The year 2015 marked two decades of mobile telephony in India and it will be remembered as the year that the sector got a billion subscribers. What a great leveller telecom is! This year also saw successful bidding of spectrum and early signs of consolidation in the industry, both in services as well as in telecom infrastructure space. In short, 2015 can be termed as the watershed year for the industry as it leapfrogs into the ‘next generation’.
Predicting telecom trends isn’t crystal-gazing; instead, it is based on a combination of empirical analysis of what has worked in the past and spotting future trends early on , based on emerging consumer needs. Gauging from 2015 and emerging trends , the five key trends in 2016 point towards the ‘year of the stallion’ for the Indian telecom industry.
4G will finally become a reality in 2016, but will take 2-3 years to get serious scale. While 3G took its time to go mainstream, the data-hungry young customers are already latching on to the 4G bandwagon. If 2015 was the curtain raiser for 4G, 2016 will be a full-fledged unveiling of high-speed mobile data via LTE. This will be the first big year for 4G. However, the device ecosystem needs to catch up with the network mesh that is expanding at a fairly rapid pace. Multimedia will rule the roost when it comes to content—another unifying factor for a diverse nation like India. Building on 2016 , it will take just 2-3 years for 4G to take centrestage.
Small cells will start becoming key to delivering data in urban centres in 2016, and become widespread by 2020, when the first few smart cities start to evolve. For internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) to transform cities into smarter habitats, availability of ubiquitous high-speed data is imperative. Small cells are the worldwide standard for creating a heterogeneous telecom infra network to deliver blazing high-speed mobile data indoors. In India, we will witness small cells going mainstream in 2016 with urban transportation systems, public utilities and even private residential societies imbibing them in commercially-viable ways.
Conventional towers will start to peak in 2016 and give way to new ‘lite’ innovative anchor solutions. Telecom towers, as we know them today, will continue to remain the primary infrastructure for beaming signals. What will radically change is the supplementary telecom network architecture, in the form of customised ‘lite’ anchors—made with special alloy steel that are aesthetically leaner and profitable with just one mobile operator on-board. Lite anchors will propel the rural tele-density by allowing mobile operators to venture into underserved areas which was hitherto constrained by prohibitive costs. Even from the perspective of energy consumption and reliance on renewable energy sources, lite anchors are future-ready due to their modular nature.
Mobile operators and tower companies will continue consolidating, with 6-7 mobile operators and 3 large tower formations taking shape in a few years. Just as India’s data consumption trend has started to emulate the US’s and Europe’s, our playing field will too, soon. The age of 10-12 mobile service operators is long over. Today, it is about scale. And with it comes the ability to offer seamless service using the latest technology at affordable price points—creating the ‘winning trio’. The trend that gathered momentum in the last quarter of 2015 is expected to pave way for Indian telecom companies to attain global scale in 2016; it may very well be the year when India will be seen more as a subcontinent than a large country—fewer, larger players will be the norm. It won’t pay to remain a ‘small’ national player anymore. A small, profitable, regional player? Possibly yes.
Network architecture will continue to evolve with big investment push and new solutions would have to be found through ecosystem collaboration. If scale is key to survival, synergy will be imperative for growth. Nowhere will it be truer than in network architecture. Device manufacturers will collaborate with application makers, mobile operators will team up with telecom technology players, tower companies will prepare the blueprint with energy providers—we will witness synergy creation across the industry. Universally, telecom ecosystem players are adopting a periscopic vision—analysing demand before it hits them. In India, the speed of change is even more rapid. Unless, as an industry, we are work together, we will fail in meeting consumer expectations.
Gone are the days when the service providers played catch-up with device makers, or technology giants innovated the next generation mobile network without devices in place. Today, it has to be concurrent and should be available before a customer even demands it. Ecosystem collaboration is key. In telecom, now is yesterday.
The author is CEO of Viom Networks