The telecommunications industry is changing at an exponential rate as new challenges emerge, customer expectations rise and the competition, new and old, piles on the pressure and telcos seeking to respond to these challenges face a slew of bewildering trends and high levels of uncertainty.
Against this background, Deloitte has identified four possible future scenarios for the industry, providing telco players with an invaluable guide as they plan their next moves.
Arun Babu, Africa Telecommunications Leader at Deloitte says that when clustering the drivers shaping telcos’ future, Deloitte found that two clusters have the greatest impact. These are ownership of the network technology layer – which is owned either by telcos, vendors or other tech players – and dominance of the customer relationship – which is held either by telcos, providers such as over-the-top content providers (OTTS) or device manufacturers and technology companies.
“Based on our scenario methodology, we developed four extreme, yet plausible scenarios,” says Babu. The scenarios are detailed in a report titled To be or not to be: The future of the telco business model.
In Scenario one, “The engineer strikes back”, telco companies own the network technology domain and infrastructure as well as the customer relationship.
“This is where telcos come from and where they hope to end up,” Babu explains. “They drive network innovation with their technological competence and have the ability to maintain and operate their assets. The telco players furthermore master the customer relationship and can thus focus on the whole value chain. They own the revenue control points, having direct access to their B2B and B2C customers.”
In Scenario two, “The new wholesale truth”, telco companies have finally lost the end-user control points they cherished for so long. To remain relevant, telcos have gone back to taking over full control over the network technology where they still have their core competencies.
According to Scenario three, “The virtual telco”, telcos remain the primary customer relationship holders but are displaced from the network layer as they transfer tech domain sovereignty fully to vendors and other players who move into the network by becoming new infrastructure players.
Scenario four, “A vendor brand”, is the least promising, with telco players having been driven out of both domains, customer relationships and technological mastery. “They focus on their few remaining capabilities, trying to find their sweet spot in the market to maintain their relevance,” says Babu. “Telcos are mere ghosts of their former selves, and serve as the wholesale sales and service teams of their parent tech companies for B2B customers.”
Neville Hounsom, Director –TMT Strategy & Operations, Deloitte, urged telco players to take proactive steps to prepare for these potential scenarios as a matter of urgency. He advises that despite all these questions and uncertainty, there are some “no regret” moves telcos can easily execute that will help to favourably position them for changes to come.
These include continuous participation in regulatory discussion by active lobbying, since connectivity will be seen as a low-involvement commodity in future, and developing virtual platforms that are open to external developers and partners as well as implementing new and innovative offerings.
Other steps telcos should consider are adapting the latest artificial intelligence-based technology to automate as many tasks as possible, significantly reducing operating costs in the medium to long term and strengthening their position as appealing employers, while updating the required skillset of their workforce in an ongoing process to attract and retain the best talent in the market.
“We can see trends and changes taking place right now which could take us into any one of these futures. Our question to telecom industry decision makers is, how will you set your priorities and which bets do you already have to make today?” Hounsom says.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.