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Trendspotting in communication networks

Communication service providers (CSPs) need to compete with peers and hyperscalers. Revenue from voice and messaging services has been steadily shrinking. Further, telecommunication-specific products, offered by cloud service providers and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, are eroding the customer base.

Last-mile connectivity offers the telecommunication industry an advantage. CSPs must capitalize on it to regain market share. Cloud and edge computing, network automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics modernize the core, and support seamless rollout of 5G service.

The telecom industry landscape is being redefined by shifts in business and technology. Let us evaluate five trends that are set to disrupt the industry.

Partnership with hyperscalers
While cloud infrastructure drives robust data management, moving data acquisition closer to physical devices (edge of the network) enhances the performance of low-latency applications. Edge computing also allows operators to provide innovative services by leveraging existing assets and infrastructure resources.

Distributed computing architecture and cloud technologies simplify network virtualization and improve operational efficiency. It empowers CSPs to offer infrastructure-as-a-service to enterprises, and delivers uninterrupted connectivity. However, the deployment of computing resources at the network edge requires hyperscale infrastructure services.

Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are leaders in edge computing and telco industry-specific operations stacks. Collaboration with hyperscale ecosystem providers enables CSPs to integrate edge stacks into network gateways and create a seamless distributed computing environment. Further, partnerships with carrier-grade cloud service providers, such as ServiceNow and Salesforce, helps CSPs reduce costs and mitigate risks of migrating workloads and services from the core to the network edge. In addition, it facilitates the launch of innovative digital services in multi-cloud marketplaces.

Satellite-powered 5G broadband
Space is the next frontier to build infrastructure for next-generation connectivity. On the one hand, CSPs can compete with Starlink from SpaceX and Kuiper from Amazon. On the other, it delivers last mile connectivity in areas where laying fiber or providing Wi-Fi coverage is challenging or unviable.

Satellite communication systems comprising low-Earth orbit (LEO) and middle-Earth orbit (MEO) vehicles ensure reliable 5G coverage in rural and remote areas and devices on the move, be it an aircraft, ship, drone, truck, or a car. Further, non-terrestrial network infrastructure for 5G connectivity enables CSPs to manage network quality demands of mobility service providers, cruise operators, and logistics enterprises.

The integration of satellite and terrestrial communication systems empowers 5G networks to fulfil the growing demand for bandwidth while provisioning broadband services cost effectively. Notably, satellite-based 5G connectivity, supported by core network functions on cloud platforms and virtualization technologies, boosts the service experience of data-intensive and media-rich applications, including edge computing, Internet of Things (IoT) systems, and HD video streaming.

Digital sentient ecosystem
Advanced networking technologies allow CSPs to build resilient private 5G networks and transform from access providers to technology partners. Digital resources, including AI/ML systems, create a sentient ecosystem, which enables the enterprise to easily reorganize people and processes and on-board partner systems. A sentient enterprise can react promptly to disruptive external forces and pre-empt internal issues.

A resilient ecosystem of products, services, and systems supports predictive monitoring and automated provisioning, which minimizes network downtime and avoids failures. Further, the ability to automatically detect, diagnose, and resolve core, backend, and distribution issues enables 5G operators to provide value-added managed services to enterprise customers, along with a superior user experience across devices.

An agile operational environment simplifies scaling up of bandwidth and provisioning of new services, based on ad-hoc requirements.

Significantly, cloud-hosted sentient systems enable network administrators to visualize traffic, demand, and resource utilization, and apply network as well as edge analytics for troubleshooting, improving network performance, boosting security, and managing trouble tickets more efficiently.

Immersive learning
Next-generation digital network services require reskilling/upskilling of the workforce, spanning network engineers, field service technicians, and cyber security teams. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies address the challenge of skill shortage.

AR/VR learning platforms facilitate sharing of rich and varied content across locations. Further, simulation of the work environment avoids investment in physical network equipment, while driving knowledge retention. Moreover, it boosts productivity, eliminates errors, and rationalizes the cost of training.

Immersive learning, powered by AR/VR, accelerates on-boarding across business functions and ensures continuous learning. In addition, it improves efficiency of critical tasks, such as tower inspection and network maintenance.

Even as CSPs build capabilities for 5G, net-zero initiatives need to be prioritized to realize the potential of 5G as a catalyst of economic growth. However, Scope 3 (indirect) carbon emissions account for a significant share of the carbon footprint of networks. Operators have limited control over downstream users, and the exponential increase in mobile devices, users, and data traffic compounds the issue.

In many European countries, operators are bundling network services with renewables-based power to reduce Scope 3 emissions. Since the renewable energy market is not yet mature in India, operators should explore other options to minimize emissions in the value chain. Encouraging the use of smart home appliances and partnering with suppliers of energy-efficient equipment and edge devices are pragmatic decarbonization interventions.

5G network operators can reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by implementing analytical insights-driven energy-efficiency programs. Optimizing truck rolls, adopting electric vehicles for field operations, and IoT-based control for cooling systems help operators realize sustainability goals.

At an operational level, telcos can use automation, AI models, and spatial analytics to reduce their carbon footprint. AI/ML-based dynamic management of radio access network (RAN) settings, based on real-time demand, conserves energy, while maintaining quality of service.

A technology-driven ecosystem will help the telecommunication industry become a force multiplier for the economy.

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