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Friday, December 11, 2015

Predictions for 2016: Network Function Virtualisation, 4G throttling and video calling

Mark Windle, head of marketing at OpenCloud, predicts that this year’s reduction in the number of traditional telecoms operators in some countries will provide an opportunity for other operators to innovate and capture market share in 2016. He says next year will be a year of rapid change for telecoms… whether it’s MVNO disruption, competitive tariff pricing or simply defence from the ‘dark art’ of hacking.

NFV finds its footing despite industry trepidation

This year, headline-grabbing news such as the TalkTalk hack has served to put the security of cloud-based services into question. Naturally, these questions extend to the use of the cloud and NFV (Network Function Virtualisation) within the telecoms industry. However, despite these concerns, 2016 will be a year of progress for these technologies as operators realise they are invaluable when used within their networks, providing agility, flexibility and the means to innovate their core services.

Jumping on the WiFi-calling band(width) wagon

In 2016, mobile use of video streaming services will push networks to the point where all the extra bandwidth delivered by 4G has been consumed. Consumers will increasingly seek alternative connection via WiFi and mobile operators will be keen to support them. Off-load of voice (and video-call) traffic over WiFi will become more important, and will tend towards a more integrated ‘native’ experience rather than via the use of a separate app.  Within the network, the service-layer equipment that delivers these services will be extended to become access-agnostic; enabling the same service experience regardless of how the subscriber is connected.

Operators go full throttle

Despite impressive 4G data speeds, the rise in bandwidth consumption next year might see some operators put the brakes on. Shortly after the launch of 3G mobile broadband, a number of operators toyed with offering mobile broadband at different prices for different speeds.  Manipulating pricing may help manage demand and offer some upside for revenues, however it will require significant dialogue between operators and regulators in order to agree how this will work. 

This links to the industry’s journey towards 5G and the internet of things (IoT) where the characteristics of the connection, such as peak speed, guaranteed speed and latency will be varied, and charged differently according to service type. Therefore, in 2016 operators will also need to consider flexible implementation of the service control, charging and policy triangle to allow experimentation with various charging models in the near future.

IT giants keep their eyes on the ‘prise

IT powerhouse companies such as Microsoft will continue to win enterprise communication deals at the expense of incumbent European operators. This is because enterprise CIOs will increasingly view communications as another IT service and not a provision exclusively from traditional telecoms operators.

For these IT giants it could be big business, and potentially billions of dollars of lost revenue for mobile operators. In response to this threat, many mobile operators will be looking to deliver a more innovative, tailored range of services to their enterprise customers to keep them from churning.

A global Internet brand will successfully enter the communications market

In an industry that discusses ‘disruption’ daily, it is not often we see a consumer brand upset the telecoms status quo. Arguably, no brand has stepped forward to truly challenge the monopoly of incumbent operators in the UK – yet in 2016 we shouldn’t be surprised to see a major brand step up to the mark.

In the mid-2000s, Disney launched a mobile service in the US; that didn’t pan-out too well, but times have changed. Is 2016 the time for Google Fi to make an impact in the European market, or perhaps Amazon to launch a direct rival service?

Video calling gets the camera rolling

After the first iPhone in 2007 and the rise of 3G mobile connectivity, video calling was supposedly the next big thing in telecoms. Yet, aside from the occasional FaceTime, most people don’t use video calling on their smartphones, and especially not spontaneously – such activity is reserved for planned Skype calls via a computer or tablet (and even then on Wi-Fi, not using a cellular connection).

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) deployments have started and a notable uptick in new deployments is expected in 2016. The technology also includes provision for Video-calling over LTE, sometimes referred to separately as ViLTE. Assuming the dialler on the smart phone is correctly designed, video-calling will be as simple as Apple’s FaceTime – with the ability to add and drop video from regular calls as you go. Moreover, as a standard capability it won’t be restricted to one particular brand’s phone. However, it begs the question of whether it will ultimately acquire the same reach that telephony has today? Probably not: sometimes things are better heard and not seen.

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