2024 promises continued acceleration and growth for the telecommunications industry as generative AI takes over mobile devices, the world of Internet of Things (IoT) proliferates, 5G adoption expands, and the foundations for 6G networks are laid. But despite all the advancements, the sector faces serious challenges.
The virtualization of Telco’s supply chain, driven by OpenRAN (an industry term for open radio access network architecture), the lack of standards, the influx of big data, and the transformation of DevOps pipelines pressure providers. Additionally, the sector faces increasing attacks from cybercriminals who set their sights on the mobile frontier as smartphones become digital treasure chests.
Leading Telecom companies spoke to Techopedia as they finished 2023 and gave their predictions for how Telcos will change in 2024.
The Digital Divide Will Close and Widen
While the world has witnessed impressive technological advancement, the progress is not equally distributed, as displayed in the 2023 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report.
The ITU report reveals that while 67% of the global population is now online, 2.6 billion people have no access to our digital connectivity.
“We often relate the digital divide with access to broadband, and closing it, therefore, is about extending access to fast internet and thus a global jobs marketplace, content, information, and so on. This is only part of the problem,” Hatheier said.
In our modern digital world, mobile connectivity is economic and social prosperity, intrinsically linked to financial opportunities and inclusiveness.
The lack of internet affects our global society’s most vulnerable sectors and population groups. Hatheier warns the root cause of these socioeconomic disparities is linked to the cost of tech products and services.
“Access to affordable devices is another hurdle to overcome. While a £100 smartphone may seem a standard purchase for many of us, it exceeds the monthly income of billions of people, hence limiting their ability to connect and participate.”
Hatheier said the solution is not just building state-of-the-art 5G networks but making sure there are options in the market for everyone.
“A 5G or LEO connection won’t do you any good unless you can afford a suitable device to access those networks. Many companies in emerging countries have built their own budget phones or budget laptops to grant people access, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.”
Hatheier added that in 2024, the digital divide will shrink in countries where governments invest in infrastructure, devices are affordable, and schools adopt digital education that includes relevant subjects in their curriculum. The digital divide is expected to widen where these factors are not met.
Disaggregation Paves the Way for Greener Telecoms
Telcos networks are also being transformed to accommodate a massive flow of information as mobile devices push for big data transfers. The legacy hardware and software that networks traditionally use to operate are going digital and being virtualized with the rise of Open RAN.
“The telecoms industry is at a crossroads: faced with the challenge of meeting growing connectivity demands, while simultaneously cutting carbon emissions.”
Toivo added that the move to open and disaggregated networks, which gained momentum in 2023, is touted to bolster vendor interoperability and diversity, enable cost-savings, and encourage innovation.
“However, the promise of lower energy consumption and reduced emissions will also make OpenRAN an attractive option for telcos looking to meet sustainability targets in 2024.”
“Disaggregating the RAN, which accounts for 73% of all energy consumed by operators, allows them to better manage the network, address energy inefficiencies, and eliminate power-hungry legacy equipment — paving the way for greener networks.”
Toivo believes that the growing shift toward open and disaggregated networks will empower Telcos to curtail their energy consumption in 2024. This will position them as architects of a more sustainable and interconnected world for future generations.
The Rise of Data Centers and Edge, Micro Data Centers
Hatheier of Ciena added that the transformation of networks and the issue of sustainability are also behind the rise of data centers and edge data centers.
“Massive amounts of large-scale data center build-outs are still happening across large parts of Asia and Australia.
“While this has slowed a little in North America and Europe, in 2024 I believe we will see edge data centers popping up and operators preparing to peer in multiple locations rather than central peering points.”
Hatheier explained that new data centers and micro data centers on the edge of the network are emerging to reduce power consumption on the grid in central locations and improve sustainability.
“India is a great example where lots of data centers are powered by coal, and the capacity per capita is only a tenth of what it is in North America or Europe,” Hatheier said.
“It will remain a global challenge for us to power data centers where non-renewable energy is available and where a large and dense population requires additional access to compute.”
READ MORE: How to Build a Green Data Center
AI Growth Will Spark the Need for Smarter Adaptive Networks
As businesses adopt generative AI and new telco networks and require advanced artificial intelligence for daily operations, legacy networks are rapidly becoming outdated and incapable of providing the computing power the tech needs to run smoothly without latency.
Loudon Blair, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy of Ciena, told Techopedia that tech such as software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) can efficiently respond to the AI dynamic requirements that business have.
