Category Archives: Telecoms Future

What did the Great Telco Debate learn from MWC?

The Great Telco Debate may not be on the scale of MWC, but it is a year long process of analysing the telecoms industry from every possible angle to shape the programme for the event. MWC was a great opportunity to reconsider the topics from 2016 and draw from market developments. Using last year’s debate titles, here are my take-aways from the Barcelona jamboree.

  • Telco’s role in the digital economy: The jury is still out on the extent to which telcos can exploit digital. There are plenty of autonomous car examples but little new revenue upside for telcos – emphasising the need for ‘ruthless’ simplification of the business (Cisco)
  • Customer experience: Telefonica’s 4th platform does look like a refreshingly new approach to acknowledging peoples’ data and giving something back to the customers as well as improving overall service levels
  • Softwarisation of the telco: This is probably the most important aspect of this wave of industry transformation and there was plenty of evidence from open source virtualisation and edge computingto cloud the picture (Amdocs, HPE, Huawei)
  • IOT: The industry is finally realising that massive connectivity revenues are not likely from IOT, but the real demand will come from supporting different industry ecosystems via platforms and overall integration (Ericsson, Cisco)
  • 5G: It was fascinating that most 5G initiated discussions dropped back to a more robust 4G delivery to support video as well as overall data needs (Ericsson, T-Mobile US ,Telstra)

There is no doubt that telcos are acknowledging the reality of innovation coming from ‘Interpreneurs’ and suppliers, as well as from apps developers driving the telco to be more open and accepting of ideas ‘not made here’ (Orange).

Ironically, given the endless pursuit of innovation, the re-launch of the classic Nokia 3310 drew a lot of attention. Harking back to simplicity, fewer messaging options (no apps) and longer battery life, certainly grabbed peoples’ attention. However, I wonder if those writing about the old classic were more represented by the older generation rather than the younger, smart-phone raised app enthusiasts!

In terms of discussion topics for the Great Telco Debate 2017, doubtless other themes will rise to the surface. Security is one obvious elephant in the room, as is the role of telco in industries such as automotive and healthcare. Also, Artificial Intelligence will worm its way into every aspect of the market and promises many changes in performance, behaviour and outcomes.

Whether you are from the telco, supplier or analyst side or indeed any other interested party, please get in touch if you have ideas you think should be incorporated into the Great Telco Debate on 30th November 2017. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Is real world economics finally kicking in for the telecoms market?

As you’ll be aware, the third Great Telco Debate 2016 took place in November in London. Once again we gathered an enthusiastic group of industry stakeholders to debate the hot issues facing telecoms today and in the future.

The philosophy of GTD is to frame the debates with expert witnesses, introduce the motion and then debate with the floor. This year we started with Mark Gregory, Chief Economist at EY who made everyone think about value creation and value destruction in the digital economy. Throughout the rest of the day, whether it was telco CXOs from Gigaclear, Orange, Softbank, Telefonica or Vodafone or the suppliers willing to expose themselves to the 3-minute challenge, everyone contributed to the debate. All, of course complemented by analysts and their independent input into the mix.

The conclusion from the analyst panel is that the industry is making progress. Demand has never been so great for connectivity but blending fixed and mobile for future 5G services, along with an emphasis on customer experience from the customer perspective and a willingness for the telcos to work more closely with the supply ecosystem is needed to bridge the gap from today’s unpopular telcos to the connected society of the future.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to be with us please do take the time to look at TelecomTV’s excellent coverage of the event and do give us feedback. And, of course, if you were there, use the video to remind you of what a great event it was and send us any comments, suggestions as to what we should cover in 2017 and help shape the debate.

In the meantime, please save 30th November 2017 for the Great Telco Debate 2017.

We know you will never feel the same about telecoms again!

