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By James Kirby, SVP and Head of EMEA, CSG

Following a tumultuous year, telecom operators in the Middle East have begun to identify the technologies and business models that will define their next decade of growth. With new challengers entering the market, and consumer expectations that are much different than they were a year ago, operators must continue to innovate with the digital consumer in mind. As we look towards 2021, we see a few key trends that will impact how CSPs establish a business model that accommodates the ever-evolving dynamics of digital transformation.   

5G finally comes to life

To date, most 5G news has been around initial deployments and trials. Despite challenges with network and service reliability, the Middle East has become a leader in 5G implementation, with the networks commercially available across six countries. As 5G-enabled devices become more widespread, we will start to see real use cases. This will include a mix of new and emerging trends such as virtual reality and self-driving cars, as well as specific vertical use cases including the oil and gas industry, and intelligent security. 

This will naturally lead to discussions around how to monetise 5G capabilities, which will require an ecosystem of partnerships and collaboration – without these capabilities, the ecosystem will be impossible to build. Monetisation will also require proven scalability that seamlessly manages the billions of events per day at ultra-low latency, and processes charging volumes with single-second latencies. In any case, operators will need their digital solutions to be flexible and need to know that they are future-proofing their billing for current and forthcoming 5G services. 

Enhanced customer experience will continue to be in demand

5G will accelerate new opportunities for telcos, particularly in terms of customer experience (CX). Thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we already witnessed major changes in CX through 2020, which forced customer services to quickly move online. The end of the pandemic will not change this. Customers are now demanding more self-service and omnichannel options, so telcos will need to reassess how they do everything – from selling phones to offering contactless or self-service payments – to servicing customers online as well as over the phone. 

The pandemic also accelerated the move to the public cloud, which has had a big effect on CX. Who would have thought that call-centre operators would be working from home, dealing with sensitive customer data? In 2021, this will mean an enhanced focus on conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to support the increased influx of customer calls as storefronts remain closed – and even long after they have reopened. 

Conversational AI is not just about voice, it is a generational shift beyond chatbots to meet customers where they want to interact, regardless of the communication platform (SMS, voice, text, chat, IVR, smart home devices), and in a conversational, smart, and personalised way. It improves customer satisfaction, call containment, first call resolution, and cost control, and shortens customer service representative (CSR) training cycles. This means that contact centres can deploy an AI-powered virtual assistant in their IVR, chat, social or text interfaces to resolve a large chunk of inbound inquiries.

Embrace digital or face the consequences

Following Covid-19 lockdowns, most companies had no choice but to address digital transformation, and to do so quickly. Those who have not yet started will need to catch up quickly in 2021, or else they will get left behind. These companies will need to move toward digital business models that allow for more flexibility and, enable them to expand their offerings or adapt to the new global market conditions.

Others took incremental steps toward transformation, addressing digital CX and other digital use cases as needed, but can no longer keep up due to legacy infrastructure. Those companies will need to think long term and adopt big evolution projects, especially as other operators go all in on transformation, gaining market share on the back of digital investments. 

While some countries in the Middle East still suffer from network congestion and service quality, 5G will become a reality for most. However, as customers demand more digital services, the service provider of the future ought to embrace digital transformation, including migrating to the cloud/hybrid cloud, wholeheartedly. Without wholescale change and the acceptance that innovation must be ongoing, the path ahead will be much less clear.

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