2066 respondents from 152 countries contributed to the results of this year’s Global Telecoms Intelligence Industry Survey. The report is presented in several sections. Here’s the gist of what they have to say:

Section 1: A Challenging View

The survey began by asking telecoms operators to identify the biggest challenges they currently face, and those likely to give most concern in the year ahead. The heightening pressure of competition between operators was cited as a major worry by 64% of the respondents. Pressures are being exacerbated by the rise of over the top or OTT telecoms service providers, whose activities are eating into profits for both communications provision and the streaming of media and entertainment. And with the growth of LTE (Long-Term Evolution; a standard for high-speed mobile broadband communications) technologies, the rising cost of investment in infrastructure plays into their concern. In proactive terms, improving the quality of networks and increasing coverage were seen as vital to gaining a competitive edge. Network sharing was highlighted as a means to improve coverage while benefiting customers, especially for smaller-scale providers.

Section 2: BSS Systems: Better? Service? Sales?

Business support systems (BSS) are seen by telecoms operators as crucial in enabling them to customise, deliver, and monitor the services they provide to consumers. BSS is key to developing new products, and managing the relationship between customers and providers. Over half of the respondents declared an intent to purchase Customer Management solutions as part of their BSS package this year. Self Service modules – which make automated responses to customer queries viable – were also high on their wish lists. To generate new revenue, 67% of respondents are looking to bundled offers like music and video – sourced from third-party suppliers with specialist libraries. This may be in partnership with OTT providers. Operators are looking to centralised catalogues, which clearly set out the product range on offer, and facilitate billing. Data-centric revenue generators like sponsored adverts are largely frowned upon. Fresh new products are preferred to rehashed old ones. Virtual BBS solutions are seen as key to this, as innovations can be deployed more rapidly.

Section 3: Going Light, on LTE?

LTE Adoption of the LTE standard and its associated technologies has been and continues to be gradual, but apparently inexorable. Its next phase, as seen by the survey’s respondents, must be to increase the spread of LTE networks, while ensuring that customers will receive sterling performance and service levels. Attaining these high standards will pose particular problems for Voice over LTE or VoLTE, especially the smooth and swift passage of data over increasingly outdated network infrastructures. Nonetheless, 4G LTE is slowly gaining momentum, with some 360 services offering LTE networks in 120 separate nations. Some 86% of those surveyed expressed an interest in LTE as a gateway to multimedia-enhanced and data-driven services that will satisfy demanding customers. LTE Advanced or LTE-A is seen as a bridging point between 4G and the inevitable upgrade to 5G networks. Performance-wise, though data throughput and transfer speeds ranked high as indicators of LTE network performance, the effect of mingled services from OTT operators was also seen as a big determinant. With knowledgeable consumers dictating market trends, the automated management and maintenance of LTE by self-optimising networks or SONs is fuelling investment in this area.

Section 4: The Virtual World

The design, deployment, and management of network services could be given new life by software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV; sometimes known as virtual network function or VNF). These technologies transfer formerly hardware-base network functions to virtual engines in software. Survey respondents were keen on this concept, as the technology has potential to reduce hardware costs and redundancy and to increase service delivery speeds. Service operators seemed open to the possibility of combining offerings from multiple vendors to achieve an ideal solution. The move towards virtual networks will likely be gradual, with hardware operating in tandem with NFV-based infrastructures. Around 54% of those surveyed will be conducting trial runs this year with SDN and NFV.

Section 5: Responding to Security Threats

telecoms security Telecoms networks are having to deal with increasing volumes of sensitive data from their clients and customers – information which provides a rich target for hackers and other unethical operators. Protecting this data is seen as a major challenge by 68% of the survey’s respondents. Several high-profile cases made 2014 a landmark year for data breaches, and over 30% of respondents admitted to having been the victim of fraudulent schemes and malware attacks. In response to the threat, 48% of the operators use in-house security measures, often in association with trusted vendors. Protecting cloud-based resources and securing 4G LTE networks were high on their priorities lists. Loss or theft of data from mobile devices and the growing market in mobile malware were also of concern.

Section 6: Moves to Converge

Most respondents agree that so-called multiple offerings – where telephone services, broadband, digital content, and mobile converge – are an attractive commercial proposition. OTT operators can play a role in this as partners, so long as IT processes can be harmonised between them and the telecoms providers. The harmony extends to revenue sharing, which is the preferred business model for such endeavours. Multiplay options – where telecoms services are bundled with TV, music, and digital content, with support for mobile operations – are seen as an opportunity for telecoms operators, who the respondents perceive as the principal players in this field.

Section 7: Their Own Devices

With the proliferation of smart devices and the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) comes the inevitable quest to find ways to make more money from them. As devices evolve to communicate with each other with minimal or no human intervention, this will create opportunities to develop automated systems and networks. So, machine-to-machine or M2M technologies (with the vertical applications associated with them) are likely to yield the greatest short-term gains. In the mobile device sector, Apple and Samsung are still perceived as market leaders. But growing competition is coming from Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and Xiaomi. Most other players (and indeed, mobile vendors as a whole) are seen as too dependent on subsidising handsets as a way to keep and attract customers. There was a 50:50 split between those who see handsets as the future driver of the mobile market, and those who favour the growing trend in wearable devices. The Telecoms Intelligence Survey coincided with this year’s Mobile World Congress, at a time when the industry is looking to keep pace with emerging technologies and increasingly knowledgeable and demanding consumers. We’ll see what lies in the months ahead.

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