 

Technology bridging the gap between consumer electronics, healthcare and the disabled

I had the pleasure to present to the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) at their annual healthcare lecture in November. It represented a coming together of many strands of my work over the last decades along with my vision impairment and some potential solutions to some of the key challenges facing society and the economy across the world today. The final happenstance was that it was in the Turing room at the recently refurbished IET venue in central London. Turing was a key part of my original degree in Computational Linguistics and much of his work now forms the core of the Artificial Intelligence resurgence.

When I was asked to do a ‘lecture’ I pointed out that the origin of the word is to read. And, given my being blind, I can’t read, so I started by showing how assistive technology now gives me access to digital content via my iPhone, laptop and TV. Dedicated apps for disabled people as well as access to mainstream apps make my digital life almost as easy as everyone else’s!

Having started looking at disability in previous work with Telefonica, I am now able to draw many of the same conclusions to wrap the disability question up in the broader healthcare debate. The fact that we are increasingly connected as individuals through endless wearables, our smart phones and broadband from home, means that every part of our bodies can be monitored, fed back to us and to all interested parties. On the other hand, the healthcare system, with its ‘medical grade’ devices is increasingly looking to technology to solve the resourcing and financing problems that aging populations and limited budgets present. Bringing consumer and medical grade devices into the mix, leveraging the increasing availability of broadband in society and mixing Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and those vital human resources together, will bring the step change needed. It does require new thinking from Governments, healthcare officials, practitioners as well as ourselves as patients and carers, but the pieces are all there. We all need to accept cultural as well as technology changes to make this happen.

Take a look at the lecture, kindly filmed by the IET and let me have your thoughts. I will be looking at healthcare and how the telecoms industry is shaping up to the challenge during my visit to MWC in Barcelona at the end of February.

https://tv.theiet.org/?eventvideoid=9600

 

5G Questions for Telcos – 7 weeks until the answer

Recent headlines are clear. The EU has pledged to implement 5G in less than ten years. Users believe that the promised land of faster, better quality services is just around the corner. So, kudos for governments and great news for consumers but immense challenges for suppliers and telcos, especially when so many issues and unknowns may not be clarified until standards are ratified post 2020. No pressure, then.

5G is arguably a metaphor for the future of the entire telecoms industry. From licensed and unlicensed radio spectrum usage to fixed and mobile convergence (at last!), as well as Gigabit speeds and low power for IoT – these subjects and more will inform the future business model for the industry.

We don’t doubt that 5G will crop up in all of the five discussions we hold at the
Great Telco Debate. How could it not with such a pivotal role in our future? With so much to discuss, we will finish the day with a dedicated 5G debate to gain invaluable perspectives from academia, chipset, network providers and, of course, the telcos.

If you’re serious about understanding the future of telecoms join the Great Telco Debate on 15th November.

Find out more, see the videos, and register at www.greattelcodebate.co.uk

Disability and technology: an upside for everyone!


At the Digital Enterprise Show (DES) in Madrid on May 26 we assembled a group of presenters to look into the issue of technology and disability. I have been looking at the subject for the last 3 years through reports working with Telefonica. In the reports I sized the disability market and began the process of mapping the technology space to this hitherto hidden market. The reason it had been hidden is that technology was very specific to each disability and was very expensive. The main change that has propelled the topic into mainstream discussion is the smartphone. It acts as a commoditised hub for bringing accessibility to many disabled people. Add to this the emergence of wearables, sensors and the Internet of Things (IOT) and we have the beginnings of a mainstream approach to making accessibility for many disabled categories an issue for all industry players and indeed for everyone in business and society. The fact that such a session appeared at a major enterprise-focused event such as DES is a good indication of the topic going mainstream.

The numbers are compelling: there are roughly a billion people in the world with different sorts of disabilities. Analysis in the initial report shows the largest category being hearing impaired, followed by those impaired visually, cognitively and physically in that order. The absolute numbers are not the issue; we now have a possibility of helping a large proportion of these people. And, don’t forget, the able-bodied also have a need on a temporary or situational basis to use some of this highly accessible services – for example when driving or recovering from a temporary injury.

