Over the last two-and-a-half decades, India telecoms have navigated liberalization, deepening competition with fierce mergers, declining prices of voice and data with rising tele-density, and the recent foreign investments – all supported by rapid technological evolution. But the real need for a resilient and ubiquitous connectivity was never more evident as India battled a knee-wrenching pandemic with harsh lockdowns, only to prove that contours of a Digital India will have to be redrawn as the country foresees to spend 2.5 percent of its GDP on infrastructure.
The endemic gives an opportunity to operators to connect, build trust, and influence the subscribers while they are ever-more online. The monetization triad of content, e-commerce, and collaboration is a perfect recipe to support rising data consumption and ARPUs.
However, for an Indian consumer today, buying a data plan stands somewhere between buying an illiquid real estate asset and buying a liquid asset such as a stock or bond. Although not as frequently bought or traded as a currency when not in need, a data plan has become a commodity as KPIs around latency, call drops, stalled downloads, for most operators are identical.
So, with unlimited plans being tables takes, the war on bundling is being reset not only as operators target handsets and chipsets to chug backwards in the value chain but also on decoupling infrastructure from services.
A data-driven architecture to pivot to a Telco 2.0
Indian operators already provide the lowest cost of data carriage within Asia-Pacific. As per IDC, the 1.3 billion mobile and IoT connections generated USD 30 billion worth of data services in 2020. That spend per connection stands in the lowest 10 percent in the spend curve for services within the region. This nadir itself lends a futile ground of providing differentiated services with frugal innovation.
This constant urge of doing more with less forces the operators to shift part of their workloads to open source and cloudified assets with serverless compute instances and bring in a much-needed cost transformation in operations. And the most apparent shift in how operators view this journey is from consuming VMs to containers to host network functions and how they onboard third party VNFs onto their platforms providing an end-to-end service chaining with self-serve functionalities – again creating a data vortex internally.
While this transformation is still underway, the need for a self-serve, low-touch, prescriptive yet nimble customer journey with a platform driven approach is still WIP. This means targeting new services such as fantasy sports, card-based games, live streaming, gaming, and podcasts becomes a big step of serving customers better by improving QoE (moving beyond QoS). Here, the services used within the core can very well extend into peripheral and complementary industries– all using a data-driven AI architecture lending sufficient network KPIs for a monetizable subscriber use case.
Open for differentiation
Collaborative ecosystem play is the best bet for telcos as the focus shifts towards cost savings and value enablement post pandemic. So telcos of tomorrow are envisioned as custodians of managed services plays in a connected India’– get the timely orchestration, provision the service tightly coupled with secured interfaces from third parties, and get the monetization right.
Involvement with open-source bodies such as ONAP, TIP, and LNF thus becomes crucial in how operators reach out to industries, secure, and manage data judiciously – in transit or at rest.
This is where differentiation will also be key. Wi-Fi for rural; 5G for cities; NB-IoT for agriculture; FTTx for hybrid workspaces all provide distinctive opportunities. A smart meter deployed in a suburban house has different requirements compared to a CCTV camera deployed for an autonomous driving application. The future of connectedness vision provides a supporting permeable exchange between data endpoints and data insights that come from those endpoints – so a path for a highly digital telco that spans across people, process, things, and applications would set them as revolutionaries. A future telco with pruned AI engines can let the caller/service know of called party’s/resource’s availability and provide uncontended bandwidth for applications proactively.