Interview

Ericsson: Preparing for the future of communication

In the widening universe of communication services, contextual awareness will be increasingly important. Operator offerings need to be flexible enough to adapt to various contexts, and operators will need to provide platforms for communication solutions, rather than individual communication services.

THE INTERNET CHALLENGE

The form and function of modern communication are shifting and expanding at an ever-increasing rate. Thanks to the internet and mobile broadband, people are communicating more than ever and in more ways than ever. Person-to-person communication is spreading into any context that can benefit from it.

This whirlwind of transformation and innovation poses a potent challenge for telecom operators, as it threatens to weaken their relationships with consumers and diminish the revenue generated by their telephony businesses. It is indisputable that telecommunications is being fundamentally disrupted by services that have quickly adopted — and adapted — new internet technologies.

But disruption also means opportunity. In total, consumers are spending more money on telecom than ever. Communication and connectivity are indispensable in a wide range of new vertical solutions, from media to health, utilities to transportation, and agriculture to government. As internet-based communication services evolve, it will not be enough to offer appealing devices, service innovation and low prices. Reliability, availability and privacy will become more relevant for consumers and enterprises as they select a service provider.

This feature presents some insights into a future shaped by simultaneous paradigm shifts in technology, society and business. Possible future movements are described for three communication solutions market segments — consumer, enterprise and in-process.

The shifts described will have a profound impact on the way people communicate, the technologies they use, and how service offerings will evolve. Improving understanding of the needs in this future market will give all of its players a glimpse of the future of communication.

A CHANGING WORLD

Technology — openness spurs innovation

The common denominator for innovative technology in the digital age is openness. An open technology is one with the capability for constant improvement and evolution through community-based involvement and knowledge sharing. Open-source software, for example, makes source code available to everyone, rather than just the copyright holders.

The use of open and free-of-charge technologies lowers the threshold for innovation and speeds up time to market. Open, programmable devices can create mass-market uptake from day one, with the internet as a tailored and efficient market channel. With such a model, companies — whether big or small — no longer need the resources of large enterprises, such as global telecommunications companies, to construct a new communication service.

Taken together, openness, IP connectivity, the web platform and now, voice and video as inherent features of the web creates a technological paradigm-shift for how to design, implement and share new communication services. It is clear that this will, or has already started to, transform our industry.

Society — digital personas and contextual awareness

Increasingly powerful mobile devices have the ability to run several apps, where each one may represent a different communication service. The physical identity of a person can be represented online as multiple digital identities, or digital personas. The individual decides which persona he or she wants to use in a particular communication context. The digital persona allows the individual to tailor his or her appearance according to role and context — whether it is that of a patient in a health provider dialog, a customer in a support call, or an authority on 20th-century classical music in a forum for aficionados.

Giving individuals the ability to control the way they are represented in various communication scenarios should be seen as a shift in the balance of power, away from the larger units of society — corporate, government and social. Individuals can decide how to communicate in a given context by choosing a particular service, platform and digital persona. The era in which one communication solution could address all communication needs is already long gone.

The behaviour of younger people clearly reflects these trends. The younger generation is characterized by a strong emphasis on creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Young people bring their need for communication that is unlimited, flexible in usage and multifaceted in function into both their private lives and workplaces. This generation uses the internet as a natural meeting place, communicating in a way that varies according to the digital persona use case and the context.

This shift of power toward the individual user has a significant consequence — the communication application logic to find and establish a connection to a particular digital persona is not automatically tied to one single representation of the physical person, such as a phone number or an e-mail address. In the future, there will be various ways to find people and connect with them — again, depending on the context in which the communication will take place.

Context should be understood in a very broad sense, incorporating both work processes and personal social interactions. Context may also take the device used into consideration, as well as alternate data sources — such as intelligent machines in an individual’s immediate surroundings. Contextual awareness is a core aspect in the design of future communication solutions.

Ericsson believes that these insights will shape the communication strategies of the future.

 Business — opportunity out of change

The business of communication services is evolving rapidly. Revenue generated by telephony is stagnating and the transition to IP-based telecom service environments continues. When it comes to pure telephony services, this evolution is happening fairly quickly, but still not quite fast enough to be labeled as a clear multimedia service innovation.

Users, rather than those offering communication services, are increasingly driving innovation. Such innovation drivers include the search for new social interactions, improvement of a given business process or enrichment of a media experience ““ as in the case of voice in gaming. Today, basically all of the innovation involved in creating the communication services of the future is happening outside the telecom domain. While communication services still contribute the majority of the total revenue in the telecom industry, the trend is clear: the ability to charge for basic telephony is declining, at various rates from one market to the next. With this in mind, the question arises: what are the growth opportunities in the area of communication services ““ is their inherent value being diminished?

