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I’m sure that we can all agree that we are ready to say farewell to 2020 and look ahead to 2021 with optimism. COVID-19 has impacted almost all corners of our world - from how we live, work, and socialize. One of the beacons of hope that has been consistent throughout the pandemic, however, has been how the communications industry has stood up to the challenge.

If we look back to the results of a poll Mobileum conducted in July, 75% of operators polled experienced new or emerging incidences of fraud, and 61% said network security threats increased or significantly increased since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the survey of 100 operators found:

  • 47% said fraud events increased or significantly increased
  • 30% said accounts receivable increased by at least 10%

These findings highlight the immediate impact to the communications service providers from the onset of the pandemic and highlight how these challenges were quickly met with agility, perseverance, and resilience by CSPs across the world. So as the ‘unprecedented’ 2020 ends, what can we look forward to in 2021?

1. 5G will require an increased focus on customer experience

When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on their 5G rollout plans, 71% said in our survey that they would not change their 5G rollout plans. This, combined with the rise in 5G devices, puts the industry in good stead to see the hype of 5G become a reality in 2021. A recent CCS Insight analysis found that 60% of all phones sold in western Europe and North America in 2021 are expected to support 5G, growing to 85% in 2024. With the networks, devices, and applications being launched every week, emphasis needs to be focused on the quality of service, which will be critical to monetizing 5G business models and motivating users to pay for premium services. I’ll discuss more on the implications of 5G adoption later in this blog.

2. Emergence of Open-RAN

The concept of O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) is gaining momentum as operators look at open-source models for their core network to help reduce costs and usher in a mix of best-of-breed solutions to better suit their 5G buildout. But moving from the traditional proprietary networks to that of a multi-vendor, open, and interoperable network whereas there are multiple operators at the core of your 5G network, the door is opened to the potential of a series of unwanted and unknown risks. Operators must carefully plan their 5G deployment, closely monitoring this wider threat surface of new interfaces.

3. Digital transformation acceleration

COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation more in the first six months of the pandemic than what has been experienced in the past 10 years. The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” definitely can be applied to the COVID-19-driven digital transformation of key industries such as telehealth, remote working and learning, and how enterprises interacted with their customers. COVID-19 quickly smashed the notion of “normal” for CSPs, particularly when it came to monitoring the network for normal traffic behavior and identifying suspicious fraud and network security activity.

From now on, the ability to respond to their sharp pivots in user behavior will be critical for CSPs to protect themselves from fraud and network security risks. Rules-based fraud and network security systems work for known patterns, but when ‘normal’ is flipped on its head, AI is needed to quickly adjust to the new behavior and identify and understand the new normal. Further investments on how CSPs interact with their customers via digital channels need to extend into 2021 for CSPs to increase customer loyalty by engaging with them more effectively as CSPs move away from the traditional bricks and mortar customer service model.

4. Now is the time to tap into your data "gold mine"

According to Deloitte, U.S. households own an average of 11 connected devices, seven of which were devices with screens (i.e., smartphones or TVs). The expectation is that 5G will further fuel the adoption of connected devices in households across the world. When we add enterprise IoT devices to the mix, CSPs will be sitting on a wealth of data that provide insights into user preferences and usage patterns to identifying new business models, emerging use cases, or areas of risk. If we take the example in Europe where CSPs identified that video streaming and gaming traffic to have spiked as lockdowns were established and worked with content providers to reduce the streaming quality to ease internet capacity. However, by diving into their data more, CSPs may have identified the opportunity to incentivize their customers to use Netflix differently to avoid reducing the streaming quality while increasing customer loyalty. When the international borders re-open, CSPs will have a huge opportunity to apply the same kind of personalization to their roaming customers that ensure a positive customer experience.

5. Testing must be ubiquitous

The acceleration of IoT and VoLTE adoption puts greater pressure on CSPs to have testing and automation capabilities to protect network security and deliver an enhanced customer experience. Because of the large scale of IoT and VoLTE devices – testing each new device is easier said than done for most operators. However, with mechanisms such as robotic test automation, whereby operators use a global network of VoLTE robots enables the automation of a wide range of test functions simultaneously in any location where the VoLTE testing robots are deployed can help to fast track the ubiquitous testing of devices before they are launched to the market.

6. Risk and security must take center stage

A recent study found that two-thirds of businesses experienced an endpoint and IoT security incident since the onset of the pandemic, demonstrating the extent to which fraudsters and hackers have capitalized on this disruption. While most operators can be applauded for their resilience, the growth of 5G, Open RAN, and the plethora of IoT and VoLTE devices will open the floodgates of fraud and network security risk. Heading into 2021, CSPs must prioritize their integrated end-to-end fraud and security framework that ensures that not only are your business and operations protected but that you can also deliver on the trust that enterprises and consumers bestow on you as the adoption of CSP-led mission-critical applications rises.


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