DTW 2024 – new improved keynotes, same old industry challenges

On the opening morning of Digital Transformation World in Copenhagen, a great selection of operator executives agonised over the eternal struggle to reinvent their companies.

Scott Bicheno

June 19, 2024

3 Min Read

As ever, things were kicked off by TM Forum CEO Nik Willetts, who introduced the somewhat inevitable theme of this year’s show: ‘Leading the way to an AI-Native Telco’. Having ticked that buzzword box, the core of his talk reverted to predicament the telecoms industry is showing little sign of adequately tackling.

“Our customers see us as just the carrier,” lamented Willetts. ““What we do is considered critical national infrastructure but it’s a commodity. Customers just want it to work.” Yes, we’re essentially talking about the old ‘dumb pipe’ telecoms existential crisis. Aside from the hope that AI will somehow save the day, a recurring theme this year was that operators need to adopt a ‘platform mindset’, on which more later.

The core purpose of TM Forum is to catalyse the telecoms industry, largely through collaborative technological projects. But at its big event of the year it also tries to offer some more strategic guidance. Accordingly, Willets unveiled three ‘missions’ he would like to see the industry undertake. They are: composable IT and ecosystems, autonomous network operations, and data & AI innovation.

The first was a nod to the TMF’s Open Digital Architecture initiative, for which a conformance certification programme was announced at the show. We’re told it will ‘accelerate the telco industry’s move away from monolithic, legacy IT stacks towards a more agile, horizontal, plug-and-play future that will reduce costs, transform customer experience, and re-ignite growth.’

The second was the latest increment in the drive to make networks more agile and customisable, with a view to offering tailored connectivity solutions. The third was an attempt to turn the AI hype into something more constructive, especially when it comes to processing data in such a way as to enable better business decisions.

We then heard from Harmeen Mehta, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at BT/EE, and Marc Allera, head of BT/EE’s consumer division. They were apparently there to show us how the platform mindset can manifest itself. Last year they launched ‘new EE’ which offers an EE ID to anyone, not just subscribers, from which they can buy all kinds of stuff.

Apparently ten million EE ID’s have been activated since then, which is an achievement, but it remains unclear why anyone should use EE as their ecommerce hub as opposed to dominant incumbents such as Amazon. Behind the scenes, however, this platform mindset sems to have generated significant efficiencies, with Mehta revealing that BT has been able to shut down 90% of its legacy systems thanks to all this shiny modernisation.

The next offering was a CTIO panel featuring Jeremy Legg of AT&T, Abdurazak Mudesir of DT, Kim Krogh Andersen of Telstra, and Scott Petty of Vodafone. The all-star line-up spent much of the ensuing exchange agreeing on the urgent need for the industry to reinvent itself but struggling to articulate exactly what that looks like. They said all the right things about platforms and AI but ultimate aim of extracting higher ARPU from saturated mobile markets seems to be as elusive as ever.

Intriguingly, Legg made a point of flagging up his companies big vendor deal with Ericsson as an important move in a more ‘open’ direction but, as you can see from this Light Reading report, he didn’t convince everyone. The keynote-athon was eventually concluded by Amol Phadke, CTO of Telenor and Chivas Nambiar, telco GM at AWS, who were there to tell us about their sovereign cloud collaboration.

TMF should be commended for tightening up its opening keynote agenda and format, which we found somewhat laboured and unfocused last year. But that perennial Groundhog Day feeling persists nonetheless. Perhaps even more concerning was the symbolism conferred by the fact that the big news of the day involved an operator drafting in a hyperscaler to save the day. The telecoms industry will rely on these same companies to guide us though the AI era and, just as with the dawn of the smartphone, they’ll probably extract most of the commercial value of this technology too.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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