Predictions for the digital transformation of mobile telecom management in 2018

If you thought 2017 was the year of digital transformation in the mobile telecommunications industry, just wait until next year.

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Martyn Williams

If you thought 2017 was the year of digital transformation in the mobile telecommunications industry, just wait until next year.

During the past year we have seen increasing pressure to reduce or eliminate international roaming charges by the cellular carriers; more sophisticated cyber threats, even against Wi-Fi networks, and a general re-thinking of the cost-benefit equation in BYOD (bring your own device) mobile policies.

Here are some predictions of what mobile telecom managers may expect in 2018:

Further shifts away from BYOD

Because of increasing cyber security concerns with mobile devices, apps and operating systems, expect to see organizations rethinking BYOD on a stepped-up basis. BYOD is already evolving into “BYOX” (bring your own anything) practice in many places. But with unsanctioned devices, unvetted apps, new and untested IoT (Internet of Things) add-ons, organizations and IT managers will feel even more vulnerable to cyber threats. The more employees access the enterprise through mobile, the more instance of malware and security threats there will be.

Beyond security concerns, there are going to be fewer purchase subsidies provided by carriers, so BYOD might not be the most cost-effective choice for enterprises.

Complicated data plans remain complicated

Likewise, while unlimited data plans are the norm for consumers, the enterprise side is still complicated.  Most companies that buy unlimited plans are paying more than those who pool their data. In fact, most corporate users don’t even consume that much data on corporate devices, especially for companies using enterprise mobile management (EMM). For this reason, carriers may begin promoting unlimited enterprise data plans knowing that many companies will end up overbuying. Likewise, the overage fees on limited plans are miniscule. So, while unlimited might seem tempting on the enterprise side, it might not make the most business sense. 

Apple versus the rest of the enterprise

The average selling price for mobile phones continues to rise. In the U.S., early-adopters will continue to pay a premium for the “must have” phones and tablets from Apple, which can maintain its pricing power. But in the rest of the world, there is an overall trend toward lower prices for mobile hardware. In Asia-Pacific and India there are very few companies that offer mobile devices to their employees, who nonetheless are expected to use their personal devices on the job. When you consider that the average monthly salary roughly equals the cost of a new iPhone, worldwide users are going to look at less expensive vendors including HUAWEI (No. 1 in China), Xiaomi (No. 1 in India), and Oppa (biggest growth).

We will also see a continued rise in sales of previous-gen and certified pre-owned (CPO) premium devices as new releases are proving iterative improvements on older models that already offer the mission-critical business capabilities. Expect to see the $1k+ range of devices reserved for key-execs and reward plays.

Software defined networking (SDN) will pressure core networks

More enterprises will consider and adopt SDN in 2018, replacing parts of their core networks. Companies on an SDN path will develop plans that look at both the hardware and network circuit costs – and will find that they don’t have all the data they need to make accurate decisions based on current costs. Companies that implement SDN in the near term will not adequately achieve their ROI goals initially because they will not be able to disconnect all the current data circuits. In some cases, companies could be paying for obsolete technology that they are no longer using as part of the transformed network. But security concerns of the vulnerability of the data in transit over the public internet will cause some companies to take a wait and see approach to moving forward with SDN.

The benefits of SDN include higher speeds more app agility (apps that require higher performance can now be implemented at a higher reliability level); organizations with many locations can benefit from SDN because it is much easier to remove and add connections with software instead of the old manual way; cost reduction in the form of bandwidth savings (compared to traditional MPLS), and higher network security

M&A activity will continue in mobile telecom

Despite the recent collapse of talks to merge Sprint and T-Mobile, expect to see a major carrier partnering with a major cloud services provider such as Amazon or Microsoft in 2018. Keep an eye on Sprint as it has the most spectrums to enable a 5G network. For this reason, the industry could see a partnership with a cable company, like Comcast.

Further erosion of net neutrality

The chairman of the FCC recently vowed to end the previous administration’s position on net neutrality, and a political fight will surely ensue in the next year. Expect to see cable and mobile provider jockeying for positions to benefit from increased pricing options should the old net neutrality policies disappear.

New telecom expense paradigms

With more subscription-based billing, telecom expense management (TEM) providers will have to adapt to new carrier paradigms and expense types to maintain and grow business. Traditional expense categories such as telecom are changing. Thus, traditional expense providers are being challenged to provide more accuracy with assets.

No “game-changing” developments in 2018

Despite what a lot of the OEMs, carriers, and service providers might be telling you, I wouldn’t expect any ground-breaking (or “game-changing”) developments, at least on the device, expense and services side. I can’t predict what might happen on the regulatory side though, so organizations should look for ways to hedge their bets if they are looking for high bandwidth in 2018.

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