As we close the books on 2016 and open a new chapter in wireless communications technology, we would like to take this opportunity to outline the top seven key trends that mobile operators can expect to contend with during the coming year.
1. The Trump Factor
It’s the elephant in the room. Or, perhaps more accurately, the black hole. Everyone is wondering what the Trump Presidency portends, both for the US and around the world. While this question will remain unanswered in large part for some time to come, one thing we can say is that a Trump Administration is likely to ease net neutrality rules. And this could foster innovation in the mobile industry, because as the regulatory shackles come off, network operators would be free to launch zero-rated plans. This would enable US companies to offer more unlimited services and provide consumers with better choice.
But how will net neutrality be approached in a post-Brexit Europe? Globally, other countries could be expected to replicate America’s net neutrality stance. This means that 2017 heralds an unprecedented opportunity for mobile operators globally to boldly innovate with their pricing models.
2. Fear Factor: IoT and the Internet
Is the Internet of Things (IoT) a friend or foe? 2016 saw one of the largest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to date, as the Mirai IoT botnet wreaked havoc on large parts of the net. In fact, many fear that DDoS could eventually undermine the internet completely. Although the internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack, if something infected it from within, it could be fatal… a real horror story.
The news in 2017 may be the proliferation of unsecure IoT devices opening more avenues for security attacks. Network operators will have a major role to play in this scenario, implementing accurate traffic management tools and processes to identify ‘unsafe’ network traffic and foil would-be hackers.
3. Drowning in Data
With regard to multimedia and data, consumers’ thirst for ‘faster-better-more’ is not going to be quenched anytime soon. Mobile networks are drowning in a cocktail of diverse traffic, and to make matters worse, social media content providers will continue to launch even more services in 2017. Just look at some of the developments in 2016 — WhatsApp launched video calls, YouTube started live 4K video streaming and Snapchat introduced Spectacles.
Mobile network operators have the challenging task of delivering more data while maintaining Quality of Experience (QoE) for subscribers. To manage this swelling data tsunami, mobile operators need agile, virtualized traffic management solutions to keep up with the ever-changing network protocols used in wireless communications. And they will need to adapt quickly, as the protocols and network traffic signatures they are monitoring now might not even exist by the end of 2017.
4. Reality Check: Connected Cars, Smart Homes and 5G
Industry experts vary, but it’s predicted that the IoT will encompass more than 20 billion connected devices by 2020. The possibilities for network revenue are staggering, yet some mobile operators are still not sure how they will manage or monetize all these devices. We can expect that forward-looking operators will being laying the groundwork for ‘IoT subscriber’ management in 2017, with the deployment of IoT frameworks and User Data Repositories.
Mobile operators will need to pay particularly close attention to 5G spectrum planning. This is because many of the connected cars, smart home devices and other IoT ‘things’ will have competing connectivity needs, latency requirements and different propagation characteristics. A number of operators are starting to explore network slicing technology as they prepare to build out 5G networks.
5. The Rise of the Dark Network
Currently 50 – 60% of mobile networks have gone dark. No, they haven’t gone out of business; these networks are still operating. However, increasing encryption of Over-The-Top (OTT) multimedia content has left operators with zero visibility into the data travelling on their networks. As a result, management of subscriber QoE is nearly impossible… and it is about to get worse.
With the imminent deadline of Apple’s App Transport Security (ATS) mandate, soon all iOS apps will be forced to transfer data through secure connections over HTTPS. Likewise, Google is forcing encryption on developers for sign-in pages, online ads are being encrypted and almost all the traffic flowing from YouTube is encrypted as well. As much as 80% of the data travelling on mobile networks will be encrypted in 2017. Unless operators take proactive steps now to increase visibility into encrypted traffic, be ready for more dark networks and QoE headaches.
6. Will NFV Finally Arrive?
At last, reality is catching up with the hype. After much talk and talk (and more talk), R&D trials, evaluations and proof of concept demos – Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is getting serious for operators. The proof? A significant increase in the number of RFI/RFP bids for robust, large-scale NFV projects.
Operators are looking to invest in real-time, distributed databases that deliver telco grade five nines availability. We anticipate that 2017 could be the year when networks worldwide begin to go virtual.
7. If you Can’t Beat ‘em – Buy ‘em
In the communications sector, 2016 saw its fair share of acquisitions. Some were not such a big deal; others were massive. Take for example Verizon courting Yahoo!, and AT&T’s plans to gobble Time Warner. Regardless of the size of the deal, what’s clear is that content still remains king. More operators are likely to either acquire or partner with content companies in the near future, in order to increase eyeballs and secure more subscribers.
Could 2017 be the year Netflix gets acquired… by a network operator?