 The answer to this question is probably both yes and no:

“¢ yes — weakening telephony revenues and growth through new subscriptions alone are clear indicators of a mature market that is experiencing margin pressure. Smartphone technology, open software, democratization of knowledge and proliferation of both mobile and fixed broadband all enable anyone with good enough programming skills to create a basic communication service. While such a service cannot replace a highly efficient telephony service with global reach, it can provide users with an alternative means of communicating in certain contexts ““ resulting in a new competitive situation for the individual operator as well as for the industry as a whole;

“¢ no — the same paradigm shifts that enable the small developer to create a basic communication service also create new ways to evolve communication solutions far beyond traditional telephony. The ability to integrate communication within the business process to increase efficiency, customize cost-saving solutions or tailor services to meet individual needs in a range of different contexts — all of these opportunities, and many more, can be addressed in new ways.

WHERE THE FUTURE LIES

Looking ahead, the scope of communication services will be much broader. The norm will be to communicate using a range of devices and connections where applications will be decoupled from access. Traditional communication verticals such as telephony and video conferencing will continue to exist as profitable businesses, but it is probable that growth will come in the area of customized communication solutions for the non-traditional communication needs of enterprises and government agencies. This growth is more likely to come from communication as an application or as a feature within applications developed for a specific social or business need, rather than from vertically integrated solutions.

To maximize these opportunities, the context in which a communication solution will operate needs to be understood. The demands on future solutions will stem from their context ““ including characteristics such as the task they are designed to do, the communication modes required to make them work, and the security model and deployment characteristics required. This implies that operator offerings need to be flexible enough to adapt to various contexts and that operators will need to provide platforms for communication solutions, rather than individual communication services.

Consumers

For the consumer market, the key criteria for any communications infrastructure will most likely be low cost, ease of use and the bundling of access offerings. Communication will be seen as a valueadded service over mobile broadband rather than a core service. The ability to charge for consumeroriented communication services is likely to decline gradually over time. So, solutions must be cost-efficient, and communications technologies must provide the right platform for a service without overshooting market needs or consumer willingness to pay.

Selected enhancements, such as high-quality video and audio communication, sold with customized billing plans, may help to maintain and even drive usage. However, any such enhancements need to be extremely market-oriented and must be developed and deployed quickly. Any enhancements beyond telephony will compete with internet-based services, and as such will need to provide clear added value if more money is to be charged for them.

 Enterprise

The future of enterprise communication — defined for the purposes of this paper as internal enterprise communication within professional office environments — will be intimately connected with sustainability, increased workforce efficiency and the new communication requirements of a younger, more-connected workforce.

Large enterprises with in-house technology competence may consider designing customized communication solutions together with a communications provider. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME s) may find it more beneficial to use pre-packaged standardized communication-services solutions, possibly enhanced with generic collaboration add-ons.

To succeed with both large and small businesses, communication providers will need to focus on innovation, sell services before systems, and be able to manage change and customization effortlessly.

From an enterprise perspective, communication will no longer be a cost, but rather a tool for increased efficiency.

The line between work and personal communication, driven partly by the massive uptake of — and love for — smartphones, is becoming blurred. Already, people use and want to be able to use the same communication tools at all times — during and outside of normal working hours — where social networks are not limited to the private sphere.

Opportunities in the enterprise segment will continue to include traditional vertical services such as video conferencing, but the major enterprise opportunity most likely lies in integrating customized communication solutions within enterprise information systems and extending solutions to increase efficiency.

 In-process communication

The third area for review is relevant to both consumers and businesses. When looking for growth opportunities beyond the traditional communication services, it will be necessary to expand into verticals beyond the telecommunications and ICT industries ““potential candidates include utilities, transportation and health services.

In-process oriented communication will add new communication enablers to services offered by the ICT industry. The greatest opportunities for telecom companies will likely be in service integration and service-component provision. Simplicity, speed and performance will be the key aspects of the value proposition.

A number of key points should be taken into account when planning to address opportunities in this area: technology choices should be based on scale, ease-of-integration, time-to-market and adaptability to customer needs and prerequisites; one size does not fit all. One solution might incorporate screens from other verticals, as is the case for a car dashboard. Another solution might be machine-to-person or machine-to-machine. And a third could become a smartphone icon. Some of the basic technology components will be reused in many solutions, but generally solutions are likely to be quite specialized, regional and even local, adapted to each customer’s specific — and evolving — communication needs; communication service providers are well positioned to understand the pain points of a consumer or an enterprise when it comes to service integration, which should enable them to lead the market in delivering efficient end-to-end solutions, including devices and clients; trust, security and reliability will be a competitive advantage for offerings from access owners. But solutions will need to be secured all the way to the end point.

