TELECOMS
TRENDS
— 2017

Customer expectations are changing as quickly as technology, massively impacting the telecoms industry. How can companies adapt and innovate to set themselves apart? This report highlights current technological and cultural trends in the industry.

Look out for the sky(net)

We need more data that works faster

Next year, people will share 2.5 million photos, 15 percent more than they did this year. People expect technology to be agile and webpages to load quickly. If they don’t, that’s a valid reason to end the relationship with a service provider. And it’s not just Instagram – everything from banks to utilities to passport services ask for some form of online application. People need more data and the telecoms industry needs to rethink how to deliver it faster.

We need data everywhere

Research shows that more and more people are accessing websites from their phones rather than their browsers, and it’s widely believed that the next billion new internet users will access the internet almost entirely mobile first. People call with Skype, text with WhatsApp and share pictures on Instagram, using less and less actual cellular service. However, there are nearly one million homes in the UK that still don’t have access to broadband connectivity due to connectivity blackspots, preventing them from accessing vital services. Mobile data is in many ways the primary need of telecoms customers, meaning data needs to be accessible and we need to be able to deliver it everywhere and anytime.

Data delivered from the sky

A recent PwC report identified a 6.3 billion dollar opportunity to use drones for wireless connectivity, and that figure could be conservative. What do drones have to do with mobile data? Everything! Industry experts are currently debating if broadband should be delivered by drones in the future, and startups such as Project Loon are currently exploring ways to deliver data using hot air balloons and are already experimenting with working prototypes. While the ‘skynet’ may not be a new idea (It was featured in the 90s Terminator film), ambitious companies and entrepreneurs are finally starting to bring it to life.

People expect their wireless connection to be fast, seamless, accessible and invisible. What changes need to take place in telecoms organisations in order to deliver an agile network anytime and anywhere? Is skynet the solution?

The telecoms market is ripe for disruption

Selling routers is simply not enough  

The landscape for telecoms has been stagnating when it comes to new innovations and service offerings for customers. Simply selling routers, towers and boxes is not enough to survive, as margins on hardware are becoming increasingly slim. It’s time for people in the ‘hardware’ industry to realize that they are actually service providers. We’ve seen this with the hotel industry (Airbnb) and the taxi industry (Uber). Slow moving markets are vulnerable for disruption. What will disrupt the telecoms industry?

New competitors entering the market

Last year, Google released the wireless network Project Fi, with plans to expand all over the world. Google Fi is differentiating itself by offering a pay-as-you-go model for wifi, giving customers the ability to pay only for the internet they actually use. Today, we need wifi and connectivity like we need water and electricity. According to the United Nations, the ability to access the internet is considered a human right, so simply offering accessibility is not enough to differentiate service providers anymore.

Partnerships is in the air

Now is the time for telecommunications companies to seek partnerships with technology companies. In a slow moving market, these collaborations can help both parties expand their offerings as well as their customer base. Global technology companies have been successful in partnering with local telecoms companies to reach new markets, and larger telecoms companies can learn from this strategy as they take over more and more of people’s living rooms with connected devices and in-home entertainment services. The telecoms market is ripe for more partnerships, a strategy which could benefit both parties and attract new customers.

How can the future of the telecoms industry be safeguarded? Disruption, whether through partnerships or creative innovation, can help build new user experiences and optimize current processes.

The secondhand market for tech is growing

People are changing their hardware rapidly

In increasingly polarised times, attitudes toward sustainability have diverged in multiple directions. Many people fight for the environment and sustainability, whilst others think the current climate crisis is a conspiracy. These perspectives influence shopping habits, pushing some people to change phones every year and others to buy used technology and recycle their own. The secondhand market for technology hardware is growing significantly, and people are often more comfortable renting products than making a one-off purchase. 

Secondhand market is growing

Ride sharing is becoming increasingly popular for the millennial generation, according to the Goldman Sachs Cars 2025 report (see graphic below).