During the panel I outlined some of these key themes from my previous research and then asked Vodafone, Atos and Telefonica to present their high-level thoughts.

The Vodafone Foundation from Spain showed how they are using mobile technology and cloud platforms to deliver services to the elderly and disabled to get people better connected. Enhanced interfaces are being developed to allow even those with just head movement to interact with the digital world.

Atos gave examples of how they have been working since 1998 to build accessibility and inclusivity into programme frameworks. Their experience shows how difficult this has been in areas like education but how it is gradually emerging from under the Corporate Social Responsibility shadow to be considered in a more mainstream light. More recent examples in areas like e-health show how combining applications development with wearables and the technology surrounding people with disabilities can help educate individuals as well as improve services surrounding them.

Telefonica, the sponsor of my two initial reports, presented how the accessibility issue is coming out of the shadows of Corporate Social Responsibility and is entering the activities of the main Lines of Business (LOBs) of the telecoms service provider. E-health also figured in Telefonica’s initiatives both in Europe as well as in Latin America. The company is using its geographic reach and overall scale to help promote accessibility and inclusion. Telefonica also showed an app which it has developed in conjunction with the university of Madrid, to present an accessible television experience to the two million Spaniards who require some form of audio description, subtitling or sign language to enjoy television and cinema programmes.

The message is clear: place accessibility in the early components of applications and services design and build it into the development programme and it will contribute to a cleaner, simpler design with a simpler interface which everyone will find easier to use. If the needs of the different disabled groups are taken into account, then the mass market’s experience will also be better.

The need to raise awareness of the issue at every company, public sector organisation and even household is what we need to make a success of this and bring all disabled into the digital era from a personal and work perspective. Accessibility is not an issue to be isolated in the CSR parts of a business, but should be brought out into the LOBs and considered as part of every market offering. In addition, all of this technology is opening up employment opportunities for people who would have previously been excluded from the workforce.

Accessible technology will help everyone, so let’s encourage inclusive design and a more open attitude to let the world’s disabled billion benefit from the technology, employment and the benefits of the Digital environment in which we all live.

The Hyper-connected individual meets the Healthcare system

At the Great Telco Debate last year, one of the biggest laughs was when my co-host Graham Wilde was attacked for buying his wife a FitBit, implying she needed to lose weight! The success of these so-called health tracking devices, and their associated apps, is an indication of how wearables, combined with smart phones and tablets, are beginning to change our behaviour and our lives.

Outside the healthcare industry, these devices with their life-changing outputs are seen as wondrous. However, inside the healthcare sector, they are often dismissed as being toys providing inaccurate and misleading information.

The consumer electronics industry, with its dynamic gadget crazy geeks, coming up against the established healthcare profession, with its hospitals and insurance organisations, represents a key battleground for us all. Regulation in the medical area is rife, and so it should be. Consumer electronics is a considerably more liberal environment. So we have the challenge of making money and identifying new markets on the one hand, whilst accurately treating people with illness and disabilities on the other.

In previous articles I have considered the world’s billion disabled and opportunities for assistive technology in the form of regular smart phones, wearables, apps and the Internet of Things (IoT). I now think it is worth expanding the discussion to include the broader healthcare industry. The simple reason is that if we get it right for the healthcare sector as a whole, the solutions will include everybody, whether suffering from a short-term illness or long term disability.

We all have experiences which involve the healthcare system at some point in our lives. As with many industries, the Internet and availability of smart devices of all types gives us an insight into a world that was previously shrouded in mystique.

From home: remote diagnosis

Before we even enter into a doctor’s surgery or hospital, we are armed with information from our web searches and data from our mobile health lifestyle apps. Exercise, diet, alongside our essential measurements are tracked to give us an indication as to how we are doing. A blip in how we feel, or in the data, might trigger an Internet search – often leading to inaccurate self-diagnosis and unnecessary alarm.

