Digital disruption has definitely brought in several opportunities, however, the rising demands of customers and new use cases has created several challenges for telco players worldwide. Customers’ demands are transforming into more data exhaustion especially with the new service streams leveraging on mobile broadband infrastructure, therefore all telco players (carriers and suppliers) are also transforming to cope with these new demands.

On the carrier side, network transformation is one of the key initiatives that should be driven through balanced strategy; the goal should be infrastructure modernisation towards better scalability and openness, says Saleem AlBlooshi, executive vice president, infrastructure and technology, du. He adds: “NFV, SDN and cloud base infrastructure will improve the carriers agility in catering for the expected changes in the traffic pattern and will also decrease the time to market for introducing new service and applications. Paving the way towards 5G is also important to enable offering high-speed and low latency connectivity to the Internet of Things(IoT).”

“For carriers, in order to cope with the increasing demand, we have to build more submarine cables and increase our coverage to the areas with high demand. And this is what PCCW has done so far and we continue to do so,” says Sameh Sobhy, vice president, Middle East and North Africa, PCCW Global. He adds that PCCW is a part of the AAE-1 consortium as well as the new submarine cable system, Africa 1. Sobhy further hints at more such initiatives that will be in the news soon.

So, what are the main challenges being faced by the carriers in their drive to cater to increasing data traffic and latency demands? “Carriers have to be very careful in balancing between the infrastructure transformation and the return on investment (ROI),” says AlBlooshi. “Intensive work on the cost- benefit analysis has to take place to achieve the agility in coping up with the new services and demands without impacting the overall profit. Partners and suppliers also have a huge role in coming up with enhanced licensing models to enable carriers to monetise and achieve a win-win partnership.”

Sobhy tells CommsMEA how the roles of the market players have changed over the past few years, creating challenging situations, especially for an international operator like PCCW Global. The existing incumbents in the region like Etisalat, STC, Mobily, Omantel, and Ooredoo used to be customers and are now competing against other carriers by virtue of the investments they have made in new submarine cables. Yet another challenge in the region is the lack of cross-border regulations and the high pricing, which become a limitation for international carriers to expand into regions of high demand.

One tends to be curious how the carriers have been dealing with their customers turning into competition. Sobhy says, “It’s mainly about partnering with them rather than competing. The strategy of PCCW since inception has been to partner rather than compete with the incumbent existing operators mainly on enterprise level, infrastructure, and VAS solutions.” He adds how the incumbents as partners also act as extended salesforce for them, highlighting the fact that PCCW is a partner, and never a threat to incumbent operators.

In order to achieve better customer experience, carriers need to increasingly work on optimising network resources. AlBlooshi tells CommsMEA that du is an advocate of brainstorming optimisation opportunities at different network layers before executing them. Thereafter, results are matured and feedback is sought from customers for further improvements. He adds how the company is embracing network slicing as a key initiative to address the growing enterprise market and demanded SLAs without impacting the consumer traffic and services. “The adoption of network slicing will allow the segregation of network components per customer resulting in optimising the network resources and utilisation based on the required SLAs and forecast,” AlBlooshi says.

Every company is talking of connected world, smart cities, and IoT but what kind of upgrades are required in terms of capacity to actually realise these concepts? Carriers have to carry out massive enhancements and modernisations in the network infrastructure to address the M2M and IoT opportunities. AlBlooshi recommends the introduction of new technologies such as NB-IoT to enable connectivity for variety of devices. “Nevertheless, the IoT use cases should be offered as end-to-end use cases and introducing a horizontal IoT platform is a key step to allow carriers to offer end-to-end IoT and smart city use cases and different use cases on same platform,” he adds.

“IoT is the future and this is the only way to survive the harsh competition,” Sobhy says. Considering the changing market dynamics wherein OTT players are building their own systems, catering to the demand of big data being generated and connecting the “things” is the way to stay useful and profitable.

Diversification is the need of the day. All organisations are diversifying their portfolios to provide more options to the customers and try being an end-to-end provider. Carriers are launching new services like managed services, content delivery, unified communications, threat management and consultancy services in order to create more revenue streams. For instance, Alibaba Cloud, and PCCW Global expanded their collaboration last year to provide cloud based anti-DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) security products to enterprises.

Going ahead, capacity management improvement is becoming a fundamental need for telco players who wish to strive in the dynamic market. “Building virtualised networks with end-to-end resource and service orchestration should be the end goal for all carriers,” says AlBlooshi, highlighting the fact that prioritisation based on return of investment is the main consideration to achieve the best profitable outcome. Sobhy highlights that network automation is the future; soon users will be able to login, upgrade, or downgrade their network capacity as per their specific requirements. Software defined networking is a topic that is transitioning from boardrooms to execution for most telco players.

The market demographics are changing and as a result, all carriers and telco providers have no choice but to transform in order to stay relevant and profitable. Agility, innovative services and digital enablement are the aspects to be considered in this transformation. As AlBlooshi says, “the change is not only in network modernisation and investing in new technologies rather it has to improve the overall operating model.”