The year 2017 has the potential to be a game changer for telcos and technology providers who take advantage of the opportunities in hand and collaborate for a connected, and secure world.

As operators and internet service providers make great headway in giving subscribers the ultimate user experience with faster, more qualitative and cost-effective voice and data services, Daniel Kurgan, CEO of BICS, believes that 2017 – despite its imminent challenges – could prove to be a turning point for the industry as a whole, with new revenue opportunities and partnerships to be reaped for those who have readied themselves to take advantage.

Looking back at the year 2016, it was good for telecoms. While operators struggled with finding newer sources of revenue generation, technology vendors made sure to maintain the spark of innovation to drive digital transformation. While voice remains one of the biggest revenue streams for MNOs, the digital revolution has sparked a new age for communication. New digital experiences like messaging apps, chat bots and even the Internet of Things have pervaded mobile devices globally, as consumers expect instant connectivity and seamless services, wherever they are in the world. As we enter the new year, CommsMEA spoke to several industry experts to forecast the trends for communications technology for the year that lies ahead of us.

Trends that are going to rule 2017

Increasing smartphone adoption

This has led to a tremendous increase in the data traffic. This trend will continue through 2017. Operators will need to make the network infrastructure ready for such traffic growth. Operators in MEA have already launched LTE-Advanced 4.5G networks in the last couple of years to cater to the tremendously increasing data traffic. Further, Aji Ed, head of technology, MEA, Nokia believes that operators will look to launch the ultra-fast LTE 4.5G Pro and 4.9G networks in 2017 and beyond and carry out 5G tests to prepare themselves for the data deluge in the coming years.

Rainer Schnepfleitner, regulation affairs and competition department manager, CRA Qatar says: “Currently the industry is faced with a mega trend ‘fast data everywhere’. This trend has enabled completely different life styles and new business models, where international players provide excellent services to the end customer. I see this trend continuing and accelerating in 2017”.

Fuelled by streaming applications like Netflix, bigger smartphone screens, and a drive by social media to integrate video, accompanied by the sheer speed of 4G, consumers clearly can’t get enough of mobile video content. Ericsson said in its most recent Mobility Report that video will account for two thirds of all mobile data traffic and will grow by around 55 per cent annually through to 2021, with social networking forecast to grow 41 per cent.

Digitisation

The need and pressure for digital transformation is definitely going to be a defining trend of 2017. Digital will continue to expose both new opportunities and risks. The pressure to eradicate costs, standardise processes, reduce variables and reshape the business to run more efficiently make digitisation even more urgent, says Wael El Kabbany, vice president for the Middle East and North Africa at BT.

He further adds that more organisations have started to fully embrace cloud services, recognising the cost-cutting and agility-improving benefits that they provide. “We expect to see an increase in the uptake of such services in the coming year, with the cloud becoming the universally accepted new normal. In a bid to differentiate, cloud providers have recognised that they must have the right partners embedded in their cloud. We’re going to see more cloud providers take steps to attract new partners to their communities.”

Security

Security will continue to remain a prime threat, especially given the increasing exposure induced by digitisation. El Kabbany says: “Looking ahead, we’ll benefit from more intelligent networks that are literally ‘security aware’, able to independently detect and deal with vulnerabilities, and alert adjacent networks.”

Hackers are motivated by various factors these days and securing an organisation’s vital data assets will continue to be a major issue in the years to come. “A robust cyber strategy, centred on threat intelligence and penetration testing, to check for weak points in the IT ecosystem, will undoubtedly help in combating the latest generation of cyberthreats”, says El Kabbany.

Public safety

Operators have started realising the importance of public safety solution in MEA, and some leading operators and government agencies have already deployed the LTE for public safety system.

Smart City technology

Smart city concept has been gaining momentum in MEA especially in countries like the UAE, Saudi, Qatar, and South Africa.

Internet of Things (IoT)

GSMA estimates that there will be nearly 20 billion M2M connections needed for IoT by 2020. Developments toward 5G commercialisation are paving the way for IoT. Eid expects to see IoT deployments picking up in the region from 2017.

2017 will witness more convergence across the telecoms space as service providers develop cross-platform propositions to support content services, and also look to diversify in order to target vertical markets, according to Daniel Kurgan, CEO of BICS. “The IoT will be a key driver of this transformation, as an increasing number of industries become reliant on mobile to provide the connectivity and infrastructure needed to support IoT implementations.”