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But the growth of sharing and secondhand markets is not limited to the auto industry. According to a US Gallup study, iPhone users are most likely to upgrade as soon as possible when a new model is introduced to the market. The frequent release of new models, then, leads people to sell their ‘old’ phones, helping to grow a market for secondhand tech. This increase in hardware trading on platforms such as Facebook’s Marketplace has helped the used smartphone market reach an estimated global value of 17 billion dollars. 

What about mobile rentals?

If these secondhand platforms marketplaces already exist, where’s the opportunity for telecoms? Cultural research shows that many consumers want to have cool gadgets without having to forego sustainability. The telecoms industry can learn from alternative industries’ successes, such as the automotive industry’s car leasing scheme and car rental options, which allow consumers to use a product only when they need it, reducing carbons emissions and saving costs. Could the telecoms industry implement a similar strategy? O2 has started to take this advice into consideration, offering rental services of hardware. What if consumers could rent with one phone company for life and always have the latest model in their pockets? What other ways could we turn a used technology into a positive asset for secondhand use?

It's time to build personal relationships with your customers

Devices continues to connect

The internet of things (IoT) trend doesn’t seem to have fully taken hold. According to Deloitte, only two percent of adults actually own smart lights and smart appliances. However, the trend is on the rise, gaining more publicity with highly visible promotions of products like Amazon’s Alexa or Nest. As this trend continues to grow, it is more important than ever for people to feel secure whilst storing their sensitive information in the cloud.

Everything is in the cloud

Cloud storage allows people to experience a more seamless service across all their personal devices. Storing passwords in the cloud makes life easier and more efficient, as one password can ‘magically’ unlock all other devices integrated into that system. Wifi logins are recognised across all Apple devices, bank details are remembered in keychains, and stored credit card information allows online retailers to require little to no confirmation before registering a purchase. People are storing more sensitive and personal data in the cloud now than ever, therefore trust is key in the relationship between consumers and telecoms providers.

You can build anything on trust

New services allow users to pay for anything from a coffee to a television via their phone. People have the ability to store their card details and pay for nearly everything through their phones with one tap. What would it look like if telecoms companies took a slice of that pie? What if mobile payment receipts were integrated with the phone bill so customers had only one bill?

“Trust is the foundation in any relationship, and it needs to be even stronger now than ever between telecoms providers and customers.”

Let's lose the "bot" in chatbot

Return of the chatbot

Chatbots are not a new phenomenon. They have been around since the 1960s, when MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, a chatbot service designed to interact with people like a psychotherapist, using a script that recognised certain patterns or keywords and generated a response accordingly. The bot was initially developed to parody the superficial conversation style of a non-directional therapist, asking questions like, ‘And how does that make you feel?’ But it turned out that people actually began to build emotional bonds with ELIZA and gained deep connections with the chatbot.

Chat with customers anytime and anywhere

Over the last few years, chatbots for customer service have become more and more popular as they can solve some customer problems quickly and operate around the clock. While this works well to resolve straightforward issues, it can be a hassle and massive pain point when it fails to work.

People think chatbots are annoying

There are very few experiences more annoying than chatting with a flawed customer service chatbot. The moment people understand they are talking with a bot rather than a human, the steam starts coming out of their ears. People are not shaping emotional bonds with customer service bots the way people did with ELIZA in the 60’s. ELIZA wasn’t perfect, but what she had was the ‘personality’ of a psychotherapist. There is an opportunity to develop ‘human-like’ chatbots to serve customers, complete with human-like flaws.

The future bots should be designed to be like humans

We need to adapt and mature the brand profiles of telecommunications companies. Today, brand values are communicated through good customer service employees. These employees have a layer of personality on top of their guiding principles and brand values. To develop good bots that can build relationships with customers, bots have to exhibit these same qualities. Sometimes even the ‘annoying’ personality traits – such as ELIZA’s stereotypically reflexive questioning – can be useful for creating connections with customers.

Written by Ine Vassøy