Q&A Chat with Katrin Tillenburg, Telecommunications & Business Assurance expert
What role do telecom companies play in society’s Smart City ambitions?
What will be the impact of COVID-19 on the digitization of our cities?
In what ways have service providers supported the community during these challenging times, and how will the circumstances around COVID-19 in turn impact telecom businesses and professionals?
For this article I sat down (virtually) with Mrs. Katrin Tillenburg, Founding Member of ABITEL Consulting GmbH and Solutionheads EEIG.
Since Katrin is highly knowledgeable in numerous areas relating to business assurance, telecommunications, and digital transformation, we have the opportunity to get her thoughts on a number of interesting and topical issues.
1. What are some great ways in which telecom operators can support their customers and benefit the community in the realities of a COVID-19 world?
During these unprecedented times, the criticality of the telecommunications infrastructure has become very obvious. Continuity of service is nowadays key for business and society. Data volumes are growing by more than 50% in some countries. To ensure the connection quality, after a request from the European Commission a lot of streaming services have throttled their quality for additional capacity, and telcos are prioritizing their traffic.
A lot of telcos are offering free services to special customer groups, such as free online and conferencing tools for schools and business customers, additional and free streaming and social media tools, and generally additional free data in existing contracts. And even free smartphones (for the price of 1 Euro) are being given to elderly people in care facilities so that they can have the opportunity to stay in contact with their family members.
Another point to mention is that telecom operators also take care of their sales distributors. With most of the shops being forced to close, provision payments have been brought forward, the use of social media for customer support has been fostered and targets for bonus payments are being adjusted.
Finally, the provisioning and analysis of mass data to visualize group movements can be based on data from telecommunication companies. Depending on the data and security regulations in different countries, we can see different approaches here, as well as a Pan-European initiative which is about to provide a tracing app.
On the whole, we can see that the COVID-19 crisis has been a big accelerator for digitalization in general, which also affects telecoms.
2. What areas of Smart City do you believe hold the biggest potential for service providers in the near future?
Where can telecommunications companies bring the most value?
We are already seeing that many Smart City projects are based on sensors and their information transfer (IoT). Be it by SIM card or LoRaWan, the transfer of data on free parking spaces, air pollution, traffic levels and fill levels of trash bins is being controlled by sensors. The setup of this infrastructure, of course, will be done by the telecommunication companies.
At the Digital Transformation World of the TeleManagement Forum last year in Nice, a catalyst (a prototype of a project with various participants – network operators, software manufacturers, consultants) was presented, in which a telecommunications company itself was the operator of the entire Smart City network. Here we saw again movement profiles that mobile customers leave, so traffic flows can be predicted and directed, right up to the selling of data for personalized advertising if you know when certain customers are expected to be at a certain place. However, in most countries, this is also a question of data protection and security.
3. What kind of impact on Smart City initiatives do you envision in a post-COVID-19 world?
It seems like the dramatic increase in the number of people working from home, and the necessities of social distancing, have really brought to the forefront the benefits or perhaps even, the necessity, of things like Smart Retail, Autonomous Vehicles, Digital Health, Digital Workforce.
On the one hand, it’s very interesting to see that initiatives such as smart government (digital interface to customers/citizens) are being implemented very quickly – initiatives which have been originally planned for implementation over much longer periods of time.
Providing information for citizens is also an important aspect of smart cities. Here we see new chatbots that provide information about the coronavirus, platforms that are intended to inform citizens about all aspects of the current situation, from opening times of shops and offices to all city services and general travel information.
Other cities are installing additional WiFi Super Spots to support distance learning.
We also see very innovative solutions such as AI fever detection cameras. These are, as the name suggests, thermal cameras, which are intended to observe crowds and identify elevated temperatures of individuals.
Solutions for autonomous vehicles – which you also asked about – are, in my opinion, too complex to be pushed forward so quickly.
As far as I can tell, the digital health area is not yet an area that is really being driven by smart cities. Universities are, of course, working on extended joint projects, from comprehensive databases to online remote operations (5G is a key factor here). And resident doctors are working on their own solutions to communicate with their patients via video conferences, increasingly in rural regions in Germany.
4. And what do you predict will be the overall impact, short and long-term, on specialists working within the Telecommunications sector?
On the one hand, we can imagine a negative impact on employment due to the general financial losses incurred during the global pandemic, but on the other hand – connectivity is very much paramount now, even more than before.
Mobile operators are certain to lose revenue due to the roaming revenue losses. In general, free support services also reduce sales and revenue. Nevertheless, there are already some large telecommunications companies that have given their employees a job guarantee.
As you pointed out, connectivity is paramount and that has just become very clear again. In this respect, ensuring the continuity is also a task that must be taken into account even more than previously by telecommunications providers.
On the one hand, this means that the network planners and technicians play a role that up to now has certainly not been considered as important from the outside.
In addition, in order to secure the entire operation, development has already been observed in recent years that leads from previous tasks such as revenue assurance to business assurance. This discipline combines aspects such as revenue & cost assurance, fraud management, asset assurance management, margin assurance management, migration assurance management, digital transformation assurance management, ecosystem assurance management, regulatory assurance management, and customer experience assurance management.
To control this complex environment, different skills and specialists such as analysts, data scientists, and technical experts are required, who create and operate platforms. The TeleManagement Forum (TMF) has been hosting for more than two years a workgroup on this topic, taking care of definitions, standards, and integration into the existing telco processes and environments. It´s a pleasure to be part of this initiative.
In general, we can see say that the telecommunications companies that act not only as a dumb data pipe are better positioned for situations such as the current one. In recent years we have already seen many trends that telecommunications companies have been expanding, including offering their own services such as streaming and IPTV for example. This tendency will certainly continue to increase and the corresponding specialists, from technicians to marketing experts, will also be needed.
Katrin Tillenburg has been working in the telecommunications area for more than 25 years as a consultant in international projects.
As a founding member of Abitel Consulting GmbH, she has worked for 20 years as a project manager and business analyst, mainly in the BSS, revenue/business assurance area.
Being a founding member of the business network SolutionHeads (www.solutionheads.net) she supports international projects and is responsible for the smart business solutions portfolio of the network.
She can be contacted via: