As is our end of year tradition, we ask some esteemed industry spokespeople to pop on their future gazing caps and tell us what they think the biggest telecoms themes will be in 2024.
Investment in the North
The UK’s data centre market has always been London-centric. But next year, that will begin to change. Access to land and power is becoming increasingly constrained in London and surrounding areas. For example, properties in Slough, a popular spot for building data centres have gone up by 44% since 2019, and the Greater London Authority has told some developers there won’t be electrical capacity to build in certain areas of the city until 2035.
Yet data centres are vital to the UK’s digital growth. Critical services, the growth of 5G and the evolution of AI – all are reliant on having high-performance and readily available data centres. This will drive investment in new data facilities up the M1 to the North of England. From the West and hubs around Manchester and Liverpool and to the East around Tyneside, foreign direct investment into the region and an appetite to be closer to green-powered hubs in the Nordics; expect to see more and more investment here next year. This will be critical for the UK to achieve its digital ambitions.
Lee Myall, CEO, Neos Networks
‘Real’ 5G in a box
The ‘5G in a box’ market is on the cusp of significant growth and is expected to skyrocket over the next 24 months.
The advancements made to Ofcom’s Shared Access Licensing, radio development and sat-com solutions have made it a much more accessible, consumer friendly and cost-effective option than what was previously available. Couple that with its attractive market value and it’s a golden ticket for organisations looking to introduce 5G solutions in their operation.
Getting the most out of their investment will be the number one priority for businesses. The functionality of 5G in a box allows them to dip their toe into the realm of 5G without the commitment of investing in expensive carrier class solutions
There are already huge offerings from major network operators and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon, but what’s really interesting is seeing how the technology develops. The boxes seem to get smaller and lighter whilst increasing their compatibility, functionality and integration capability, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves over the next 24 months or so.
Jack Waland, Technical Programme Manager, The Scotland 5G Centre
5G will enter its transformative stage
The reality of 5G is that it has been continuously evolving. 5G’s initial deployment years from 2019 to 2023 are considered its ‘foundational phase,’ and the next stage of evolution is its ‘transformational phase’ where new concepts, technologies, use cases, and business models are being tested and built. The continuation of the 5G journey with 5G Advanced will balance technology evolution and commercial relevance in enterprise and vertical applications.
Looking ahead, we can expect 5G Advanced to continue improving coverage and capacity, data analytics, and network energy savings while also expanding vertical markets, resolving deployment issues, and supporting device evolution.
Milind Kulkarni, Vice President and Head of InterDigital’s Wireless Labs
B2B will become core to CSP strategies
In 2024, B2B will finally become core to CSP strategies. To date, a slavish focus on mass consumer markets has stifled CSP success. While the latest round of global CSP revenues reports demonstrates that B2B growth is outperforming B2C. TM Forum’s latest annual telco revenue growth report revealed that B2B revenues are growing faster than B2C: 5.6% versus 1.6%.
CSPs will experience a penny drop moment, driven in part by greater pressure to carve a path to growth while innovating faster and investing more quickly. Realisation will hit that opportunities to create value for customers are too limited in B2C. And 5G for consumer will not be enough. If necessity is the mother of invention, then pressure is the mother of reinvention.
That shift in mindset will be coupled with collaboration between CSPs going mainstream. What that will look like is a connected ecosystem of telecoms, industry and technology partners, that promotes and facilitates collaboration and co-innovation to address global B2B market opportunities. Smart CSPs will look for ways to de-risk investment, and accelerate and optimize the commercialization and go-to-market of B2B solutions. This new model that centres on a coalescence of ideas will see a global CSP network tap into insights and best practices, and grow the reach of proven solutions by opening up new market opportunities and global sales channels.
Angus Ward, CEO, Beyond Now
Open RAN faces a challenging year
Beyond continued questions on its performance and limited traction beyond greenfield networks, there is growing concern over how open Open RAN will really be. Industry sceptics point to solving interoperability challenges across hardware and software stacks, slowing down its progress and adding to implementation timelines. However, the direction of travel continues to be virtualizing network functions as they allow for greater flexibility, scalability, and cost-efficiency in network operations.
Sylwia Kechiche, Principal Analyst, Enterprise, OoKla
More groundwork for 5G and 5G SA
The global adoption of 5G is expected to remain in a holding pattern, as a result of investments not progressing as quickly as expected. However, the US is set to make strides and focus on network densification and the continued rollout of fibre, which will be crucial for reaching 5G ambitions.
