Cool handsets, glittering content and handy applications are part of the everyday experience of many European users. Communications networks and services are what underpin it. More than that: their characteristics define how much more cool, more glittering and handier consumer services will be.
What is in store for 2023? I worked with my team to identify the five top telecoms trends to watch next year. Here is what we learnt.
1. Networks changing their skin
With 5G availability to the population settling well above 60 percent in Europe, networks really are becoming more ‘intelligent’. This means AI will increasingly come to assist network operations, improving our ability to predict and avoid connectivity problems: this is expected to ultimately make communications more reliable.
At the same time, how we build our telecoms networks with will also evolve: open radio access networks (Open RAN) will likely decrease the dependence of EU operators from single vendors, while giving operators the flexibility to extend 5G to more users in a cost-effective, secure and energy-efficient way.
More than this, we expect integration between traditional networks and non-terrestrial networks (NTN) to pick up, allowing for expanded connectivity, for example through satellites.
2. Open metaverses and EU networks
Metaverse is about virtual reality (VR). VR has been used for a long time in online gaming, but now it moves into a different stage and into industries and businesses. But virtual reality is about data traffic. Estimates show that the average VR metaverse user requires five to 40 times more data than it takes to stream an HD video.
This means telecoms companies will need to invest heavily to meet the ultra-low-latency requirements of the metaverses, but also to dimension and organize their network infrastructure requires to bring them into consumers’ homes.
The jury is still out on whether telecoms operators will have the tools, market position and adequate policy context to fully seize this opportunity, or if non-European players will replicate the absolute leading position they currently enjoy in the consumer internet. To this end, the work of the European Commission on open metaverses and fair share will be crucial.
3. Climate-driven operations and solutions
In 2023, it will become even clearer how climate change shapes our sector. On the one hand, telecoms companies will continue to sharply transition to renewable energy sources and more energy-efficient networks: 5G and 4G networks are seven times less polluting than 3G ones, while FTTH networks pollute 18 times less. Also, telecoms companies will need to assertively mobilize their supplier base to take full responsibility on the scope of their emissions.
On the other hand, the ability of telecoms solutions to reduce the environmental impact of other industries is also becoming clearer. From 5G helping farmers to use less herbicides to mobile networks optimizing cargo handling in ports, and there are many more positive examples. The case for rapidly adopting ICT services is increasing.
4. 6G exploration
Be it with industry-driven ventures or with EU-funded projects, 2023 will be another key year in the exploration of 6G. 6G is the future digital communications standard, said to enable “the unification of our experience across the physical, digital and human worlds”. With 6G we will put even more intelligence and more software into the networks.
European industry and academia are driving the work to ensure we help shape a human-centric, trustworthy 6G. This requires rapid technology work, but also future-oriented discussions on governance and standards. All of this is taking place mainly in the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking.
5. Cyber and its quantum evolutions
Technology development is never standing still and the race to quantum communications has been on for many years now. In 2023, the path to a quantum internet will become more apparent. This is likely to be the first step-change in innovation and productivity in history, with computing power greatly exceeding anything that humankind has seen so far.
With that unprecedented opportunity, will come the key challenge to keep communications secure and encryption efficient. Again, we need a strong focus on the citizens and humancentric approach to ensure the trust also in the new technology. The telecoms sector has already set up a taskforce to this end: we need to stay ahead of the game.