Consumers want digital products and services faster than ever. They want to stream live events to their mobile devices, video call and buy things online in the moment of need. They want instant gratification.
But spare a thought for the infrastructure that makes it all happen, it’s a massive operation. Communications enabler, BICS, is just one of the companies that has architected the digital age. Through fibre, submarine cables and satellites, it directly connects over 700 mobile operators and 500 digital service providers (DSPs) to provide voice, data, IoT, anti-fraud, roaming, cloud communications and business intelligence solutions all over the world.
We caught up with Mikael Schachne BICS’ VP of Mobility and IoT to talk through the issues and opportunities associated with the huge task of meeting the data-demand.
What have been the major changes in mobile network provision in the last five years?
We’ve seen tremendous growth in the volume of mobile roaming traffic – which is indicative of a number of changes in the global telecoms landscape. 4G/LTE roaming traffic across BICS’ network grew by over 95% in 2018, which is almost double that of 2017. This continues a similar pattern of growth we saw in previous years – and one which is set to continue.
In 2014, there were only 70 operators which had deployed 4G/LTE services, and by 2018 this had leapt to 610. The demand for data shows no sign of slowing, making infrastructure upgrades a necessity for operators. The boom in broadband services and growth of the global IoT have driven investment in mobile architectures on a global scale.
And, as populations are travelling more (either for leisure, business or as a result of displacement), more of us are demanding the same kind of high-quality, reliable data services abroad as we do at home.
One of the most significant changes in the last five years – in the Western hemisphere at least – has been the introduction of the EU’s Roam Like at Home legislation. This has driven even greater mobility of people and things, and will help pave the way for the growth of new, connected, low-cost, and international IoT business propositions.
Finally, the desire for data and OTT services has meant the arrival of digital service providers into the telecoms market, disrupting the sector and causing concern among many traditional telcos.
Will consumer requirement of more bandwidth for more mobile services outstrip network capacity?
Operators must continue to invest in network upgrades to handle demand. However, consumers are expecting data at ever-lower prices, which has seriously disrupted operators’ traditional business model. In order to support investment in network infrastructure, operators are therefore seeking to unlock new revenue streams.
These include providing M2M connectivity for the industrial IoT, as well as monetising their existing customer base by creating tailored services and packages, informed by data analytics.
What is accelerating this consumer demand?
It’s probably a result of our desire for instant gratification! We want services, products and solutions to problems, faster and cheaper than ever. We want to stream live sports events on our mobiles, we want to browse and buy seamlessly online, and we want to video call our friends and families based in every corner of the world – whenever and wherever we want.
Video in particular, is a major factor contributing to this data surge – the medium dominates internet streaming traffic, and will likely hit 80% in the next year or so.
Is reliability and security at stake?
There are security risks within every industry, and telecoms is no different. Telecoms fraud has been a problem for many years, and continues to impact both the telco community and subscribers. As digital communications services have gained popularity with consumers, so too have they gained popularity among criminals as a means of committing telecoms fraud. OTT players carry and generate voice traffic – meaning they’re also subject to fraud. Compounding this is the fact that many of these organisations are relevant newcomers in the comms space, and are less experienced in handling international traffic, and thus mitigating fraud.
Recent data from our FraudGuard solution showed that the UK is, unfortunately, the world’s biggest target for fraudulent voice traffic. However, FraudGuard also blocked 25 million of those fraudulent calls (15% of the world’s total!) which were aimed at the country.
How should mobile operators address this need?
Operators should adopt robust anti-fraud tools, and come together as an industry to share intelligence and expertise. FraudGuard, for instance, is based on a crowd-sourcing model, which allows operators to report incidences of suspicious and fraudulent traffic on their networks, alerting the wider industry and helping to build more secure networks in the future.
BICS is also part of a number of industry bodies, including the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum Fraud Working Group – which is chaired by our CEO Daniel Kurgan. Anyone in the industry can fall victim to telecoms fraud, so instead of playing down or being reluctant to talk about the issue, we should come together to form a united front against fraud.