We’re also likely to see a continued delay in the rollout of 5G Standalone (5G SA) networks, as a result of hardware vendor switch-outs. The industry will continue to deal with the fallout of consolidation, having transitioned from five major network equipment providers to only two or three.
In this environment, neutral hosts are set to play a key role in driving forward 5G and 5G SA rollout, gaining momentum in 2024 and early 2025.
Brendan O’Reilly, Group Chief Operating Officer, Boldyn Networks
Quantum progress but not quantum leaps
We will see adoption of post-quantum cryptography (PQC) – even before it is standardized – as a software-based approach that works with conventional systems to protect data from future quantum attacks. PQC will be adopted by browsers, operating systems, and libraries, and innovators will experiment by integrating it into protocols such as SSL/TLS 1.3 which governs classic cryptography. PQC will also start to trickle down to enterprises as they aim to ensure data security in the post-quantum world.
Another trend will be the growing importance of quantum networking which in 4 or 5 years – perhaps more – will enable quantum computers to communicate and collaborate for more scalable quantum solutions. Quantum networking will leverage quantum phenomena such as entanglement and superposition to transmit information. QKD as an alternative or a complement to PQC depending on the level of security and performance required, will also leverage quantum networking. Quantum networking will see significant new research and investment by government and financial services which have high demands for data security and processing.
Liz Centoni, Executive Vice President Chief Strategy Officer & GM, Applications at Cisco
Open RAN momentum
The industry is making a lot of progress in deploying Open RAN at scale, and 2024 will see this continue. We’ve gone through the hype cycle with Open RAN and it’s getting to a point where it’s really building momentum and being deployed at scale. There was a lot of expectation that it would reach a majority proportion [of the general market] in a few years, but it won’t be so fast. It will be slow and stable, but it will happen. There’s a lot of support, and I think the main motivation has been to drive innovation.
The problem in any industry when you get to a very small supplier base is innovation doesn’t go quite as fast as you’d like it to. So the desire is to make it more vibrant and robust in the longer term and scale to areas like enterprise and B2B opportunities. This will be a big focus area for operators now.
And I think if you look to certain operators that moved early, we see those doing greenfield able to deploy very quickly, but brownfield will take a little longer. With further innovations and investment, however, brownfield could gain momentum soon. It’s a slow burner, and traditional operators will take longer to move, but we are seeing movement.
Joe Barry, Vice President of Marketing, Systems & Technology in the Communications & Cloud Business Unit at Analog Devices
Discussions about 6G
As 6G discussions unfold in 2024, use cases are expected to centre around extended reality and metaverse applications, especially in entertainment, education, and healthcare. Concurrently, the escalating momentum within the AI/ML landscape may amplify the importance of everyday use cases, potentially leading to a proliferation of autonomous applications and devices, particularly in transportation and robotics. AI/ML advancements are positioned to make self-optimising networks technology feasible, while the proliferation of RedCap (reduced capacity devices) is expected to gain traction in both utility and popularity. Additionally, the integration of satellite communications with 6G and advanced networks is envisioned as a pivotal element in bridging connectivity gaps in remote and rural areas.
Monika Gupta, Principal Technical Architect, Amdocs
Direct-to-handset shortfalls to be overcome
Current satellite infrastructure is simply not cost-effective when supporting the high-bandwidth connectivity needed for the data services we are accustomed to on our 4G or 5G phones. Consequently, providers are focusing on messaging and emergency voice services and, in most cases, are basing these services on non-standard protocols, which don’t integrate with the current terrestrial cellular ecosystem.
However, I believe this will begin to change in 2024, with satellite operators starting to shift their focus from messaging to the deployment of a standards-based 5G NTN with ‘enhanced mobile broadband services’ for a range of use cases, including direct-to-handset. I expect to see announcements from satellite operators on the deployment of new LEO constellations based on 5G NR NTN standards, with a focus on providing global coverage for consumer direct-to-handset and home broadband services. These LEO constellations will be much closer to Earth and enable better connectivity between satellites and handsets, making direct-to-device satellite connectivity a reality. I also expect to see major handset companies announce support for 5G NR NTN services in their flagship devices. Apple has traditionally been first off the blocks in adopting new use cases, but the jury is out on whether they will take the lead on this.