To address opportunities in the area of in-process communication, operators will likely need to change their traditional development and standardization processes. Instead of scrupulously following telecom system standards developed for planned mass-market services, operators should focus on their enterprise branches and adapt de facto ways of working. Communication services will evolve into a means or a tool for conducting business, stretching well beyond what they have historically been. Just like consumers, businesses will have a range of competitive solutions to choose from. The solution that best meets the customer’s requirements and best fits the customer’s context will be the one that is selected.

CASE FOR BETTER SOLUTIONS

The need for more efficient solutions for health care, as well as welfare and education, has been clearly identified. In the future, an aging population will place significantly higher demands on health-care providers. New technologies and communication services will play an important role in meeting these requirements.

Consider a scenario in which a person suffering symptoms related to some disease or illness calls a health-care support line — be it private, provided by the government or even an international consortium. The health-care professional who first receives the call — made using a regular telephone or mobile or via a website enabled with real-time communication — enters the caller’s information and symptoms into a system that matches them against a medical database, with the possible addition of information from previous consultations and other medical history. The customized find-and-connect mechanism will route the voice call to the most suitable specialist for the consultation. Upon receiving the call, the assigned health-care specialist can upgrade the voice call to a video session to — literally — get a better view of the patient and his or her symptoms and recommend a course of action: a face to- face consultation, a referral to a specialist clinic, or an x-ray. A specialist could open the call up to other specialists for a second opinion or even hand off the consultation to another specialist. Subsequently, a customized health app could support the patient by enabling remote consultations, enriched with sensor data — weight, heart rate, and glucose and oxygen levels in the patient’s bloodstream. The health app would create a secure, trusted, remote session whenever required, reducing the number of face-to-face consultations, the spread of contagious illnesses and the need for sick people to travel. Such an app could be customized to meet the needs of the particular patient’s context, and would become the channel for subsequent communication between the patient and the health-care provider.

In this simple example, the communication solution would have to meet the requirements of the process owner at the health-care provider as well as the participants: the patient and the heath-care professionals. The communication solution would need to be reliable and secure, as the find-and connect mechanism would have access to patient records, medical-specialist competence profiles, as well as other confidential information — including the patient’s identity.

Depending on the technological maturity of the health-care system and regulatory requirements, a cloud solution or a delivered software license might be required. As the communication solution would need to be contextually aware, it would also need to be flexible, easily integrated and support a range of deployment alternatives.

MEET THE NETWORKED SOCIETY

Over the past two decades, multiple shifts in society and technological developments have taken place. Society has witnessed individualization, globalization and the evolution, or almost revolution, of the web — particularly in relation to how people communicate.

This rate of change can be daunting, to say the least. However, radical change often creates opportunities as well as risks. Now is the time to try out new things and develop the ability to adapt to a radically new business environment. In this context, all operators in the communication market need to develop a strategy to manage these changes and embrace the Networked Society — in which everything that could benefit from being connected will be connected.

Meeting future communication needs — both broad and highly specialized — will require solutions that can evolve and adapt to customer requirements. Future communication strategies must take into account the likely impact of this paradigm shift on telecom operators’ brands, finance, competences and technologies. Broadly speaking, a future communication strategy might propose that operators: innovate with functional enhancements such as HD-quality video services, within traditional communications services, while at the same time rationalizing and cutting service-delivery costs; explore the possibility of innovation through better utilization of internet technologies by leveraging existing network capabilities and business relationships; tailor enhancements to communication services toward customer requirements using technology that can integrate in a flexible manner with new delivery and business models; focus business development on a set of enterprise segments, business processes or functional areas, the choice of which depends on market structure, business and partner relationships, and go-to-market model; leverage assets from traditional telecom — such as scale, benefits in transport and computing, and relationships between carriers — to create new partnerships.

In short, the strategy should focus on providing customized solutions that solve problems and meet enterprise and society’s needs for increased efficiency. When communication becomes integrated as an essential tool for efficiency, its value will be determined by the problem it is helping to solve — for example, a security system in relation to the value it safeguards.

One of the greatest challenges facing operators is determining the optimum rate of transformation — one that allows them to maintain and maximize profitable business sectors while reinvigorating sectors that are languishing. This optimum rate will vary from one operator to the next and will depend on a variety of factors. This is a challenge that must be considered carefully, yet without delay.

Moving into the Networked Society will require a transformation in many of the core telecom areas. Connecting everything that can benefit from being connected — including by enabling person-to-person communication in any context that will benefit from it — holds great promise for the telecom industry. The companies best suited to grasp these new opportunities will be those that embrace change as an opportunity and shape their technologies, offerings and delivery models to meet future needs.

Previous ArticleNext Article