Kathy Gibson reports from SATNAC 2015 – The biggest challenge facing the telecommunications industry is declining revenue streams as its more traditional business models change.
Azfar Aslam, senior director and partner, Bell Labs Consulting EMEA, Alcatel-Lucent, points out that a lot of operators are addressing declining revenues by moving into adjacent markets while seeking to reduce costs.
Joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions are also coming to the fore in an attempt to ease price pressures, increase purchase power and reduce ARPU erosion.
In Africa, there are two additional challenges, Aslan points out, with power and energy consumption, and service expansion both playing a major role.
With power constraints, telcos have to accrue additional costs just to stay up and running and to ensure energy security.
However, there have been some good steps taken to address this issue, particularly in terms of renewable energy solutions.
“We have to provide telecommunications in the future without being tied to the power providers,” he says.
As of 2013, worldwide telecommunications networks consumed 69GW. Of this, about 9,5GW was in home and enterprise devices; 21,2GS in access and aggregation; and 37,1GW in the service core and data centre – about 60% of total consumption.
Aslam asks if this trend is sustainable. With new traffic coming from apps, services, IoT and M2M the end game might not be sustainable.
Bell Labs has a vision of zero-power computing, Aslam adds, “We want to change the game completely,” he says. “We don’t want  step change; that’s not sufficient to reduce our reliance on electricity.
“We want to deliver infinite information, but at zero power.”
This sounds impossible, he says, but Bell Labs is talking about getting to zero energy per bit and zero wasted power.
“We believe we can achieve a huge amount of power reduction going forward,” he says.
In fact, Aslam claims that the company could drive a 98% reduction in net energy consumption in the end-to-end network.
This has been made possible through the Greentouch programme, putting together a range of techniques and capabilities in mobile access, fixed access and core networks to get to the end point.
“The industry has come up with certain capabilities to achieve the vision,” Aslam says.
Bell Labs has also developed a range of equipment to provide green power to the network.
Service expansion means operators need to stop trying to self-build all their networks, but to implement RAN share agreements together with multiple party neutral host business models
“The bottom line is that some countries are moving toward the neutral host business model and it’s one that could work in Africa,” he adds.
What the telcos need to cater for, Aslam says, are a boom in devices, ultra-fast access and an ultra-fast core. This will allow them to offer new services.
“We are seeing networks come together to be more agile and more scalable,” he adds.
As that convergence starts to happen, Aslam believes that wireless access will become shorter while the wires will become longer. “When that happens, the question will be if there is still an option for wireless operators.”
The network of 2020 will be enabled by SDN and NFV, he says. It will have to offer the highest performance at the lowest cost per bit, but also be very personalised.
This will be enabled by very high speeds, virtualisation, distribution and consolidation, and delivering on-demand services that will take advantage of new business models that the telecommunications industry must allow, allowing users to gain access to new services.
And it’s not just capex savings that could be achieved by transformation, Aslam says, they can also see significant saving in their opex as well.