Are we at the start of a race between ground and satellite communications networks?
It seems like only yesterday the industry’s focus was on rolling out 5G. But in 2021, we have another type of connectivity making waves alongside it – the rise of low earth orbit satellite providers. I believe that in combination with other next-generation offerings, these “networks from space” will play a critical role in a completely different kind of connectivity landscape.
Already, we’re seeing the likes of SpaceX, Amazon, Vox Telecom and MorClick investing large sums of money in satellite offerings. Now couple this with the slew of other new options like 5G and neighbourhood Wi-Fi via offerings like Amazon Sidewalk, secure access options when working from home, and private enterprise networks. If we have a hard time moving simply between Wi-Fi and cellular now, what does that mean for our future?
If we can resolve these complexities, we can unlock the true potential of our future digital society: where consumers can automatically get the best network experience for any given task, and where connectivity providers – existing and new – collaborate to make this a reality.
A more integrated connectivity market
I believe we are going to start to see a more unified connectivity market in the coming months. Consumers will want to seamlessly access the cloud and internet through the best option available based on where they are, what application they are using and what quality of service they need. This could lead to a world where connectivity becomes less of a utility purchased from a service provider, and more a functionality that is embedded in every application or every device.
At first glance, this may seem like a threat to connectivity providers. But on the contrary, it will allow them to make money on the delivered experience, like how Amazon’s book deliveries work on cellular-equipped Kindles, or how Google Fi functions across the major service provider networks in the US.
There are long-term benefits for these players too. Today, many connectivity providers are in a position where building out their networks is becoming more costly than what they’ll get in return. But by expanding their reach through partnerships, they’ll be able to reach more customers at a lower cost. And with smart software that lets them allocate network capacity and resources, they can also deliver better quality of service and experience.
Essentially, the days of everyone thinking they can build everything themselves, and be everything to everyone, are over.
Disrupting a “traditional” communication market
This new reality also has the potential to change traditional ways of doing business. For instance, consumers could potentially take an iPass intelligent Wi-Fi type of approach to internet access. We could also see an App Store business model, where users pay for connectivity within specific applications, and the best network for that experience is automatically selected.
On the competitive side, without the need to own and operate an individual network, it can allow new digital-native players to enter the market, who only have to configure network experiences properly to have a fighting chance.
Preparing for what comes next
Despite the competition, there will also be opportunities for connectivity providers to act as aggregators for these different networks. Managing a seamless end-to-end customer experience will be a critical piece of the puzzle, either when coming to or leaving a network.
As new use cases come to light, connectivity providers’ ability to be agile, responsive and see the full lifecycle of new use cases deployed to market will be important. This includes network slice management, quickly onboarding partners, monitoring effectively and quickly changing monetization strategies as needed.
Furthermore, as ecosystems become more complex, AI will be needed to automate processes with attention to continuous learning, development and governance across every network aspect. It’s the only way to remain adaptable and respond quickly to change. By preparing for these areas now, it will ensure connectivity providers are prepared for the future – and especially during disruptive times when network demands, and new offerings are sure to collide.
While widespread connectivity and increased competition can lead to more benefits for consumers and businesses alike, there’s a lot to sort out before we see much of this come to fruition. But the bottom line is that demands are simply becoming too large for consumers to rely on any one provider to bring their future digital vision to life. What it will take is all the connectivity players to go it together. And we can be sure that the benefits for everyone will far outweigh what anyone can achieve on their own.
Angela Logothetis is the CTO of Amdocs Open Network, a position she has held since 2015. She is also a non-executive board director of EXFO, the global leader in fibre optic test and measurement, and a technology advisor to an ecosystem of technology companies.
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