By Jon Fell, partner and telecoms expert at Pinsent Masons law firm.
The telecommunications industry is going through its biggest era of change since the introduction of mobile telephony and, put simply, telcos must adapt or die in the new "always on", data-driven world.
The days of trying to be everything to everyone have passed. Whether mobile or fixed line, telecoms companies need to concentrate on what they’re good at, offering a complete set of services to others and maximising revenue from their existing infrastructure.
These changes will take place in the context of five key trends which will dominate the telecommunications industry over the next twelve months.
Carriers will have to respond to and negotiate these trends if they wish to survive in this changing market place.
1. Coping with the data explosion
Carriers need to focus on developing their infrastructure to cope with the massive current and predicted increases in data, both through mobile devices and higher usage of technologies such as video streaming in the home.
Ensuring they have sufficient capacity will involve a combination of investment in building new infrastructure and sharing existing networks with others, as well as developing an accurate understanding of future needs.
2. Spectrum use
Carriers need to look how they can best use their spectrum and consider whether spectrum sharing strategies (where allowed) are efficient.
As spectrum comes up for auction, such as the digital dividend spectrum that is being made available in the forthcoming UK spectrum auction, the operators need to focus on the best use that can be made of it to meet traffic demands.
This may include 4G, but they will need to consider better use of existing technologies and frequencies to drive efficiency and greater capacity.
3. Mobile payments
Increasingly consumers and businesses will be using their mobile phones to pay for goods and services, both physical and virtual.
Carriers have to make a decision – do they go back to basics on being a carrier or aim to add more value in the ecosystem with a greater role, as either a facilitator, providing connectivity and services, or acting as a fully-fledged bank themselves.
4. Use of smart devices for work
More and more people are now bringing smart devices to work, which is driving a need for better security, particularly given the move to the Cloud.
Do carriers extend security through third party partnerships or put pressure on operating system and handset developers to force them to be more secure?
Either way, carriers have to take this threat seriously and decide what level of security they are going to provide to end users.
5. Regulatory changes
In the UK there is currently a review of the Electronic Communications Code and carriers need to be involved, particularly in light of regulatory pressures to grant network access and share infrastructure.
Europe-wide, regulators are looking to push down prices and ensure universal coverage, but in many cases this involves extending infrastructure to unprofitable areas, particularly where people are using lots of data.
Carriers need to decide if they concentrate on maximising efficiency in their core business or expand into other areas.
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