2019 will be reflected upon as ‘the year of 5G’, but even more developments and deployments are expected in 2020 and beyond. We’ve seen consistent growth in LTE roaming across our global network and expect to see more 5G services added to the mix next year, as operators and businesses seek reliable, global connectivity for people, applications and things.
Of course, roaming services are just one part of BICS’ business. We also provide anti-fraud solutions, as well as enabling international voice and messaging, cloud communications, mobile data and global IoT services. As such, we’ve gazed into our metaphorical crystal ball and summoned our 2020 industry predictions from across the BICS business.
Operators focus on monetising 5G
It was almost a year ago that we reported 95% growth in 4G/LTE roaming traffic across our global network – nearly double that of 2017. And it’s hardly surprising; a few years ago Gartner predicted that by 2020, there’d be a massive 20 billion connected devices in circulation. This estimate will likely prove pretty accurate as we progress through the year, and more businesses realise the benefits of global IoT connectivity.
To connect these IoT sensors, machines and things in the coming years we’ll need the kind of high-volume, high-density support that only 5G can offer. While there was much hype around 5G launches during 2019, many of these services were limited to select areas and select subscribers. What we’ll need in 2020 is a focus on monetising 5G, to enable operators to deploy the cross-border, next-generation services which will support the IoT and – crucially – support new revenue streams and deliver sufficient ROI.
Entry-level handsets enter African mainstream
For Africa’s telecoms market – and its broader digital economy – to continue to evolve, we need to see smartphones and connected devices more accessible to more end-users. In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile penetration stands at 44%, which is below the global rate of 66%, according to the GSMA.
It’s expected that 3G connections will have overtaken 2G during 2019, but market growth will stall unless handsets are accessible to the broader African population. Chinese manufacturer Transsion will continue to vie for market dominance in 2020, offering affordable and region-specific phones to cities and rural areas of the continent.
However, in the coming years, we expect to see more African-based operators and manufacturers play a role too, following in the footsteps of the likes of Mara. The company launched Mara X and Mara Z in 2019 – both high-quality, affordable handsets, manufactured in Rwanda. Moves such as this allow African businesses and entrepreneurs to benefit both from the continent’s raw resources (which are integral components in many devices) and its evolving telecoms infrastructure.
An increase in smartphone penetration across African will also drive demand for roaming services, which will enable those travelling to and throughout African countries to access the same quality of service as they do in their home country. A more connected continent will, in turn, help to attract investment in Africa’s expanding IoT and telecoms sector, as well as encouraging competition among new global players keen to capitalise on its digital economy.
Operators face a double threat to network security
In 2020, a growing number of operators will be tackling a dual-threat, from traditional telecoms fraud activity and cyber-attacks on their networks. The latter include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involve hackers – or, increasingly, state actors – flooding a network with simulated traffic and causing web properties to crash.
This new and evolving threat landscape will pose significant challenges, but will also create opportunities for service providers to launch new value-added security propositions. To provide robust security – and protect operators’ networks, subscribers, and profits – we’ll see the emergence of a new kind of solution to the market, which combines legacy telecoms-specific fraud features with cybersecurity approaches, such as pen-testing.
Fraud and threats to security will continue through 2020 and beyond. However, operators can mitigate incidents by continuing to collaborate with other parties from across the industry. Expect to see further work from the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum, including its annual fraud report, in 2020.
Globalisation means virtualisation and cloud communications
Reliable international communications remains a core part of successful business development, but starting or expanding a company is costly. Brexit and the China-US trade war loomed large in 2019, causing uncertainty regarding the global mobility of people and things. However, in 2020 we’ll see a renewed focus on the importance of globalisation for businesses, including the impact this can have on the service provider/end-user experience.
Where do communications come into play? Companies wanting to extend their customer services reach – for example, establishing a local presence in a new territory – would traditionally have had to undertake costly and complex processes. These include setting up physical telecoms infrastructure in the new region, establishing relationships with local partners, and ensuring compliance with local regulations and licensing requirements.
To ensure businesses can scale quickly and cost-effectively, we’ll therefore see a growth in the number opting for a virtual, cloud-based approach to communications and telephone number allocation, rather than physical infrastructure and cumbersome hardware. The market for cloud-based unified communications as a service is well established in the United States, and in 2020 we’ll see increasing adoption of such services in other global regions, as businesses realise the benefits of this flexible, scalable model.
The need for collaboration will bridge the telco/digital divide
The idea of digital service providers and operators as fiercely competing forces will tail off in 2020. Instead, this attitude will be replaced by the realisation that collaboration between the two is the only route to success.
Digital players offering apps and digital services will rely on interoperability between their apps and the network infrastructure supporting them. The market for API tools for cost-effective global messaging, fraud prevention and authentication solutions will therefore increase through 2020, to bridge the gap between the telecom market and new DSPs.
Protecting revenues can no longer be about merely fending off the competition. Instead, the industry – plus vertical markets – must collaborate and actively find ways of adding value, to both their business and their end-users. The result? Operators can unlock the benefits of a truly connected world, whether that’s through launching IoT propositions and creating new revenue streams, or launching next-generation communications services via the cloud.
Unfortunately, BICS doesn’t have a crystal ball. However, what we do have is experience and expertise in enabling global connectivity, a network of hundreds of operators and partners, and an unrivalled insight into the multi-faceted telecoms industry – which puts us in a pretty good position to predict a year of change, prosperity and an ever-connected global ecosystem.