From pure telco to platform player: how the telco needs to evolve

Big telecommunication satellite dish over sunset sky

The digital telco is more than just a telecommunications service provider, it’s a world-class player across several digital frontiers

The shape of the telecommunications company (telco) is changing. Today, it should be defined by digital – by the network and organisational DNA and how it leverages digital to interact with external stakeholders and customers. This digital telco is powered by connectivity and capability that extends beyond the limitations of the past toward more inclusive and dynamic service provision across multiple touchpoints. As Keoikantse Marungwana, Senior Research, and Consulting Manager, Telco & IoT Lead Sub-Saharan Africa, IDC, says, the network infrastructure of the digital telco is focused on a service-based architecture that caters to the increasingly sophisticated requirements of customer, technology and use case alike.

“The modern telco has to be capable of catering to simple voice and data delivery while equally meeting the demands of bandwidth-hungry services such as 4K streaming, augmented reality and virtual reality,” he adds. “It also has to provide customers with a network that can handle the demands of automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).”

In addition to seamless delivery of evolving services, telcos need to fully digitise network operations with AI-enabled functionality. This ensures that they can deliver real-time network visibility, predictive maintenance, self-optimisation and zero-touch provisioning alongside the rapid and dynamic allocation of resources. With this level of granular control, telcos can gather insights from customers and fundamentally transform their experiences across the network while using the insights to launch new and innovative services that are both relevant and timeous.

“The innovation lifecycle isn’t the typical one to two years, not anymore,” says Marungwana. “Digital telcos can launch products and innovations in a matter of months, if not weeks. Billing models in a digital telco are not rigid so pricing can be adapted to suit consumption patterns, usage behaviour, or, for complex enterprise deals, business use cases and end-user value.”

This shift from traditional to digital within the telco environment is directly linked to the rapid digital transformation revolution taking place across the globe. IDC predicts that 65% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) will be digitised by the end of 2022 which is a fundamental and transformative shift in terms of how business is done, how digital services are consumed, and how those services are procured. Customers across the enterprise, consumer and government segments want service providers that not only deliver digital services, but that can curate end-to-end digital service experiences that are relevant and customisable.

“Companies that lag on digital maturity will see a continuous and marked decline in their core service revenues and will start losing market share to competitors with networks that resemble digital service delivery platforms,” says Marungwana. “Companies that have digitised, automated and AI-enabled operations will gain ground on the global stage as they can actively engage with, and connect, customers to the services they want to consume. Digital transformation within this sector is closer to organisational transformation – enabling agility and dynamic responsiveness to market forces.”

The latest 2022 IDC CIO Digital Transformation survey found that 62% of CIOs identified digital capabilities as their key investment objective when it comes to preparing for future business disruptions, and this has never been more relevant than it is to the telco today. The digital telco is in a unique position to become a trusted partner that’s relied on by CIOs across all industries and that is capable of providing collaborative input and services for projects, PoCs and innovations that drive digital initiatives and solutions.

“Ecosystem players also want to deal with the digital telco when it comes to forging strategic partnerships that allow for the development of new products and services that are unique and that leverage deep industry and vertical insights,” says Marungwana.

As the global economy becomes increasingly digitised alongside the accelerated digital transformation introduced by the pandemic, customers around the world have adopted a digital-first strategy. If the telco is prepared and ready to initialise its digital-first operations and approaches, then it gains a competitive advantage. The ability to scale globally while meeting changing needs on the local stage.

“This is the future of the enterprise, the future of work and the future of ecosystems,” concludes Marungwana. “This is where the cloud-native business model that enables access to digital services, skills and revenue from anywhere in the world comes into its own. And this is where the telco stuck in traditional ruts will come to a slow end as the digital native and digital explorer takes the lead and transforms the sector and its capabilities.”