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Telecom Trends 2020: the mid-year assessment

Trends Revisited

Now over half-way through 2020, a year that has seen massive disruption to traditional business operations, we take a look back at the predictions we made for the telecom sector’s trends and how those expectations have fared so far.

Earlier this year, we put forward five predictions for trends that we were confident would turn heads in the telecoms industry in 2020 – new operating system launches, great leaps in AI deployments, a glut of new smartphones washing over the market…

Needless to say, there was one thing we didn’t predict about this year.

As we’ve written on extensively these past few months, the COVID outbreak and ensuing global lockdown blindsided us all, disrupting supply chains, consumer spending habits and office life as we know it. These challenges have, however, opened up new and innovative channels for CSPs and related industries to step up and aid clients and consumers.

So, just how well have our prophecies for the telecoms sector held up?

OS Wars
The likes of Huawei’s HarmonyOS and Facebook’s yet-to-materialise proprietary system will have a hard task disrupting the OS status quo, at least in the short term, as the market share of mobile operating systems are expected to remain flat in the next five years. HarmonyOS could, however, begin its trickle onto Western markets by September through the more pliant IoT market, debuting in wearables, cars and, eventually, PCs, all potentially running off the same technology.

China’s long-vaunted BeiDou-3, the latest iteration of its global satellite navigation system, launched in July, with reportedly “more than half the world’s countries” beginning to adopt. While the EU’s space program was cut back due to a budget realignment to deal with the COVID fallout, the Galileo satellite program was saved from the chopping block and is expected to be in full service operation by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the UK is in the process of procuring its own navigation system for use post-Brexit, purchasing a stake in OneWeb, a bankrupt US satellite operator based in the UK with 74 satellites in orbit. The deal, currently awaiting approval from a US court, is expected to pass before the end of the year.

Advanced AI and automation
AI has long been touted as a bulwark against disruption to traditional working patterns and dependency on fragile human resources; despite a 12.3% rise in the global AI market to $156.5 billion, COVID has nonetheless put a dent in the expected growth.

Researchers have now turned to machine learning to potentially accelerate the often year-long mission for a COVID vaccine – from sorting complex protein chains that would form the basis of a vaccine, to evaluating the suitability of pre-trial tests, and even to sift through the myriad research papers currently being cranked out by researchers worldwide.

However, some machine learning systems went into a tailspin thanks to the sudden shift in user behaviours and inputs, with stock tracking quant firms and recommendation algorithms for retail, news and entertainment services all thrown out of kilter.
Newer network infrastructure frameworks and services
During 2020, the telecoms industry has continued to embrace new infrastructure frameworks, reducing latency while meeting the increasing demand for bandwidth, both for work and leisure.

Huawei’s diminishing presence in the UK’s 5G infrastructure is leading many networks operators to implement OpenRAN as part of their hybrid service offerings; Vodafone may be turning to OpenRAN technology to deliver its next-gen network, with Nokia, Orange and Telefónica looking to do the same in their deployments across Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile, Vodafone and Telefónica are among the founders of the newly launched OpenRAN Policy Coalition, working with the likes of Google, IBM and Microsoft to create “an environment where networks can be deployed with a more modular design, and without being dependent upon a single vendor.” Clearly OpenRAN is gaining significant momentum.

However, the outlook is more complicated for SD-WAN architectures; half of UK workplaces are now questioning the need for it, according to a recent survey, given the sudden switch to largely remote working by many businesses, despite the many benefits in network security and latency afforded by SD-WAN.
The new era of smartphones
Lockdown has led to the cancellation and postponing of many launch events and industry shows, chief among them MWC 2020 in Barcelona. This disruption to events is likely to continue well into 2021, with January’s Consumer Electronics Show already moving to an online format, promising virtual guests a “new immersive experience” far from its usual Las Vegas venue.

A number of device launches and announcements from Samsung, Xiaomi, Motorola and others have also been delayed or scaled down; Apple made its Worldwide Developer Conference an online-only event, launching iOS 14 among other announcements, while Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Z Fold 2 at a virtual Galaxy Unpacked event.

Nevertheless, the hype around folding phones continues, with leaked documents suggesting that Google is now planning a folding iteration of its Pixel phone, but the long-rumoured folding iPhone is still yet to surface, with the launch of the iPhone 12 also delayed from its expected September release date.

Virtual and Augmented Reality
Perhaps the big winner of these past few months is VR/AR as government social distancing policies and the closure of public entertainment venues have invigorated the market for virtual experiences, particularly those driven by virtual and augmented reality, catering to all manner of tastes and interests.

VR has enjoyed a boost in the early months of 2020, following the release of Valve’s killer app, the hotly anticipated video game Half Life: Alyx, which has added 1 million VR users to Valve’s proprietary distribution platform, Steam.

In July, hip-hop star Nelly celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the release of his debut album with a virtual reality performance broadcast via MelodyVR - a virtual reality concert streaming service that recently signed a deal with Live Nation UK to deliver live music performances.

Meanwhile, Heimspiel, a German media company, launched its theatre@home venture, allowing users to view plays and ballet performances through their headsets (or a rented pair via a partnership with rapid delivery service Boxbote). Though the Royal Shakespeare Company intended for 2020 to be the launch year for an ambitious immersive theatre programme, the institution is now facing a drastically reduced income and furloughed workforce, putting this scheme at risk.

And finally, Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority turned to VR during the lockdown to train its tram drivers, while medical students at the National University of Singapore have been learning about patient safety and operating theatre procedures via VR headset. In fact, training delivered by VR has been found to increase knowledge retention and boost test scores.

No matter how this year turns out, here at Cerillion we continue to support telcos around the world with our Enterprise BSS/OSS suite and have been successfully delivering mission-critical projects throughout lockdown. Get in touch to find out what Cerillion’s software can do for your business in these ever-changing times.

About the author

Adam Hughes


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