TM Forum Live! in Nice wrapped last week and it was filled with many interesting conversations and thought-provoking keynote presentations. While much of this activity has been centered on customer-centricity and the benefits of network performance data, as my colleague Cyril Doussau described in a blog last week, we also heard from Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA and a member of its board, who gave a high level view of what mobile operators need to do to succeed in the next decade.
Anne hypothesized that there will be 25 billion connected devices by 2020, all requiring ubiquitous, consistent, high-speed and low-latency connectivity. Of course, with that growth, there will be huge requirements for mobile operators to improve the efficiency of existing mobile networks. There are also a number of factors that mobile operators must keep in mind as they plan for the future.
First and foremost is geography, as not all markets will grow at the same rate. Europe is still lagging behind on 4G, for example, holding only three percent of 4G connections, while China continues to skew 4G volume to Asia — by 2017, Anne predicts that half of the world's 4G connections will be in Asia. Mobile operators in each of these regions will need to monitor mobile usage growth trends quite closely in order to match demand with available spectrum, without deploying excess network resources or overspending.
Similarly, mobile operators must tune their networks to the specific demands of different industries. For connected cars, security and uptime will be extremely important, whereas entertainment services demand huge data capacities and can tolerate small network performance delays like jitter. Mobile operators are tasked with meeting each of these unique demands to support consumers' use of new and innovative network services.
There are a number of mobile software solutions and network hardware tools available to match this demand, and we can expect to see such offerings grow. Additionally, organizations like the GSMA are planning ahead by at least a decade to ensure there is sufficient mobile spectrum to accommodate growing traffic demand.
One caution that Anne raised was that mobile operators should continue to operate and optimize 2G, 3G and 4G networks, rather than immediately deploy and operate a 5G network. This is an important point not only from a cost perspective — the licensing requirements and infrastructure costs of a new network can add up quite quickly — but is also important because the industry is still clarifying what 5G will look like, exactly.
All in all, the mobile industry can expect huge growth in the next decade and beyond. While Anne acknowledged that we may not quite reach 25 billion connected devices in the next six years, there is also a chance that we'll reach 50 billion. To prepare for this and survive in the uncertainty, mobile operators will need to closely monitor their mobile network usage and utilization, and make the changes necessary to maximize quality of service and minimize CAPEX and OPEX.