Today we are seeing the beginnings of new fee based services where medical professionals provide consultation via online chat or even video . In many circumstances, such interaction will be sufficient to satisfy the ‘customer’ that everything is fine; or can generate sufficient advice, or even a prescription, to address the issue. If not, escalation to a more formal, traditional consultation will be necessary. This potential virtual triage could be useful for the industry in reducing the number of people unnecessarily entering the ‘real-world’ healthcare system.

The traditional medical system

In surgeries and hospitals, medical professionals can benefit from costly devices and services necessary to diagnose and treat the individual. These devices are increasingly connected through multiple channels allowing even remote specialists to access the patient records and produce a diagnosis. Furthermore, scans which were previously too big to circulate, are now fizzed across the network infrastructure for everyone to share on their multiple self-provided or hospital-provided devices.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a specialist surgeon could perform an operation via a robot, and indeed with a virtual scalpel, given the right connectivity, video and local support.

And, of course should the condition be acute, an ambulance also completely connected to the medical facilities can be dispatched with diagnostics and treatment carried out by the paramedics. Perhaps we could think of this as mobile triage!

Following medical intervention, physicians and nursing staff are increasingly armed with sophisticated bed-side monitoring equipment, once again feeding into central patient records. However, this is increasingly being complemented with more smart phone based offerings. That’s not to say the clipboard on the bottom of the bed will disappear, but that this ‘analogue service’ will be complemented by electronic versions with analysis and alarms to notify staff.

Developments in devices, sensors, applications and medical add-ons are all helping to change the dynamic of treating conditions:

  • Self-administered blood monitoring is radically changing the treatment of diabetes and dramatically lowering the levels of insulin required
  • Pseudo off-the-shelf 3D-printed artificial limbs are accelerating limb replacements
  • Sensors, cameras and microphones are allowing sensory enhancement or indeed replacement.

Smart phones are the unifying element but this doesn’t have to be the case. We will doubtless end up with many separate connections and data flows from our bodies to our carers, physicians or indeed to our own smart devices.

Aftercare

On leaving the formal hospital environment, there are now many new opportunities to reduce the frequency of return visits and reduce the cost of supporting the patient. The aftercare hitherto confined to follow up consultations at the hospitals can increasingly be delivered via video-based services and ideally some more dispersed facilities in the local community. After all, consultation on how well a hip replacement or skin condition has improved can just as easily be done over a Skype link. As with many industry transformations, this requires an organisational, process, financial and cultural shift. If the follow-up consultation is carried out perfectly well by video link, why should it only command a fraction of the fee usually assigned to an in-person or  in-hospital consultation?

Social care

Follow up social care, whether in the person’s home or in a social care unit, can also benefit from this ultra-connected world. The vastly expensive scanners obviously cannot be dispersed out into the community, but care staff and patient associations can use much simpler, slimmed down technology as well as some of the more consumer-electronics like devices and the myriad of apps to give both the patient and the carer a better-informed understanding of activities. Scheduling appointments is an obvious first step to make better use of care staff. But simple data gathering from questioning the patient, or using medical devices operated by the carer, will certainly be of incremental value to any consumer-like devices in the form of blood pressure or heart-rate monitors and motion detectors.

And, if a doctor is required to visit the patient, then mobile devices such as ECG machines can feed data back into the patients’ records over cellular or WiFi networks.

Long term care is a major focus for the industry today. With an increase in chronic conditions and subsequent drain on resources, anything which can reduce the total cost of this service, whilst improving the quality of care given to individuals is a ‘no brainer’.

The journey

So, the entire journey from initial Internet search, through formal medical intervention, to aftercare can benefit from the better connected environment. There is, of course, the issue of who pays – public or private. This depends to a large extent on individual countries. No doubt, the best use of fixed broadband/mobile technology, smart phones/tablets, wearables/IoT, consumer/industry-approved apps and a willingness for all parties to adapt to the new environment will pay massive dividends.

Who can argue that the future daily routine of a nurse or doctor will consist of a couple of hours on face-to-face duty, followed by a couple of hours online?

It is vital when designing devices and apps in this area that simplicity and accessibility for all levels of technical ability are built in from scratch. In many countries for the foreseeable future we have an ageing population that is not smartphone literate. This could be one way of bringing many into the touch screen world as long as we don’t confuse the issue with overly complex solutions. Technology exists to hide the complexity behind a simple interface or different accessible features depending if a person has limited vision, dexterity or mobility. After all, if we can build a button to simplify the ordering of a pizza, we can build an app button to address the key requirement for a particular patient and their needs.

What is clear, is that the lines of demarcation between home, formal medical facilities and after care are blurring. Volumes of data and information flows between all participants are increasing with personal and medical devices. Centralised patient records fed from all points are vital. Technology has to be embedded into simpler processes in order to underpin the new healthcare regimes.

We are all part of this particular journey. Let’s encourage all parties, patients, medical staff, administration and perhaps most importantly, politicians, that this is one way that technology can literally help us all to a better life. Many industries have been disrupted dramatically through devices, apps and connectivity. We could see a restructuring of the healthcare sector. Who knows, it might lead to more local services and a move away from the previous trend to bigger and bigger hospitals.

Telcos and the big data-driven opportunity

The big data opportunity for telcos is not a new phenomenon. Vast amounts of data have been generated both internally and externally over generations of fixed and mobile services for consumer, business and partners alike. Over The Top (OTT) players have come into the market and built business models on the amalgamated analysis of data being generated at the customer end from their search, social media and apps store-based activities.

Telcos have missed an opportunity: they had some of the pieces of data in place to address some of these issues, but perhaps neither the telcos nor the market were ready for it. The emphasis for telcos was on internal measures and network-centric KPIs. The focus now has to switch to look at all their data generation points. They need to build a unified view of all activity to improve both the performance of the network as it comes under more and more pressure. But, most importantly, they need to underpin the new business models emerging which include OTT-based services as well as telco-centric ones. This is an inversing of the telco approach: Putting the customer and partners first, and using that insight to help shape the network to ensure all information flows satisfy all parties. That is not to say that the network is not critical. It is, but the emphasis should be on what the network is enabling rather than on the technology of the network itself.

Telcos must step back; gather network-centric, service-centric and customer-centric data into a suitable architecture. This will allow for the interrogation, validation, and extraction of value from the data for all stakeholders. ICT assets exist outside of the telcos themselves to allow this to happen, leveraging both the compute and storage capabilities of the cloud, as well as the algorithms and the data scientists who can work their magic with structured and unstructured data.

Data sources will include the core and edge of the network, the disparate customer, applications and content being consumed as well as the proliferation of social media and comment flowing around the use of broadband, applications and content in both personal and business lives.

The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) adds another layer of complexity to the data puzzle, but it also allows the telcos to bring their sovereign national assets to bear in building the support mechanisms essential to help drive digital business transformation.

The need has also shifted from a retrospective requirement looking at old data records to a real-time need for insight into customers’ behaviour and the opportunity to adapt service offerings to suit every occasion. In this way, the leveraging of data becomes an essential component of the telco’s contribution to the ecosystem. Sharing some of the data with partners will doubtless become part of emerging offerings. As connectivity approaches ubiquity, it is the insight and knowledge of what is being done by people, households, businesses and ‘Things’ that becomes the fuel feeding the economic engine. As noted above, telcos missed the initial opportunity around data analytics. Let’s encourage all parties to work together to make sure that they don’t miss this next even more exciting wave.

Talend asked Lewis Insight to take a look at the telco and the data opportunity. The resultant independent paper can be found here.

The telco big data opportunity is one of the debate topics we will introduce to the Great Telco Debate in London on November 15th 2016. To find out more, see last year’s highlights and register visit www.telcodebate.com

 

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