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Data growth is accelerating fast: what telcos need to know

(Image credit: Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

We are witnessing a revolution in digital technology, and it’s a revolution shaped by astonishing levels of data growth. Whether you’re a smartphone-owning consumer with a taste for streaming movies on the go, a global healthcare provider or a media conglomerate, chances are the way you produce, manage, and consume data has changed dramatically in the past few years. The telecommunications industry is at the cutting edge of this revolution, providing the infrastructure and digital services on which consumers and businesses rely.

But communications service providers (CSPs) are facing a challenge: data growth is showing little sign of letting up. Instead, it’s accelerating. According to Ericsson, mobile data traffic is expected to increase by a factor of five from 2018 to 2024, with much of that growth stemming from the upcoming widespread availability of 5G networks. This research doesn’t even account for fixed wireless access services commonly used in homes and businesses or wired broadband internet services. According to Data Age, an IDC study, the global datasphere – the summation of all data created, captured, or replicated – as a whole is set to grow from 33 zettabytes (ZB) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025, and 75 per cent of the world’s population will interact with data every day. Almost 30 per cent of global data will have to be processed in real time.

But why is data growing so fast? Currently, there are many types of devices generating data, including images and video created or consumed for entertainment, images and video from functional applications like advertising and security, productivity-driven data such as files on PCs and servers, log files, and massive amounts of metadata created by embedded devices, machine to machine, and IoT. Moving forward, new growth will be coming from the plethora of “embedded devices” we depend on more and more. These devices produce data a little at a time when you look at each discrete transaction, but all together these transactions will comprise 20 per cent of all data created by 2025

Despite the reason, it is hard to overstate the true scale of the changes ahead for consumers and businesses, and CSPs are on the front lines of this revolution. CSPs provide the physical infrastructure and raw bandwidth that make transmitting and processing all this data possible. To ensure that they are ready for tomorrow’s challenges, CSPs must take a proactive approach to managing their infrastructure and internal data y considering several key factors.

Digital technology is transforming our lives across a wide variety of industries and applications. While CSPs are well aware of these trends, they must take stock of their current infrastructure and data handling capabilities. This will allow them to prepare for sharp increases in traffic and to ensure they’re offering their customers the most relevant and competitive packages on the market. In consumer technology, AR, VR, wearables such as smart watches, AI-powered digital assistants, and autonomous vehicles are all playing a role in dramatically increasing the amount of data produced and consumed per capita around the world. In industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare, data is already playing a key role in introducing game-changing new technologies.

On top of this, CSPs are also going to play a leading role in developing smart city technologies, which combine into critical infrastructure for the future planning of urban centres from London and Barcelona to New York City and Hollywood. Edge computing plays an important role in smart city development plans, as it is used in applications ranging from network rollouts, sensor installations, system platform construction to data collection.

All these technologies are powered by data – and lots of it. The problem is that this comes at a time when CSPs, which will bear the brunt of this explosion in data applications, are already under strain. 5G requires massive infrastructure investment from many CSPs, at a time when they are already facing increasing competition on multiple fronts, from new challenger brands and over the top (OTT) service providers like Netflix, Apple, and Disney. These OTT players essentially make money off the infrastructure CSPs have worked so hard to build.

The opportunities ahead for CSPs

These are challenges, to be sure. But the unprecedented growth in the use of data across the board presents CSPs with an unrivalled opportunity to put themselves at the centre of the new digital economy. Gartner predicts that 5G infrastructure market revenues will increase by nearly 90 per cent next year, from $2.2bn in 2019 to $4.2bn in 2020 alone.

In order to build on this, CSPs will need to leverage data analysis technologies like AI and machine learning in order to create compelling new products and services that will enhance the experience they’re able to offer their customers. For example, dynamic network monitoring can help CSPs understand network traffic patterns in a much deeper way, enabling them to predict peaks and troughs in demand, or forecast when certain elements of the network will need replacement. This technology is particularly relevant for the highly complex and geographically spread out IoT smart city networks that CSPs will increasingly be called upon to support.

Monitoring technologies can also be used to improve the experiences CSPs are able to offer their customers. More efficiently monitored network traffic means faster speeds with less downtime. A clearer understanding of customer data usage habits enables the business to develop new products or subscription tiers catering to these new and emerging customer behaviours.

5G, edge computing, and AI are all technologies destined to transform the way we live, work, and spend our free time. Business leaders can prosper by embracing new and unique business opportunities powered by this wealth of data and the insight it provides. While CSPs are going to play a huge part in how these data-fuelled technologies work to deliver the services businesses and consumers need. CSPs actually have more options than meets the eye, and by taking control of their own data infrastructure, they will be in a great position to make the most of the broader data revolution of which they are already an integral part.

Steve Jones - Business Development & Strategic Accounts (EMEA), Seagate