Telecommunications providers have an opportunity to move up the value chain with the launch of 5G. Previously being utilized as dumb pipes providing infrastructure and connectivity, telecommunications providers can now become important partners for digital transformation, providing revenue-generating services leveraging faster, smarter 5G networks.
Operators are already collaborating with system integrators and equipment vendors to create new revenue-generating services that are used in cities, hospitals and homes. Here are a few examples.
Smart cities are expected to become a $7.6 billion opportunity for mobile service providers and network vendors by 2023, globally, according to ABI Research. Several mobile operators have already collaborated with equipment manufacturers and system integrators to create turnkey solutions for municipalities.
For example, in Asia, Chunghwa Telecom offers smart garbage collection and recycling in Taiwan, with plans to have 90,000 connected street lights installed by 2021. NTT Docomo, the largest mobile operator in Japan, is managing all IoT services for Yonaguni Island, including environmental monitoring and connected transportation. In Europe, Telefónica Spain is collaborating with Thales, Portel and Isotro, to improve the efficiency of transporting cargo.
Cars could easily become the biggest consumers of mobile data creating more revenue-generating opportunities for telecommunications providers. Car owners are already using mobile phones to identify the location of their cars, receive real-time status on potential equipment problems, send destinations in advance for navigation systems, and pre-cool or pre-heat the car interior.
In addition, autonomous cars that are huge consumers of data over mobile networks are becoming a reality. BMW, Daimler, Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen, Tesla and Toyota have all announced the development or pilots of self-driving vehicles. Service providers can provide the network capabilities to ensure safe and secure driving. Using 5G networks, self-driving cars can communicate with each other as fast as 1 millisecond or about the time it takes to operate a flash on a camera. With this type of response time, you can even operate the car remotely.
Telehealth is a fast-growing industry providing new revenue-generating opportunities. Using 5G networks, telecommunications providers can quickly and efficiently transport huge data files including medical imagery, conduct telemedicine appointments, and transmit data received from wearables to continuously monitor patient health. For example, a portable EKG signal and breathing recorder can continuously monitor heart activity, identify disorders in a patient’s heart rhythm, notify a paramedic who can discusses the case with an on-duty physician, and in the case of a life threatening situation, call an ambulance.
NTT Docomo has already been working with NEC in the Wakayama prefecture to perform remote medical examinations over 5G. ATT and Hanger are enabling prosthetics to communicate directly to the cloud via AT&T’s network to monitor for any discomfort and to improve product performance.
All of the major telecommunications operators already provide some form of content control to protect the most vulnerable subscribers. However, with machine learning powered by 5G for faster data processing speeds, now there is an opportunity for them to provide an extra layer of protection to protect children that have found ways to override parental controls. There are several proxy sites which are quite easy for children to find including ProxySitewhich enables subscribers to search any forbidden site by hiding the final destination behind a benign address such as “hide.me”.
Telecommunications providers can utilize machine learning to help protect kids by monitoring browsing behaviour to detect when a subscriber is attempting to circumvent security solutions. When there is a suspicion that the name of a destination site has been faked, security solutions can dig deep to inspect the content to enforce limitations as they were intended. Providing security services based on machine learning enables operators to provide parents with the ease of mind that their children are being adequately protected.
Challenges to Implementation
There are both organizational and technological hurdles to providing IoT and machine learning value added services. Smart cities projects, for example, can involve fragmented budgets and can require separate negotiations with governments at the local, regional and national levels. IoT and machine learning solutions can require an entire ecosystem of partners including equipment vendors, system integrators and other niche companies making deciding on the right business model extremely difficult.
There are, of course also performance issues. If network orchestration fails at the critical moment, systems can fail and lives can be put at risk. To prevent this more and more processing will most likely be brought to the edge, and network and computing resources will need to be monitored and continuously optimized to provide the performance these value-added services require. The customer experience needs to be inspected and maintained at a high level to ensure subscriber satisfaction.
With the power of 5G networks, mobile operators have an opportunity to become partners with enterprises and governments to operationalize the value of IoT and machine learning. Like all shifts in value propositions, it requires specialized expertise, new partnerships, and new technical challenges. But despite the added investment, the prospect of selling smart services could be the best way for service providers to boost profitability by moving up the value chain.