Enea Retrospective: What Did We Get Right in Our 2023 Trends Report?

At the end of each year, Enea’s team of in-house experts come together to share their outlook for the year ahead. Drawing from current events, industry trends, and insights from top industry analysts, they identify and define the most important challenges and opportunities facing the telecom landscape. Now that we’re well into 2024, it’s time to delve into last year’s report, titled ‘Don’t Be Surprised, Be Ready: 7 Mobile Trends of 2023’ to see what we got right, and what has changed.

The focus of last year’s report was centered largely around resilience and security. War in Ukraine and other geopolitical tensions, combined with a general uptick in cyberattacks and the misuse of mobile networks to steal data or commit fraud, meant that signaling and messaging security were high on the agenda. Sustainability was also high on the list of priorities, with operators looking for more cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to cope with soaring levels of global data traffic. The emerging battleground between wireless and wireline was also put under the spotlight, with both offering competing services and vying for the same customers. And that’s just scratching the surface. Investments in IoT connectivity and data observability were also ranked as top trends. 

Here’s the good bit. Below, you’ll find insights from some of the in-house experts who contributed to that report. They’ve agreed to read what they wrote and reflect on their predictions. Were their predictions correct? Did they get the big calls right? How have things evolved since the report was published?

Let’s get started. 

Signaling Security: “Cut out the noise before you’re silenced by it”

If our communications infrastructure was a living organism, the signaling network layer would be the central nervous system. 5G is often described as having “security by design”, but is that enough in a world where location tracking, call rerouting, and the hijacking of network nodes are becoming tools of war?

Brian Noble, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Enea, reflects on his contribution to last year’s report:

“Sadly, our prediction that bad actors will continue to seek to disrupt and attack telecoms infrastructure has proven all too true. As our report was being published, Russian forces launched a cyberattack on Ukraine’s largest telecom operator, and there have been numerous reports of mobile networks being infiltrated and used to track troop movements and intercept communications on both sides. Most attacks go unreported, so quantitative data is impossible to source. Jeanette Hanna-Ruiz, former CISO of NASA, estimated that cyber-attacks on national critical infrastructure have increased by about 70% in recent years, and operators are likely to remain in the crosshairs. 

At Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona, our team noticed a keen interest in network security solutions and a renewed appetite for actionable intelligence among operators. That chimes with what we’re hearing from intelligence analysts, who note a marked increase in sophisticated attacks on communication networks, particularly by state-sponsored actors for espionage purposes. 

Our own signaling security analysts have observed that attacks are becoming more sophisticated too. Vulnerabilities in the diameter protocol continue to be exploited even as SS7 firewalls become more effective.  Cross-protocol attacks – difficult to detect and invisible to many firewalls – have become far more prevalent. In short, our prediction in last year’s report was correct, but we really wish it wasn’t.”

Core IoT: “Why a split decision does not mean a split brain”

Billions of IoT devices are expected to be in use by 2025, creating promising monetization opportunities for operators looking to grow their revenue beyond basic subscriber services. According to our report, however, seizing these opportunities will require changes to architecture and a technical flexibility that many operators still lack. We flagged how operators choose to navigate this new opportunity while preserving their revenue streams as one of the defining issues of the year. Were we right?

Osvaldo Aldao, Enea’s Chief Technology & Product Officer, looks back:

“Dedicated IoT cores served their purpose in 2023, but as new ways of disaggregating traffic, protecting data, and improving performance are gaining traction in the ecosystem, network slicing is offering a more sustainable solution. Dedicated cores require separate dedicated infrastructure for IoT devices, whereas network slicing allows sharing of the physical network and the careful allocation of resources such as bandwidth and processing power as and when they’re needed, vastly improving efficiency. 

Network slicing also opens up options for scalability. The one-size-fits-all approach of dedicated cores has continued to struggle with the ever-increasing variety of IoT devices. Network slicing allows customization – for instance, one slice can be tailored for the massive machine-type communication of smart sensors, while another slice can handle high-bandwidth, real-time data streams for industrial automation.

Security and monetization are also making network slicing an increasingly attractive proposition in 2024. Different slices can be isolated, preventing a security breach in one slice from compromising others. This is crucial for mission-critical applications like remote healthcare or autonomous vehicles. Likewise, network slicing allows operators to create premium, differentiated services for specific IoT needs, such as offering high-priority, guaranteed-latency slices for businesses requiring ultra-reliable connections, creating new revenue streams.

We got this call right. Operators are now actively looking at ways of disaggregating their networks to increase efficiency, scalability, and opportunities for monetization.”

Energy Consumption: “It’s time to offset costs as well as carbon”

The telecoms sector is one of the most energy-intensive sectors in the world. The majority of operators have worked hard on renewables, sustainability, and carbon offsetting in recent years, but with geopolitical tensions in 2022 pushing energy prices sky-high, we predicted that cost-saving was going to become a much greater priority throughout 2023 and beyond. How accurate was that prediction?

Let’s hear from Fergus Wills, Strategic Marketing Manager at Enea:

“The imperative for change based on the high wholesale cost of electricity actually faded significantly in the first quarter of 2023. The focus has now shifted to how a sustainable telecom capacity can be delivered resiliently to match the demands of users. Advances in radio access technology and sustainable energy sourcing have added significant options for telecom organizations to consider. We have listened to the debates unfolding on how European telecoms is structured, and how business efficiency is now a core focus. However, the tools needed to manage and optimize network traffic in the face of increasingly congested networks are still needed. Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, noted this in their Q4 2023 report. So, I’d say the immediate imperative for energy-saving has dissipated somewhat, but it has not disappeared. Data consumption – and its associated energy costs – is only going to increase, and operators will need to find novel ways to navigate that challenge beyond simply building more infrastructure. 

