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CSPs’ next big opportunities: Reading the signals

This article is sponsored by Nokia

The pace and complexity of change make it hard enough for communications service providers (CSPs) to keep up with what’s now, let alone get ahead of new developments that may be coming next. Nokia recently gathered a team to “read” emerging technology, business and societal signals and give CSPs a longer view forward. That work has revealed future opportunities CSPs would do well to start thinking about now — related to new forms of connectivity, new applications and platforms, and new ways of living.

New forms of connectivity

Universal broadband with high-altitude solutions

“Broadband for all” will continue to be a worldwide priority given the essential role of high-speed connectivity in health, education, the economy and more. The search for a fast, flexible way to roll out broadband is driving interest in aerial-based solutions such as satellite-based networks, or High Altitude Platforms (HAPs) which deliver connectivity from balloons and airships hovering above the earth but within the atmosphere.

While Alphabet’s Loon may be the best-known HAP today, satellite-based solutions are also making their mark.  The SpaceX-built Starlink Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite – demonstrated download speeds of 100 Mbps, uploads as fast as 40 Mbps and 18 ms latency[1], and in December 2020 received $856 million in rural digital opportunities funding from the Federal Communications Commission – a hint of the high value these solutions could have.

Rural Germany has been testing 4G connectivity delivered by hydrogen-powered autonomous planes flying in a project led by partners Stratospheric Platforms and Cambridge Consultants with backing from Deutsche Telekom. The 4G signal can be delivered to precise areas on the ground from an altitude of 20,000 feet, respecting jurisdictional borders. Plans to launch a commercial 5G offering are on the books for 2024.

The question for CSPs is how best to take advantage of this emerging opportunity. Some may choose to build their networks to broaden coverage. Others may prefer to partner with these new aerial network providers for coverage to remote areas.

New applications and platforms

Realizing the potential of mixed reality

5G is widely expected to grow the use of mixed reality beyond the consumer market[2] into enterprise applications. Worldwide spending on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) has been forecasted to reach $72.8 billion by 2024, much of that driven by business and public-sector investment. [3]

Signs of the maturing market are springing up everywhere from consumer devices to industrial processes. Apple built Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, which uses lasers to map the 3D contours of spaces and ranges of objects, into its iPad Pro 2020 and iPhone 12 Pro to make low-light photography more precise. But LiDAR’s applications extend beyond better picture-taking to a potential host of AR/VR use cases — which is likely why Apple filed for a patent to use LiDAR in a “head-mounted display” in November 2020[4]. Facebook and Microsoft are looking to provide mixed reality experiences through goggles and headsets.

Growing use of AR/VR will inevitably require more processing power in the cloud, creating an opportunity for CSPs to provide the necessary bandwidth and low latency. By partnering today with application developers to address the new resource requirements and start capitalizing on the emerging ecosystem of mixed reality content, CSPs can be well positioned to reap the benefits as the market builds.

Driving new services and innovation with digital twins

Outside the consumer sphere, digital twins have enormous potential for both the private and public sectors — making it possible to simulate, explore and test upgrades or changes to physical environments without disrupting them.

City officials in Helsinki recently invited companies to use digital twins to design new services based on public data about buildings’ energy consumption. In Japan, when COVID-19 restrictions prevented Tokyo residents from enjoying Halloween outdoors, CSP KDDI collaborated with partners to create an AR twin of the popular Shibuya district for subscribers to roam around from the safety of their homes.[5] Through its XR Director Platform, mixed reality provider Arvizio has been giving factory managers real-time updates of machine and project performance from AR twins built using LiDAR scans and edge computing.

CSPs can, and probably should, start thinking about digital twins in a couple of ways. One is to expand their capacity support enterprise customers’ use of digital twin platforms, which will open a gateway to new services. The other is to start exploring the use of digital twins themselves: creating models of their own networks to simulate events, changes and upgrades without physically interfering with the live network.

Spinning out the spatial web

The spatial web will take AR/VR to a whole other level by mapping the physical world onto virtual spaces and layering virtual elements onto physical ones — essentially breaking down the divide between physical and virtual in an experiential way.

The applications here are wide open, and all to some degree dependent on partnership: ecosystems of device providers, platforms and content. CSPs can be the critical channel that connects all of these.

Many are already starting to do so. Verizon, Softbank, T-Mobile, Orange, Telus, Globe Telekom, SKT and EE have joined Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go!, in the Niantic Planet-Scale AR Alliance to create 5G-ready AR content that will be exclusive to their subscribers.[6] Through a £1.5 million government grant, British Telecom’s Applied Research is leading the 5G Edge-XR consortium to bring holographic tabletop images of sporting events and stadium experiences into people’s homes.[7] In Asia, Qualcomm and LG Uplus are both members of the Global XR Content Telco Alliance, which will bring 5G-enabled XR experiences of the International Space Station.[8]

Supporting the ‘community economy’

If ecosystems are the future of service creation and delivery for companies, communities are much the same on the user end of things. The community-based economy will continue to change how businesses engage with customers — and how people engage with each other.

In 2020, many brands worldwide turned to online communities to drive their business and cultivate customer loyalty,[9] aiming for more natural and empathetic connections with customers. That’s grown increasingly important with the ongoing social isolation and lockdowns driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSPs can support the community-building efforts of their enterprise customers and, at the same time, develop their own to provide answers and advice and showcase new products or services through virtual events, interactive content and videos. T-Mobile’s online community — the largest telco community in the country — helps boost customer loyalty by handling 40 percent of support requests.

What’s important to keep in mind is that communities are relatively simple to integrate and launch but require a solid strategy and dedicated moderators to nurture the audience and deliver results. Dedicated resources are needed to maintain the “community connection”.

New ways of life

Enabling a physically distanced future

Many industry sectors had begun to experiment with low- or no-touch solutions before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most have since had to adopt them to maintain operations through recurring lockdowns and in respect of physical distancing measures. While this situation won’t last forever, it will be some time before the world gets back to face-to-face communication and physical contact — and even when that happens, enterprises will have to mold themselves to the attitudes and habits their customers retain.

CSPs have already played a critical role in the global pivot to online work, learning and living. Going forward, there will be more opportunity to enrich that experience — to not only respond to cultural and commercial shifts but actually lead them.

Spanish CSP Telefonica, for example, has collaborated with startup iUrban to help Silken Hotel Group create an entirely digital and mobile experience to ensure all of its 25 hotels comply with local COVID-19 safety protocols.[10] NVIDIA’s “Maxine” Cloud Video Streaming platform uses artificial intelligence to block background noise, turn faces to point toward a camera, perform live simultaneous translation, and more[11] — making video conferences more seamless and enjoyable for participants. And haptics solution provider Ultraleap’s TouchFree mid-air hand-sensing system allows companies to address growing public concerns about hygiene by retrofitting older touch-only kiosk interfaces without writing a single line of code.

Decode the signals

CSPs operate on the cusp of technology advancements and are under constant pressure to grow and evolve. Being sensitive to emerging technology, business and societal signals is key: understanding how these will affect the business and deciding if, when and how to act. Nokia will continue to do its part to help CSPs read these signals and capitalize on the opportunities they present. Download our new report Know, Now to learn more about these signals and what they mean for your business.

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About the author

Located in Silicon Valley, Leslie Shannon is Nokia’s head of Ecosystem and Trend Scouting. She scouts for new developments in technologies outside the telecommunications industry to understand what the networks of five years from now will need to support, how these technologies will interact with each other, and where new business opportunities will be. She was also a five-time winner on the US game show Jeopardy!

[1] SpaceX’s Starlink wins nearly $900 million in FCC subsidies to bring internet to rural areas, Michael Sheetz, CNBC, December 7, 2020.

[2] 5G report: The value of 5G services and the opportunity for CSPs, Nokia.

[3] Worldwide Spending on Augmented and Virtual Reality Forecast to Deliver Strong Growth Through 2024, According to a New IDC Spending Guide, IDC, November 17, 2020.

[4] “Apple Glass” may help users see better in low light using radar and LiDAR, William Gallagher, appleinsider, November, 2020.

[5] https://virtualhalloween.cluster.mu/en/?l=en

[6] Introducing the Niantic Planet-Scale AR Alliance: Bringing the Mobile Industry Together Towards the 5G Future of Consumer AR, Niantic press release, September 1, 2020.

[7] Could this Suffolk project change how we watch sports?, Angus Williams, East Anglian Daily Times, August 4, 2020.

[8] Global Alliance of Telcos Signs Deal with Felix & Paul Studios to Distribute Upcoming Season of Space Explorers in Immersive 360-Degree Mobile Format, GlobeNewswire press release, September 1, 2020.

[9] When Community Becomes Your Competitive Advantage, Jeffrey Bussgang and Jono Bacon, Harvard Business Review, January 21, 2020.

[10] iUrban and Telefónica create ‘contactless’ hotels, Telefónica press release, June 25, 2020.

[11] NVIDIA Announces Cloud-AI Video-Streaming Platform to Better Connect Millions Working and Studying Remotely, NVIDIA press release, October 5, 2020.

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