Consumer behavior continues to evolve rapidly, with the most notable trend being a surge in global smartphone adoption. In 2017, analysts predict the total number of smartphone users to reach 2.32 billion globally—a 70% increase over two years prior.
As a result, the telecommunications industry is facing some of the biggest challenges in its history. In all, each challenge is driven by one simple fact: it’s a huge struggle to keep up with the insane pace of data proliferation. With every new device, application, and feature upgrade, our networks, infrastructure, and servers are getting stretched to their limits. And consumer demand shows no sign of slowing.
Consider the following trends from the past year:
- We saw an explosion of augmented reality apps and games, most famous of those being Pokemon Go
- We witnessed live video streaming becoming the norm among social media platforms, ushered in by Snapchat
- We suffered some of the largest security breaches in history, including the Yahoo debacle, in which 500 million consumer accounts were hacked
At the outset of 2017, Craig Wigginton, U.S. National Sector Leader of Deloitte published a report which outlined top telecom trends. Below, we expand upon Craig’s analysis by adding how these telecom trends will impact field service professionals in the telecommunications industry.
Trend #1: Core Connectivity Infrastructure Upgrades become Major Priority
Analysts are still debating whether the 5G world is just around the corner, or a full five years out. But everyone can agree that our current telecommunications infrastructure needs re-building in order to accommodate the unstoppable surge of traffic from the many devices coming online.
Craig Wigginton estimates the investment may run into the billions for organizations:
“Carriers will need to make upgrades to their core connectivity infrastructure, which in the case of the coming shift to fifth generation (5G) mobile networks may run well into the billions of dollars.”
As major infrastructure projects get underway, field service teams will likewise need to ramp up. Service teams in the telecom space will face unique challenges including:
Most telecommunications projects and jobs leverage contractors, or sub-contractors. In a time when utilities and telecom workers are in short supply, telecommunications companies will need to staff up for projects earlier than what is currently typical.
Building 5G cell towers will likely require a completely different strategy than building traditional towers. It’s likely that thousands of smaller sub-stations will be necessary, which means service dispatch will become exponentially more complex as technicians must be sent to thousands more cell tower sites.
An added layer of complexity of Internet of Things (IoT) implementations will also create the need for improved dispatch strategies. Savvy telecommunications companies will embrace mobile workforce automation technology in order to keep up with this complexity.
As new wireless neighborhoods ("wiberhoods") pop-up to accommodate 5G cell service, federal and state regulations will invariably arise to address health concerns, land ownership disputes, and more. Telecom field service providers must keep a sharp eye on regulations, in order to remain both legally compliant, as well as viable service providers.
Trend #2: Telecoms Embrace Digital Transformation
Many telecom companies continue to use manual business processes despite the availability of new technology and innovations. In such a heavily regulated industry, many have simply been slow to modernize, fearing greater compliance headaches will be the result of adopting new technology.
Faced with some of the largest data surges on record, many organizations will embrace the digital transformation of core business processes to keep up. According to McKinsey, costs can be cut by up to 90%, and turnaround times reduced drastically through the digitization of information-intensive processes.
Digital change is hard, but necessary as Craig Wigginton of Deloitte summarizes in saying:
“The availability of new technologies and innovations may make 2017 the year of digital transformation for carriers in both U.S. and globally. Areas with the greatest potential for digital improvement include customer care, sales, and billing. For example, there is an opportunity to use the Internet and social media channels to serve customers directly.”
Telecommunications field service providers will likewise need to accommodate new processes, roles, and business functions as more telecom companies embrace new digital processes. Direct impacts on field service will be most noticeable across the following areas:
1. Customer communication
Our own research revealed the majority of field service customers expect to receive real-time technician travel updates and direct communication with technicians prior to service. But, few suppliers can deliver on this expectation. As companies embrace digital transformation, field engineers must be trained to communicate with customers in their channel of choice. Social media messages, text message, and email communication will all soon become the norm in service, in addition to traditional updates delivered via phone call.
2. Technician & dispatch communication
In many instances, becoming increasingly digital means giving dispatch access to more information about field tech whereabouts and overall performance. Likewise, many organizations are giving field techs access to remote knowledge while in the field. Both scenarios improve resolutions, and streamline service.
3. Parts & logistics management
The digitization of parts inventory allows for a much greater assessment of efficiency across delivery, forecasting, and more. Service organizations in the telecommunications industry willing to embrace artificial intelligence algorithms to evaluate parts inventory and field logistics, will find huge efficiency gains in these areas.
Trend #3: The Industrial Internet-of-Things Takes Wing
Do you want a washing machine that turns on when your dog barks at it? A Barbie doll that talks back to your kids? Or Christmas lights that flash every time you get an email? No thanks.
Believe it or not, these IoT products are all currently available for purchase.
In truth, the slew of connected toys, devices, and “things” hitting store shelves every year steals the spotlight from the massive impact greater connectivity will have across transportation, manufacturing, service, and government.
This Industrial Internet of Things, also known as Industrial Internet, leverages sensor-based data, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, and automation technologies to improve core business functions like supply chain and fleet management.
In the coming months, many telecommunications professionals will begin to embed sensors on vehicles, equipment, towers, and more - in an effort to improve performance across the board. As Craig Wigginton remarks:
“The government and enterprise-connected 'things' such as smart businesses (e.g., fleet management), and smart cities (e.g., parking, city lighting, asset monitoring and tracking, and video security)–are likely areas of growth in the coming years.”
But how will IoT impact field service professionals in the telecom industry? Common outcomes will include:
1. Enabling predictive maintenance
By embedding sensors on all telecom equipment, service providers can now analyze equipment performance at a scale previously thought unimaginable. Applying an added layer of machine learning algorithms means service providers can forecast equipment performance to a higher degree of accuracy. Data-driven insights will help telecom service teams better understand equipment, predict exactly when specific parts might fail, and forecast when equipment should be serviced, or replaced.
2. Improving fleet efficiency
By bringing vehicles, equipment, and technicians online, management teams can now uncover fleet-based insights in minutes, instead of months. Through IoT sensors, dispatch and management can seek to improve fleet efficiency across their entire organization, instead on a tech-by-tech basis.
3. Ensuring optimal network uptime
As a more accurate snapshot of equipment failures becomes available, service will likewise become more efficient in troubleshooting base transceiver stations, transmission lines, and more. The obvious end result is improving network uptime, and cell service for organizations willing to embrace the Industrial Internet-of-Things.
Tackling infrastructure projects, digital transformation initiatives, and Industrial IoT strategies will leave any reasonable telecommunications management team feeling overwhelmed. It’s most definitely not a boring time to work in the telecom sector.
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