs are expected to play a crucial role in connecting unserved and under-served areas, creating millions of new customers and becoming an essential networking infrastructure tool for industries operating in remote areas such as energy, mining, and transportation.

5G maturity and private networks. The launch of 5G is poised to drive massive changes in the way companies work, particularly in the manufacturing industry.

To enable ultra-reliable, high-speed, low-latency, high-density wireless connectivity, an enterprise can connect to a public 5G network or opt for a private 5G network. This could be a game changer and provide operators a real opportunity to provide reliable networks to end-customers.

For large enterprises, private 5G will likely become the preferred choice, especially for industrial environments such as manufacturing plants, logistics centers, and ports.

Companies worldwide are expected to begin private 5G deployments by the end of 2020.

The scale and impact on businesses can be judged based on the quantum leap in the devices 5G can support – 4G networks can only support a maximum of 100,000 devices per square kilometer; 5G can connect to a million. For a 100,000-square-meter factory, this translates into the ability to connect 100,000 devices, compared to 4G’s 10,000, allowing companies to connect every sensor and device in a factory.

Private 5G networks have the potential to revolutionize ports to help run a fleet of automated guided vehicles, bridge and gantry cranes all operating remotely or autonomously. Private 5G networks can also be used to control thousands of professional robots in a logistics center for online grocery shopping, controlled from a single base station.

For factories, private networks could be supported by edge cloud enabling IoT analytics, a real-time digital twin of operational data and internal logistics automation via connected robots delivering significant efficiencies (up to 30 percent).

Artificial Intelligence (AI), cognitive and edge computing. AI’s role in the enterprise is growing as cognitive tools and tactics are standardized, transforming companies into AI-fueled organizations.

Most IoT solutions now require a mix of cloud and edge computing. Compared to cloud-only solutions, blended solutions that incorporate edge can alleviate latency, increase scalability, and enhance access to information so that better, faster decisions can be made, and enterprises can become more agile as a result. Enterprises are increasingly complementing their cloud-based IoT with edge computing to deliver accelerated data analytics and decision making. Over 50 percent of IoT data could soon be processed near the source, either on the device or through edge computing.

Complexity introduced by edge computing should justify the objectives at hand, which include scale, speed, and resiliency.

Traditionally, professional robots have been limited owing to issues with reliable connectivity to manage mobility. The advancements and falling manufacturing costs of edge AI chips are expected to give a huge boost to the professional robots’ industry. A combination of private 5G networks and edge AI chips is expected to double sales of professional robots from 250,000 in 2019 to about 500,000 this year.

Devices, smartphone, and wearables ecosystem. The smartphone market is nearing its peak in terms of unit sales per year. But its power as a foundation for multiple associated revenue streams – advertising, hardware, content, and services – is growing at pace. Already approaching half a trillion dollars in 2020, these ancillary revenues may exceed the value of smartphone sales within the next five years.

The launch of 5G handsets is likely to stimulate the demand moderately.

From an India perspective, the total number of smartphone users is expected to almost double to cross 700 million by 2022, cementing the country’s position as the second-largest market for smartphones in the world. The sale of products and services that depend on smartphone ownership – the so-called smartphone multiplier – may soon surpass smartphone sales.

Digital twins. With a digital twin, as the name indicates, we will have two versions of a thing – the physical one and the digital twin one. If the virtual replica is really a digital twin, and thus acts like the real thing, that would help us in detecting possible issues, test new settings, simulate all kinds of scenarios, analyze whatever needs to be analyzed, and do pretty much everything we want in a virtual or digital environment, knowing that what we do with that digital twin also would happen when doing it with the real physical asset.

The current acceleration in the usage of digital twins will be enabled by IoT and the lowering cost of technologies. Pioneered in the early days of space exploration to simulate and analyze, in future it is likely to expand to more applications, use cases, and industries as more technologies get combined.

The use cases for digital twins within the telcos are already emerging in areas such as customer care operations, network planning, and operations. Digital twins could significantly reduce wastages and improve customer satisfaction through helping operations managers to make more effective choices. The digital twin can help optimize resource planning through redistributing agent tasks, and improve shift plans.

Similarly, digital twins can enable a paradigm shift in network planning – right from network design to provisioning and actual simulation of live network across various traffic-load parameters, and proactively predict any potential bottlenecks or quality-of-service degradation. The planning could be altered to mitigate recurrence of the QoS issues and save costs.

In summary, we are at the cusp of unprecedented opportunities and have successfully leap frogged in digital adoption. We must be future ready and enable the connectivity continuum.

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