Telcos need open systems to stay fresh

Whatever the mobile ecosystem looks like ten years from now, telcos will have to become more agile and adopt an open-systems approach if they want to keep up.

That was a key takeaway from a conference session Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that asked speakers to predict the state of the mobile sector in 2023.

The session offered little in the way of actual predictions, though speakers generally made the point that mobile will transform everything from business productivity and education to healthcare and the economic growth of emerging markets, and will be influenced by all-new devices driving data traffic, including cars, ultra-thin displays and robots.

Peggy Johnson, EVP and president of global market development at Qualcomm, pointed out there will also be much more contextual awareness for apps and devices thanks to a blend of technologies, from indoor location positioning and augmented reality to the “internet of everything”, as more things in the physical world around us become connected by wireless technology.

But Carlos Domingo, director of product development and innovation for Telefonica Digital, said that as mobile content gets more complex, the greatest strength telcos possess is also a major weakness: interoperability.

“Interoperability is a key advantage that telcos have, because interoperability is necessary for these new services to work,” Domingo said. “But developing the standards that enable interoperability takes too long.”

Put bluntly, said Domingo, telecom standards organizations like 3GPP move too slow compared to the rate of innovation seen by software/IT companies who are innovating much faster. “There’s a danger that telcos could be left behind.”

That doesn’t mean telcos should jettison standards bodies, of course. But Domingo says it does mean operators need to adopt a more open approach to technology.

“Keeping up becomes more plausible when you adopt open technologies,” he said. “Open means no restrictions of access to system capabilities.”

Domingo also said operators in developed markets should look closely at what their counterparts and other businesses in emerging markets are doing.

“In lesser developed markets, operators have learned to do more with less, do it frugally, keep things simple and act flexibly,” he said. “Telcos should be copying those approaches and reversing them for their own markets.”  

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