P2P messaging has seen consumers fall out of love with SMS, favouring OTT apps. Will RCS bring it back to mobile operators?
There’s potential for RCS to emerge as an alternative to OTT messaging apps, demonstrating that messaging is far from dead! And I say ‘alternative’ as opposed to ‘rival’, as I think RCS will be used for a different purpose, and offer operators a different kind of opportunity to OTT messaging apps.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and operators shouldn’t expect instant returns and immediate revenue boosts from RCS. RCS offers an opportunity for operators to evolve their messaging business while allowing SMS interoperability. In the mid-to-long term we could see a phasing out of SMS in favour of RCS in some markets.
OTT providers like WhatsApp are moving into enterprise messaging, what is their appeal over RCS and SMS?
WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Viber and the like are great for sharing images and videos with friends, or for groups and communities to exchange messages. They may be moving into enterprise messaging but I disagree that they’re more appealing to businesses than RCS and SMS.
RCS doesn’t have to be downloaded as an additional app on a consumer’s phone, but provides the same kind of interaction and multimedia-sharing capabilities. As such, we could see RCS emerge as a means for businesses to engage with consumers – a frictionless alternative to having to download multiple apps for every brand you interact with.
Booking hotel rooms, making payments, live updates on deliveries – all with rich graphics and two-way messaging – offer a new opportunity for B2C comms, and for operators of course.
How and in what order of magnitude will IoT increase demand on mobile networks?
Exponentially! Ericsson recently updated its mobility forecast, and predicts that there will be a staggering 22.3 billion IoT connections by 2024. Mobile networks will be strained by this demand, however, existing LTE infrastructure is capable of supporting the IoT of today and the near future. 5G and 4G networks will co-exist for a very long time, especially for IoT. This will give operators and businesses time to develop strong use cases to guarantee strong returns on the investment needed to make the IoT of the future a success.
Also important to the success of the IoT is Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M. The low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies are specifically developed for IoT devices (think asset monitoring, utilities metres, and remote tracking) as these generally only receive and transmit small amounts of data, but do so over long periods of time.
BICS is also preparing itself for the global roll-out of these new cellular technologies and working with mobile operators around the world to launch services on a global scale. We’re aiming to enable seamless connectivity for millions of ‘things’ and support an array of applications and use-cases across a broad range of vertical sectors.
What services are likely to be deployed as IoT rolls out under 4G LTE and 5G?
I expect to see rapid advances in the IoT space, as technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and predictive maintenance will all arguably have the biggest impact on industrial sectors. Mining, utilities, agriculture and manufacturing, for example, will all benefit from operational efficiencies, higher yields, less waste, better worker safety, reduced operational costs and – crucially for them, bigger profits.
We’re also seeing some socio-economic arise from IoT services, such as remote patient monitoring in countries where access to healthcare is limited, or complicated. Whichever sector and whichever purpose an IoT service has, they all share one commonality: the need for reliable, consistent, global connectivity.
What’s next for BICS?
BICS has an extensive network of partners across the world. These include not only operators, but also digital service providers, IoT experts, technology vendors, and more. We’ll continue to forge new relationships and partners across the telecoms and vertical industries, to help further digital transformation and guarantee global connectivity for all.
A regular at all of the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress events, it’ll come as little surprise that BICS will be at MWC19 LA in October, followed swiftly by AfricaCom in November. Of course, these are but two of the many events we attend throughout the year, which offer the perfect opportunity to meet with customers and partners, discuss the latest telecoms trends, and reveal exciting news of our own. Watch this space!
Finally, BICS scooped another world-first earlier this month when we established the world’s first intercontinental live 5G data roaming service between Swiss operator Swisscom and South Korean carrier SK Telecom. This marked a major milestone on the road to establishing 5G roaming across the globe, and I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming months.
Mikael Schachne VP of Mobility and IoT, BICS