connected future

Forging ahead into the connected future

Telecom service providers have the opportunity to transform into digital value players and also enable efficiency for the businesses they digitize.

Sanjay Kaul

By Sanjay Kaul

2020 has been a tough year – as individuals, leaders, companies, and even countries, we’ve had to abandon all things we once held familiar and settle into a new way of living, working, and learning very quickly. But I believe that 2020 has also been the year of connection, whether it was governments coming closer to their citizens and coordinating pandemic efforts virtually, doctors reaching patients in the most remote corners of the country online, loved ones sharing a meal from across a screen, or colleagues innovating over video.

Even though the pandemic turned everyone into an island of their own, today, we are more connected – in more ways than one – than ever before.

Digitization, overall, has leap-frogged and cemented the foundation for a truly digital era, which will enable Industry 4.0 to create a new normal, new innovations, new partnerships, and new economic models. The COVID-19 crisis has effectively rewritten our future, forever altering how we work, learn, consume, create, and connect with one another.

What does this mean for India’s telecom service providers? What role do they play in shaping the next normal? The way I see it: three major trends rooted in digital connectivity are taking the form that will open up a world of opportunity for India’s telecom service providers.

For small and medium enterprises, 5G can help in establishing a presence online and reaching a more extensive and diverse consumer base across their borders.

Everything will be virtual in the new normal

According to Ernst & Young (EY), India witnessed an increase of 30% in data usage during the pandemic, essentially catapulting data consumption three years into the future! This surge was driven by the rapid and ubiquitous shift to online learning, remote working, teleconsultations, digital payments, OTT platforms, etc., that the crisis necessitated.

Now, this propensity for virtual platforms is becoming permanent. According to a PwC report, India is likely to account for 2.2% of the global digital payments market by 2023. An EY-IPA study has found that by 2025, as much as 20% of the healthcare sector will be virtualized. And according to a Cisco survey, 53% of Indian organizations expect over half of their workforce to continue working remotely post-pandemic.

This means that going forward we can democratize access to essential services like healthcare, education, banking, etc., and generate new jobs in smaller towns and villages, as remote work becomes a norm. However, nearly 50% of Indians still do not have high-speed internet access. Therefore, flattening of the network ensures that we are moving to more efficient and open architectures that will enable internet access to all.

While this is the first step, attention must also be paid to streamlining the hurdles to delivering services online. All of this requires last-mile connectivity and uninterrupted broadband, where service providers have a significant role to play.

The promise of 5G for businesses will drive the deployment

In the context of 5G, the pandemic has been a bit of a paradox – on the one hand, it has pushed back roll-out plans given the tremendous pressure that the telecom industry has had to face; on the other hand, it has served as a catalyst for deployment, especially for businesses.

5G goes far beyond just faster speeds and more throughput and can help businesses future-proof themselves. For instance, enterprises today are becoming more distributed and accelerating their move to the cloud, where 5G can support seamless collaboration between dispersed teams, and allow leaders to gain visibility of a highly scattered workforce, etc. Additionally, companies are also looking to automate their supply chains to make them more agile and resilient.

Here, 5G will allow more mission-critical IoT devices to be connected reliably through wireless and help enterprises leverage Industry 4.0 technologies like AI/ML, robotics, big data, etc. For small and medium enterprises, 5G can help in establishing a presence online and reaching a more extensive and diverse consumer base across their borders.

With the demand for industry-specific applications rising and enterprise processes getting digitized, enterprises will become a major contributor for service providers in the coming years. It is truly a win-win. Service providers will emerge as true digital value players, offering digital playbooks that will make all sorts of enterprise verticals efficient and, as a result, create enormous value that can be shared across the value chain.

The flattening of network ensures that we are moving to more efficient and open architectures that will enable internet access to all.

Demand for everything as a service will rise

While there’s no doubt that the pandemic has caused a surge in the proliferation of digital services, what’s interesting is that it has created new trends in the way these platforms are consumed. Earlier, digitization looked different for different stakeholders – individuals, companies, governments, etc. would adopt and use technologies in distinct and disparate ways. Today, the lines between individuals and enterprises aren’t as clear. Everyone wants technologies and tools that are easy to use, manage, and pay for. As a result, the demand for everything to be delivered as a service and managed through the cloud is gaining momentum.

Here, too, telecom service providers have the opportunity to transform into digital value players, offering bundled solutions for education, entertainment, SOHO (small office, home office), etc., and not only carve new revenue streams for themselves but also enable efficiency for the businesses they digitize.

The crisis has been the biggest disruption in recent history, but it has allowed us to reflect and identify where change is needed the most. As we step into a brand new year, I believe telecom service providers will become the greatest enablers of a new, more connected, and inclusive world, one where the internet will serve as the bridge to immense possibilities for people, businesses, and communities.

Kaul is President, Service Provider Business, Asia Pacific & Japan, Cisco

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