Network providers need to move quickly in order to position themselves as the “intelligent digital dial tone” of the new digital economy, the annual TM Forum Live event has heard.

Peter Sany, President and CEO of the TM Forum, said telcos would be responsible for building the common communications backbone for new digital businesses as they move “from an industrial age into an information age”.

Yet to do this, telcos need to move faster and recognise both where to cooperate and compete.

Given operators have failed to come up with any of the new services created by OTT players, Bharti Airtel CIO Hakeem Mehta said they would have to be content with providing the “fundamental basis” on which new digital services can “flourish and grow”.

She commented: “[Telcos] have not been able to find out ways of inventing anything based on the assets we actually own. The telecom APIs, as we open them up to world, is how we’re going to embrace digitalisation. But we need to change the mind-set and change the culture first.

“The bigger you get, the more this fear of change encompasses you. In the digital age, the pace at which we are moving, the world is changing very very quickly, and you’ve got to keep up.”

Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, EVP of Innovation, Marketing and Technologies at Orange, echoed such sentiments.

She said: “Our systems need to be more and more open, through APIs, and this is the route most of the industry is taking. But you have to be quick, otherwise it can sometimes be worse than doing nothing at all.”

A bigger focus on customers was key, Jégo-Laveissière added: “Our market is changing very, very quickly. Our customers are getting used to a new level of customer experience, and this is something we should face head on.”

She stressed that Orange was broadening its search for collaborative partners in the pursuit of this goal.

“We’re not going to do this by ourselves. We need to partner, [but] this time, we’re going to partner with people who are not like us,” Jégo-Laveissière said.

All this requires a change of culture within the C-Suite. “We need to spend more time educating CFOs that to take big steps; you’re not going to do it based on legacy business models,” she said.

Paolo Murri, Head of Global Partnerships Programme at Telecom Italia, said he hoped operator alliances would become more commonplace.

He commented: “My wish is for bilateral operator-to-operator agreements to become a common practice, and even in the future become a marketplace.

“Through operator-to-operator collaboration, innovation comes to the market much quicker and is much more effective.”

But he warned: “Know-how transfer is complicated. There may be some overlaps [and] you’re not always willing to do everything with you partners, and sometimes you can’t.”

Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson suggested the industry needed to be more radical: “What’s happening outside the telco world is bigger than what’s happening inside,” he said.

According to Ewaldsson, telcos must adopt a more gung-ho approach to digitisation and the launch of new service offerings.

Yet Julie Woods-Moss, CEO of Tata Communications’ NextGen Business unit, said that, below the surface at least, things were beginning to change. “Telecoms companies are digitising in silence,” she said.

If they are not digitising, the overarching message is clear: they cannot hope to remain relevant.

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