Interestingly, the new Digital Networks Act put forward by the EU notes that the consumption of energy by a telecom network should be looked at from both a supply and demand perspective.”

Messaging Security: “User trust can’t be taken for granted”

Application-to-person (A2P) messaging has become an integral part of the digital services economy, from news alerts and banking notifications to two-factor authentication. However, it’s also become an increasingly popular vector of attack for scammers and fraudsters. We looked at how competitive the A2P space had become and what operators might do to instill trust in the businesses and users that depend on it. Were we correct?

Brian Noble is back to tackle this one:

“We’re not happy to report that messaging abuse has continued to soar over the past twelve months, as predicted. This is in no small part due to the availability of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, which are evolving at unprecedented speeds. As we mentioned in the report, trust really is everything when it comes to A2P. If there’s no trust, there’s no engagement, and if there’s no engagement, brands will simply stop paying to use it as a channel. 

This is shaking CPaaS providers and mobile operators to their core, because A2P still represents a lucrative revenue stream. That stream is now under threat from fraudsters and criminals. AI-enhanced social engineering combined with rapid-fire automation is making fraudulent messages more difficult to discern, and they’re also becoming increasingly better targeted. 

Since we published the 2023 report, generative AI has been further democratized and accelerated in leaps and bounds, making it harder for communications service providers to take control when it comes to fraud prevention and detection. Enea’s AI-guided message protection solutions would be a great fit here. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Despite rising fraud, A2P message volumes continue to grow.  The market overall was worth just shy of $70 billion in 2023 and is forecast to grow by almost 4% annually over the next five years. Whether or not that growth can be sustained will depend largely on how the industry evolves its messaging security frameworks.”

Wireless & Wireline: “Texas Hold ‘Em or high stakes poker?”

2022 was an interesting year. For the first time ever, wireless and wireline operators found themselves competing with one another on a relatively level playing field. Both started offering competing services while battling for the same share of the subscriber market. Our report looked at ‘who was eating whose lunch’, the fight for subscribers, and how convergence was changing the dynamic for operators. How are things looking in 2024?

Johan Terve, our Senior Director of Marketing, offers his perspective:

“In our report, we said that 2023 would be marked in history as the tipping point when wireless and wireless operators would finally start competing openly with the same offerings. Off the back of that, we expected mergers and acquisitions within the telecom sector to increase, and we expected a renewed level of interest in Wi-Fi and 5G convergence. For the most part, I think we called it. 

The jury is out on whether mergers and acquisitions have increased, though there have been some notable ones. But what we have seen for sure is a boost in interest when it comes to our Wi-Fi Offload solutions – in fact, we’ve had more interest in that over the past several months than we have in the last four or five years. The WBA OpenRoaming initiative has also accelerated beyond what we expected. There are now more than three million hotspots globally, almost three times as many as there were when we wrote the report.”

IoT Cost and Profitability: “The path to enlightenment”

When we published this report, we’d decided that the IoT hype was firmly behind us. Instead of scattered, optimistic investments in IoT with little in the way of financial return, operators would turn their attention to safer investments and sustainable growth. Did they?

Johan Terve, Senior Director of Marketing at Enea, reflects:

“We said that the IoT hype was over. By that, we meant that connectivity providers would start focusing on profit and return on investment over pie-in-the-sky investments in exciting IoT prospects. For the most part, we were right on the money. A lot of mid-size enterprises are looking for secure and reliable answers to basic challenges – virtual private networks, private IP pools, firewalls, and other features. They’re happy to pay for these value-add services, but not the bespoke IoT-oriented development typically offered to larger, more prestige customers. 

We’ve actually seen a lot of interest in our Connectivity Control Service, which is a hyperscale programmable layer for cellular IoT control, security, and automation. It’s something we host on AWS, delivered as a unique instance per mobile operator, and it offers ways to create new IoT connectivity services in ways that were previously deemed unthinkable. So the IoT hype may be over, but it’s been replaced by a steady focus on achieving long-term profitability in the IoT space.”

Observability: “Don’t be blind to the data you need”

We know that data observability is going to be key to taking AI-driven automation to the next level in the cloud era, allowing 5G networks and use cases to be diversified to their fullest potential. As our report was published, observability-based projects had attracted more than $4 billion in venture capital funding, so its value is no secret. We predicted that interest would continue to boom in data observability. Did it?

Our very own Laura Wilber, Industry Analyst, has this to say:

“We predicted that 2023 was going to be a very big year for observability, and boy were we right. Consider, for example, Cisco’s $28 billion acquisition of Splunk, a full-stack analytics-powered observability platform. One of the biggest players in the observability space, Gigamon, also revealed 100% year-on-year growth. So yeah, the value is there and the money continues to pour in. 

We also predicted that observability and security would converge, and we nailed that one too. The notion that observability was becoming essential for security teams can be seen in the strategies underpinning the acquisitions above, as well as some of the portfolio integration moves by companies like Netscout, Dynatrace, and ServiceNow.

Another observation – no pun intended – we made was that observability would become critical to artificial intelligence. That’s another one on the scoresheet, but with some caveats. While I do think that the general premise that observability provides a critical data foundation for AI and ML-based innovation and automation is correct, leveraging this data foundation for material gains barely got off the ground in 2023 compared to what we’re witnessing in 2024. We also missed the flipside in our last report: ‘ask not what Observability can do for AI, but what AI can do for Observability!’

Lastly, we were right to mention that observability would be important for addressing 5G challenges and opportunities, but 2024 will tell. I have no doubt observability can play an important role to play in helping mobile operators effectively manage and secure cloud-centric 5G networks. I also think the next stage we singled out, which was exploiting observability to support market differentiation and revenue generation, will come. But, as with the prior prediction, I think we only began to scratch the surface of such developments in 2023.”

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