Peter Kibutu, Advanced Technology Lead – NTNs, TTP
2024 will mark the start of the 6G race and counter-race
The year 2024 marks the official start of the 6G race as ITU’s WRC-23 (World Radio Conference) will identify the spectrum frequency bands to dedicate to the 6G network deployments. Academia, telecom vendors, and telecom service providers have already started examining 6G technologies. However, 2024 will be an important year of work toward standardization and subsequent commercial introduction, which Omdia expects in 2028 to 2030.
Dario Talmesio, Research Director, Service Provider, Omdia
Generative AI will reduce modernisation costs
The maturity of large language models (LLMs) offers an opportunity for CIOs to find credible and long-awaited mechanism for modernizing legacy business applications in a cost-effective manner. CIOs can create dedicated testing units to test the output generated by GenAI LLMs, while establishing change management and upskilling processes to enable the workforce to maximise productivity throughout the modernisation cycle.
Daryl Plummer, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner
Extended Reality will move on from early pilots
The market has been talking about XR and Augmented Reality (AR) for several years as a potential “killer app” for 5G. In 2024, that talk becomes reality. Look for a wave of new XR applications to hit the market, thanks to a combination of growing customer demand and newly available XR devices and network capabilities.
On the demand side, AsiaPac will initially lead the way in XR deployments. That’s partly due to the large gaming industry there, but major government initiatives in the region are also pushing XR for military and industrial applications. The rest of the world won’t be far behind, as XR applications gradually spread to other markets throughout 2024 and 2025.
Stephen Douglas, Head of Market Strategy, Spirent
Telcos will start experimenting with industry specific LLMs
In just about every conversation I have with telcos the topic of AI and generative AI is discussed. Very few have any hands-on experience of their own when it comes to generative AI, but there are some early initiatives. The Global Telco Alliance, including Deutsche Telekom, SK Telekom and others are in the early stages of training a telco specific large language model (LLM) for digital assistants in customer service. Existing LLMs are simply too generic to be of enough value to build a relevant and truly intelligent “chatbot”.
Martin Tidell, Senior Industry Consultant Telecommunications EMEA at Teradata
FWA and FTTH will shake up the consumer connectivity landscape
Fixed Wireless Access and Fibre to the Home (FTTH) are set to take centre stage, with 5G hotspots increasingly replacing traditional cable connections to homes. This shift will lead to wireless carriers gaining ground on cable providers, driving a surge in demand for wireless backhaul solutions. Moreover, FTTH providers are expected to put pressure on traditional providers, leading to the growth of startups and the expansion of high-bandwidth connectivity into more markets.
Aaron Werley, VP, Technology at Zayo
IoT ecosystems will boost P5G and Edge adoption
The combination of IoT, Private 5G, and edge computing will enable organizations to gain real-time insights and make better decisions. With enterprises accelerating digitization efforts, more connectivity and even more devices are needed as enterprises continue to digitize their physical environments.
The edge will significantly grow in importance as enterprises need data to feed analytics platforms powered by AI/ML. Increased automation due to labor shortages, computer vision, and digital twins will be key use cases driving the need for robust edge capabilities.
Devin Yaung, Senior Vice President, Group Enterprise IoT Products and Services, NTT
The era of connected devices
The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to redefine the telecommunications landscape. With 5G and edge computing, we are expecting to see a surge in IoT applications in 2024. IoT’s potential to interconnect devices, from smart homes to industrial machinery is creating vast opportunities and with AI taking centre stage in driving intelligence in many processes and decision making, we are expecting to see an unprecedented surge in this area. IoT enables real-time data collection, streamlining of operations, predictive maintenance, and enhanced customer experiences.
Hitesh Morar, Chief Product Officer, Tecnotree
Anyone can become a ‘neo telecom’
As we look forward for the mobile industry in 2024, several shifts come into focus. At the forefront of this evolution is the dramatic reduction in the cost of entry for Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). Basically any brand who wants to be a telecom, or a “neo telecom”, can now do it more easily. The landscape is undergoing significant changes, powered by advances in Business Support Systems (BSS), favourable wholesale rates, and streamlined regulations.
