Cool handsets, sparkling content and handy apps are part of the daily experience of many European users. Networks and communication services are the foundation. More than that: their characteristics define how much cooler, brighter and more convenient consumer services will be.
What does 2023 hold for us? I worked with my team to identify the top five telecom trends to watch over the next year. Here’s what we learned.
1. Networks change skin
With population availability of 5G well over 60% in Europe, networks are truly becoming “smarter”. This means that AI will increasingly assist network operations, improving our ability to predict and avoid connectivity issues: this should ultimately make communications more reliable.
At the same time, the way we build our telecommunications networks with will also evolve: Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) are likely to reduce EU operators’ reliance on single vendors, while giving operators the flexibility to extend 5G to more users in a cost-effective, safe and energy-efficient way.
More than that, we expect the integration between traditional networks and non-terrestrial networks (NTN) to resume, enabling widespread connectivity, for example through satellites.
2. Open metaverses and European networks
Metaverse is about Virtual Reality (VR). Virtual reality has been used in online games for a long time, but now it is moving to a different stage and into industries and businesses. But virtual reality is about data traffic. Estimates show that the average VR Metaverse user needs five to 40 times more data than it takes to stream HD video.
This means that telecommunications companies will have to invest heavily to meet the ultra-low latency requirements of metaverses, but also to size and organize their network infrastructure to bring them into consumers’ homes.
The jury is still out on whether telecom operators will have the tools, the market position and the right political context to fully seize this opportunity, or whether non-European players will replicate the absolute leadership position they currently enjoy in the consumer internet. To this end, the work of the European Commission on open metaverses and fair sharing will be crucial.
3. Climate-focused operations and solutions
In 2023, it will become even clearer how climate change is shaping our industry. On the one hand, telecommunications companies will continue their strong transition towards renewable energy sources and more energy-efficient networks: 5G and 4G networks are seven times less polluting than 3G networks, while FTTH networks pollute 18 times less. In addition, carriers will need to aggressively engage their supplier base to take full responsibility for the scope of their emissions.
On the other hand, the ability of telecom solutions to reduce the environmental impact of other industries is also becoming clearer. From 5G helping farmers use less herbicides to mobile networks optimizing cargo handling in ports, and there are many other positive examples. The arguments for rapid adoption of ICT services are growing.
4. Explore 6G
From industry-focused ventures to EU-funded projects, 2023 will be another key year in 6G exploration. 6G is the future standard for digital communication, supposed to allow “the unification of our experience across the physical, digital and human worlds”. With 6G, we will put even more intelligence and more software into the networks.
European industry and academia are leading the work to ensure we help shape a human-centric and trustworthy 6G. This requires rapid technological work, but also forward-looking discussions on governance and standards. All of this takes place primarily within the Smart Networks and Services joint venture.
5. The cyber and its quantum evolutions
Technological development never stops and the race for quantum communications has been going on for many years now. In 2023, the path to a quantum internet will become more obvious. It will likely be the first step in history in terms of innovation and productivity, with computing power vastly surpassing anything humanity has ever known.
With this unprecedented opportunity will come the key challenge of maintaining communications security and encryption effectiveness. Again, we need to put a strong emphasis on citizens and the human-centric approach to ensure trust also in new technology. The telecom sector has already set up a working group for this purpose: we must stay one step ahead.