Need for Speed

The New Normal of Telecom Technology

As today’s telecom technology is evolving from faxes and flip-phones on its way to lightning-fast 5G networks, the Internet of Things, and real-time technology, telecom providers are racing to keep up with the latest innovations to meet consumer demand.

Of all industries being transformed by technology, the most turbulent must be telecommunications. Although the meaning of the T-word remains unchanged – the transmission of pictures, sound, or data over distances through radio, electronic, or optical lines – the technology behind telecom keeps advancing in ways that are non-linear and often surprising.

How did we get to where we are now (of course, only temporarily)? From the introduction of the telegraph in 1844 to the development of radio and the telephone to teletype, telex, fax machines, email, instant messaging, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), smartphones, and the fifth generation of wireless for digital cell networks known as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), and communication between billions of connected devices – it’s clearly all a search for speed.

For the world’s Top 10 telecommunication companies, each one with a market value north of $50 billion, all this in-a-blink communication by wireless and phone is big business.

Top players in Asia include state-owned China Mobile Ltd., Japan’s Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., and Chine Telecom; Vodafone Group Plc, Deutsche Telekom AG, and Telefonia S.A. in Europe; Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. are top telecoms in the United States.

In Canada, the three leaders are Rogers Communications, Telus, and BCE Inc., with cell phone companies contributing a more-than-their-share amount of $24.5 billion to the economy, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission’s Communications Monitoring Report 2019.

Tooth and nail
With major providers serving the telecommunications needs of millions of customers, companies are making massive investments into the latest technologies to grab the market.

Competition is fierce in the United States and Canada, too. Canada recently saw major phone and cable players, Rogers and Bell, ask for a government regulatory decision governing what they could charge smaller Internet Service Providers, such as TekSavvy Solutions Inc., to be overruled.

A Canadian-owned wholesale telecommunications company, TekSavvy connects its service to ‘last mile’ majors including Rogers, Cogeco Cable, Shaw and others.

Encouraging consumers to flex their muscles and demand lower Internet/cell phone prices, TekSavvy recently advised Canadians to go to www.paylesstoconnect.ca and get the ear of their local member of Parliament.

The website is vocal. “The Government told the CRTC to lower your internet and cell phone bills,” it says. “The CRTC [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] took action – internet prices dropped. Now: Big Telcos want the Government to backtrack, and hike prices instead.”

Serious speed
In an industry where technology changes in a heartbeat, telecoms big and small need to be adaptable. 2020 is already being heralded as The Year of 5G by many industry groups including worldwide professional services giant Deloitte in its 2020 Telecommunications Industry Outlook. Far from being alone in its assessment, many others, including business magazine Forbes, are calling 5G the next great thing.

Representing the latest fifth generation of wireless, 5G is faster than previous technologies. It can transmit 15 to 20 Gigabits per second (Gbps), and has a lower latency (the time it takes for this data to travel from one point to another). To put 5G into perspective, its latency is some ten times better than its 4G predecessor.

The benefits of this increased speed for businesses and everyday consumers includes much faster access to the Cloud and to programs; to files, photos and videos.

Even better, 5G will allow many more devices to be connected to the Internet at once – a great advantage as the world moves towards self-driving cars, which use sensors, cameras, radar, and laser scanners like Lidar to navigate safely; to gather instantaneous information, and update algorithms on roads, navigation, and hazards. All in real time.

Hacking raises its game
Not to be outdone by 5G, other technologies are compelling telecoms to adapt, and fast. These include over-the-top (OTT) service growth to meet the massive demand for “non-linear media” – like watching a TV program on demand, or playing a video game – Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Press Automation (RPA), Smart Cities, SD-WAN (software-defined networking in a wide area network), and likely consolidation as larger telecoms continue acquiring smaller competitors.

Unfortunately, as networks become faster and more widespread, the likelihood of cyberattacks will increase, compelling telecoms to invest even more in security. And with more corporations moving away from on-site storage to offsite Cloud computing, this likelihood seems more like a certainty.

Just last June, in 2019, Sprint – America’s fourth-largest mobile network provider – was impacted by a breach through a Samsung webpage, exposing customer accounts. In a letter send to customers following the incident, the company said that personal information “that may have been viewed” included not only the customer’s first and last name, but also their billing address and phone number, device ID, subscriber ID, account number, date the account was created, and other sensitive details, resulting in Sprint urging customers to reset their PIN.

Last year saw many other major data breaches including Facebook, numerous health agencies, the Oklahoma Department of Securities, Dunkin’ Donuts (twice in three months), the Dow Jones, Instagram, Freedom Mobile, Macy’s e-commerce website, and Disney+ streaming services.

Considering the frequency with which institutions like government agencies, hospitals, and banks are having their sensitive information exposed by hackers, this year will see telecoms working harder than ever before to safeguard this valuable data.

In its recent report, 2020 Telecommunications, media, and entertainment outlook, the Deloitte Center for Technology, Media & Telecommunications interviewed Kevin Westcott, Deloitte Vice Chairman and leader of its U.S. telecommunications, media, and entertainment practice. Westcott said that data privacy and security are among this year’s top priorities.

Citing consumer fears over identity theft including someone using their data and sustaining financial loss, Westcott said that “twenty-three percent of U.S. households were victimized by cybercrime in 2018. As a result, consumers are increasingly demanding the same level of control over their personal data that they enjoy in crafting their home entertainment experience.”

Telecommunications companies – along with media and entertainment businesses – must also endeavour to “create digital environments where people feel safe – and where brands are comfortable advertising. This is especially true in the area of social media, where several platforms are now using AI solutions in conjunction with experts to weed out spam and other offensive content.”

Smart cities
With the rise of faster 5G and the Internet of Things comes the rise of Smart Cities. According to industry insiders, 2020 will see an estimated 30 billion devices connected via IoT, a number which is predicted to soar in the next five years to 75.44 billion.

According to business platform Statistica, “The IoT, enabled by the already ubiquitous Internet technology, is the next major step in delivering Internet’s promise of making the world a connected place.”

This is really the next generation of connectivity. Just as roads and bridges bring us together, the IoT will enable us to connect to one another through mobile apps on our Smartphones and automating services, making everyday tasks such as ‘where do I find a parking space downtown?’ much faster, easier, and convenient.

And with the inevitability of driverless cars, Smart Cities will see us dropped off at our destination while autonomous vehicles find parking, later returning to take us home.

Just as 5G represents the current technology, superfast Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is already in the wings. Created to meet the demands of the billions of connected devices around the world, especially smart home devices like home security systems, Google Nest Hub, Nest WiFi, and the Ecobee SmartThermostat controlled by voice or app.

With devices changing and new connected products emerging almost daily, one thing remains certain: for the world’s telecoms to keep up, they will need to keep investing in the latest technology.

April 4, 2020, 4:32 AM EDT