Opinion: What will 2030’s mobile network operators look like?

Portrait photo of Suzy Menneret

Suzy Menneret

Suzy Menneret is Wholesale Advisor and Program Lead at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, MEF focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. It provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.  

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) – and telecommunications operators more generally – have historically taken pride in delivering state-of-the art connectivity and network services. It is at the core of their DNA. This segment though is going through profound transformation as network virtualisation, the deployment of 5G, the development of open-source APIs, and other digital technologies are reshaping existing operating models. Beyond the network layer, the pace of change in technology is also transforming every aspect of the services mobile operators provide to their customer base; a customer base whose demands are constantly evolving.

Of course, shifts in technology do not come just come with new solutions and services for the Mobile Network Operators. They also provide opportunities to a myriad of players in the ecosystem – hyperscalers, OEMs, cloud and solutions providers, etc. – who are equally keen to take a big chunk of the mobile services revenue pie.

What does this mean for mobile operators?

  1. Their environment is getting more and more complex; the ecosystem is getting more and more crowded and difficult to understand and unravel. Since they, themselves, cannot provide the entire set of solutions and services across the mobile value chain, their ability to transform and collaborate or enter into partnerships with other stakeholders in the industry will play a key role in their ability to succeed in the long term.
  2. One thing for sure is that mobile operators need to become simpler to deal with in order for them to be able to adapt to new environments. This obviously means leveraging AI and virtualisation where it makes sense – but it also requires the right balance of human interaction towards customers, industry players or internal stakeholders – whilst being cost conscious of course. Not easy, I admit. We all expect to hear a human voice to provide us with the answer we are looking for when the technology has reached its limits. It is the same in the B2B space, where human interaction is an even greater asset for operators. An omnichannel strategy that removes communications channel silos will be key for mobile operators who want to be ahead of the race in 2030.
  3. Agility and flexibility are other areas where MNOs need to be vigilant. The larger the organisation, the harder this is. However, being flexible in times of profound industry transformation is the prerequisite to stay afloat. Flexible in its ways of working, in its ability to embrace new technologies, new partners, new skills, etc. Those who are brave in these areas will probably make mistakes, but they will learn fast and find their own way forward. The MNOs that trust their employees and give them the freedom to think outside the box, are the ones we are most likely to see thriving in 2030.
  4. Partnerships will be key over the next few years. In the B2C segment, consumers tend to think of the mobile operator only in terms of the network coverage, they seldom think of them when it comes to services. Instead, they look to third parties. This is why partnering with the right external players presents such a great opportunity for the MNO.

For example, new technologies, such as 5G, will open up greater possibilities for mobile operators, both in the B2C and the B2B segments. But innovative partners are needed to spot and leverage these opportunities.

In the B2B segment in particular, mobile operators should strive to be so much more than just the network provider. Partnering should be a critical component of a B2B MNO strategy. In the B2B environment business is global, but it is also very verticalized across industry segments, each having its specific sets of requirements.  Identifying a clear partner roadmap strategy, for both regions and industries, will be key when addressing the needs of those verticals at domestic or international level.

Industry collaboration

Industry forums have the unique capability of being able to bring together players who are motivated by the same business end goals, but who know that these cannot be achieved alone within their organisation.

Being part of a large-scale industry forum provides MNOs and others within the sector with opportunities to discuss, identify and overcome industry challenges, develop their business networking capabilities, fine tune their partnership strategies, learn from each other, improve their practices, increase their knowledge about industry trends and how to adapt to them. In other words, reduce uncertainty in the areas mentioned above.  

What will an MNO look like in 2030?

I do not have a crystal ball, but what I do see is that we are driving full speed ahead into an era of rapid innovation cycles, profound corporate transformation and increased industry collaboration in a multi-faceted ecosystem of partners. Those who do not embrace all these elements and are not quick enough to change will not survive.  Partnering and leveraging industry knowledge and capabilities will no doubt help to define what a successful mobile operator should look like in the future. The MNOs that will really stand out and flourish will be those that are also agile and innovative – regardless of their size.

I believe the most successful MNOs in 2030 will be those who have simplified their customer communication processes, and who have linked with myriad partners to offer services and functionality to both B2C and B2B customers that is far greater, more effective, and much more user-friendly than the simple sum of the individual parts.

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