“SD-WAN, multi-cloud networking, and Networks as a Service (NaaS) are positioned as pivotal solutions in the business connectivity landscape in 2024, offering a software-centric approach to managing wide-area networks.”
Blair added that cloud-centric SD-WAN solutions deliver an application-aware architecture, allowing networks to intelligently adapt to the diverse demands of various software applications, including AI.
“SD-WAN’s ability to discern and prioritize traffic based on the characteristics of different applications lays the foundation for a more efficient and responsive network infrastructure, which can meet immediate and future cloud and AI workload challenges.”
SMS Becomes the New Playground for Fraudsters
In contrast, Katia Gonzalez, Head of Fraud Protection Security and Analytics at BICS has set her focus on grimmer issues. Gonzalez told Techopedia that robotexts are on track to overtake robocalls in 2024 as one of the biggest threats, while Artificially Inflated Traffic (AIT) is targeting enterprises and end-users.
“These fraud schemes have become more invasive and more complex than robocalls — making them particularly hard to detect and block. As is the case for robocalls, regulatory frameworks are simply not keeping pace with the evolution of robotexts and AIT.”
Gonzalez added that the industry needs to collaborate on a strategy to thwart SMS fraud and AIT in 2024.
“AI/ML is an important piece of the puzzle, but it is crucial that operators invest resources in training these models with the correct, and most current, data, to effectively spot network anomalies.”
According to Gonzalez, the security challenge requires collaboration. “Operators globally must share intelligence so that they learn from each other’s experiences,” Gonzalez said and warned that preventative efforts will be obsolete as long as the industry does not have a regulatory framework that allows machine learning analytics to access SMS content for fraud protection.
“It is in the interest of the whole ecosystem that operators respond to this challenge and ensure that telco services remain secure and reliable. It’s urgent that trust is brought back into the telecom industry, or operators will risk losing customers.”
AI: CISO’s Role, Reliability, and DevOps Pipelines
“The number of data points security professionals now have responsibility for monitoring and managing is eye-wateringly high. And with the proliferation of the cloud and intelligent edge deployments, this will only increase in the coming years.”
Robinson assured that CISOs will take on more of a conductor role with the onset of more AI in cybersecurity. Robinson said that beyond the hype, AI has potential, as it is ideally suited to solve some of the security industry’s most difficult problems — threat detection, triage, and response.
“AI will not replace the CISO, but it will replace the CISO that doesn’t use AI. We’ll see more AI-enabled solutions available to CISOs as they continue to guard their organizations. As a result, in 2024, we’ll see AI transform the necessary skills required of CISOs once again.”
“AI can’t be relied on for security and will spread unvetted OSS (operational support system).”
While Wayman believes AI can complement security practices with the right training and context, he does not see businesses being able to rely on AI to supplement these.
“The rise of AI included in everything while obfuscated by the end-user or consumer means we are likely to see a situation similar to licensing where consumers of OSS may not be fully aware of information security concerns due to the inclusion of unvetted AI components.”
Peter Schneider, Senior Product Manager – Qt Group, also walked down the AI road with caution. Schneider explained that speeding one DevOps process with AI leads to inevitable massive delays in other areas.
“Coding itself is only one of the myriad of tasks it takes to create a lovable product. While product localization, code documentation, and generating tests will also get a boost with GenAI, human code review, code performance analytics, and other quality assurance tasks will be new bottlenecks.”
“For all the praise Generative AI gets for its potential benefits to developer productivity, it’s prone to flaws and will inevitably shift the bottleneck in the DevOps pipeline from programming to other areas,” Schneider added.
As companies generate more automated code, forcing more testing for bugs and security flaws, Schneider added that hiring hundreds of coders is unsustainable. DevOps teams will, therefore, have to automate processes that are not usually automated — software testing.
While innovation and growth abound, with 5G becoming mainstream, AI transforming networks, and data centers evolving, the road ahead for Telcos is a difficult one.
Bridging the digital divide, securing networks from sophisticated fraud, and ensuring sustainable practices while safely adopting new technologies are top priorities.
In an industry where competition has always been the norm, the biggest roadblock is a shift in mentality and business culture, as the tasks ahead require monumental efforts, shared commitment, and international collaboration.
With their telco predictions in hand, leaders are ready to hit 2024 running. They are working for a more inclusive, safer, and interconnected world as it is the only pathway estranged from potential dangers, risks, and threats.