Network sharing arrangements and white-label solutions are enabling MVNOs to operate at a fraction of the historical costs, creating a fertile ground for new entrants. eSIM accelerates this further. These transformative factors are converging to set the stage for an unprecedented explosion of MVNO brands. We predict that 2024 will see a slew of brands offering SIM-only deals as an extension of their existing product lines, enabled by the drastically reduced cost structures and the flexibility offered by eSIM technology. Imagine one of your current subscriptions, adding mobile to their service as a loyalty mechanic…
Kelvin Chaffer, CEO at Lifecycle Software
New tools for enterprises
Enterprises will accelerate steps to modernize their networks in order to adopt innovative new technologies, including security solutions embedded in-network to better protect data, and AI analytics tools to help run models. As enterprises in recent years have become increasingly digitized — and as workforces have become more distributed via remote working — the demands on networks have risen significantly. As enterprises look to manage and improve the performance of their networks, new tools and solutions can play an integral role. AIOps, for example, can provide immense power toward predictive analytics to proactively detect problems before they impact business health.
Paul Savill, Global Practice Lead, Network & Edge, Kyndryl
Generative AI driven field operations
Data leads to better decision making, but getting the right data at the right time is challenging. One of the core AI use cases is being able to quickly and accurately pull the data needed for big, strategic decisions around planning and network engineering; but one that’s overlooked is doing so for in-the-moment, in-the-field responses.
That will change in 2024. If a tree falls and knocks out a service tower, you have that alert, but you’re missing the additional information you need to make decisions on next steps. Do you send the tower crew who knows how to put up and take down towers? Do you need a team that can put your radios up? Do you send somebody to cut the tree? If you look at geospatial and location-based services and satellite imaging combined with LLM, you don’t have to send 20 trucks and 30 people – you’re able to send the right truck at the right moment and complete the order of operations needed in the fastest and most efficient way possible.
Phil Kippen, Industry Principal, Telecommunications at Snowflake
The year that smaller telco providers prevail
Like David and Goliath, 2024 will be the year that smaller telco providers prevail with innovative product bundles that attract a wave of new customers. We’ve already seen mobile connectivity being bundled with taxi services, food delivery subscriptions, and other daily needs apps. Unlimited data for social media apps is also a popular choice, as legacy voice and SMS continue to decline. With large telco companies distracted by fibre to the premises (FTTP) rollout, increasing regulatory pressures and security threats, the time is right for non-traditional providers to build long and strong relationships with their disruptive new services.
Harry Dougall, CFO and co-founder of Sagacity
Customer experience and AI
We are heading into an election year and facing more economic uncertainty which is worrying for consumers and will only increase the already competitive landscape the industry faces.
The speed of which the new technology has appeared has taken many by surprise and this year we have seen AI capabilities already being incorporated into the backend of many telecom services to analyse data, improve searches, and provide more comprehensive help from digital assistants and chatbots.
However I believe in 2024 we will see the full impact of generative AI and OpenAI’s ChatGPT interface who announced on the 6 November they are allowing anyone to create their own version of ChatGPT. This technology will prove a game changer to rethink customer experience; how to communicate issues with broadband, how to ease communication frustrations, build personalised relationships with new and current customer, allow customers to navigate and change their plans and ultimately reduce churn rates.
Keith Gait MBA CCXP, CEO at the Customer Experience Foundation
2024 will kick off radical efficiency and innovative AI
Telecom’s economics are unavoidable as magical revenue remain forever five years away. 2024 is when we will see the split between those operators looking for quick wins via asset sales or headcount reduction, and those that pursue radical efficiency gains by changing the fundamental operating model, augmenting people with software that automates repetitive tasks. Even with service revenue in the distance, software pads the bottom line by removing unnecessary processes and consolidating data to power advanced analytics for improved unit economic costs. This is a departure from the mental model of only choosing to benefit from generational, economic leaps made a decade at a time.
In parallel, some companies will use Gen AI to creatively optimize workflows and improve efficiency, releasing the potential of the workforce to find new and better ways to work and potentially being stunned by the results achieved. Anywhere human readable documentation is a requirement for progress is now a candidate for AI augmentation. From support to troubleshooting, release comparison to code generation for automation scripts and beyond. 2024 is the year AI goes from buzzword to gamechanger, but only for those with the vision to immediately begin reaping benefits.
Geoff Hollingworth, CMO, Rakuten Symphony