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Just a few thoughts on some of the trends that you are likely to see discussed and highlighted at Mobile World Congress a few weeks from now.

1. Zero rating services will proliferate

T-Mobile in the US delivered a blueprint for mobile differentiation when it introduced zero-rating; not charging its subscribers for data while using the music stream, video streaming, and the popular Pokémon Go app. This resulted in impressive subscriber growth in the US, and in 2017 other disruptive mobile operators are likely to follow suit in an attempt to emulate this recipe for success. Another recent example was that Vodacom in Africa announced it’ll give its subscribers free access to Facebook Flex, a data-light version of the social media app.

If operators do follow the lead of T-Mobile and Vodacom, it is important they understand which applications would deliver the greatest perceived value to their subscribers and how their network would cope with increased volume for zero-rated applications and content - otherwise the business plan will fall apart, and so will theit network quality!

2. Virtualization will get some big deployment wins

Operators worldwide are working to virtualize their infrastructure. On stands and in meeting rooms at MWC, there will no doubt be plenty of discussion and planning of post-show deployments. And in the months following, we will witness many deployments that begin to reap the benefits of virtualization as vendor solutions become more mature, deliver scalability, and get ‘good enough’ orchestration to roll out services.

3. IoT security issues will continue to steal headlines

The already well-publicized issues with security on IoT devices will cause more problems on broadband networks, for which the DDoS attack on Dyn in October last year will be a sign of things to come. Hackers gained network access via unsecured IoT devices, in what was subsequently named the biggest ever DDoS attack. As the IoT expands, and the popularity of smart devices in consumer and enterprise markets increases, attacks of this sort will be more frequent. Further, the sheer number of IoT devices being used will amplify the attack power to Tbps of capacity.

There are actions which device manufacturers can take to design and produce more inherently secure IoT devices. But network operators also have a central role to play in mitigating attacks. It is essential they employ fine-grained filtering and rate limiting of attack traffic in order to differentiate their service offerings and keep subscribers happy. Solutions that make it easy for operators to mitigate attacks in real-time will be extremely valuable in maintaining quality of experience.

4. Telecom regulators will focus on network quality 

Both the FCC in the US and BEREC in the EU have issued guidance that asks telecom operators to detail what the ACTUAL QoE delivered to subscribers on their network – detailing throughput, latency and packet loss for all service plans. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their use of broadband, and more sensitive to network disruption – slow social networks, stuttering video streaming, and laggy gaming. As more consumers rely exclusively on their broadband connections for video and voice services, regulators will be pulled into mandating quality measurements for operators.

5. Big data analytics will bolster strategic decision making  

As growth and revenue has flattened out, telecoms worldwide are digging deeper to improve their businesses to meet business goals.  They are beginning to learn how to leverage the vast sets of information that they now have. This will impact every area of telecom business including the network, where intelligence about subscriber behavior and network performance will be more heavily relied upon for network and operational goals and investment decisions.   

Looking ahead to MWC

These five points will shape conversation at MWC 2017 and impact business strategy and revenues over the rest of the year. The pace of change in the industry is increasing, consumers expect more from services, and the routes to profit for operators are shifting.

This year holds a wealth of opportunity for the industry, though it remains to be seen if and how regulators may curtail this. Of most concern, however, are the potential challenges and dangers of cyber-attacks, meaning that close network monitoring will prove more important than before.

Topics: Big Data, NFV, IoT, Zero Rating